Monday, 15 June 2020
Winston Smith slid another scrap of hastily erased history into the memory hole and lit a Victory cigarette. The acrid smoke burned his eyes as the dry tobacco sputtered and burned too quickly. He realised his daily ration was running out, but the clerks in the Ministry of Truth had been promised extra because of the unusually heavy workload, so he was practically chain smoking. Winston had worked the whole weekend through, busily correcting and updating accounts of recent events and any past events now seen in a new, more accurate, light.
The war with Eurasia still raged, or was it Eastasia now? Even though he had only just re-drafted a broadsheet headline he couldn’t quite remember, but it didn’t matter; Oceania had always been at war with whoever they were at war with now. The history books faithfully recorded this, no matter how many times they had to be revised. History, even though its study was banned for the purposes of keeping law and order, had become somewhat of an obsession for Smith.
On one of his rare expeditions with Julia into the prole zone he had discovered, in the back of Mr Charrington’s dusty shop, a weighty tome in four volumes written by a man called Churchill. Winston. It was called A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Smith liked to believe he had been named after the great English champion, but his parents, in the brief time he had known them, had never vouchsafed any such intelligence. He was also a little uncertain as to what or where England was, or had been.
When the Thought Police barged the door down and took Julia and Winston away to the Ministry of Love, he was still clutching the first volume in his bony hands. Their arrest was brutal and swift and as he was bundled down the stairs from the mean little flat above the shop, Winston thought he caught a glance of Mr Charrington himself, in conversation with an officer. After that his memory faded.
“Look in the mirror, Winston” said O’Brien in his calming, measured tones. “What do you see?” A pale, gaunt figure stared back. Winston knew he was poorly nourished, but the haunted face looking at him had the appearance of a man dying of starvation. “How long have I been here?” he asked. O’Brien tapped the mirror. “What do you see, Winston?” Winston didn’t quite understand the question and hesitated. A stammer rendered his query unintelligible.
“Describe yourself to me,” said O’Brien. Winston began “A… a pale, middle-aged white man…” The pain was indescribable. Winston’s body convulsed as the current coursed through his frame. “Again!” demanded O’Brien. “A hungry white…” Winston’s involuntary muscular contractions strained at his bindings and his rictus grin loomed in the mirror. O’Brien turned off the current. He held up a book.
It was much smaller and with many fewer pages than Winston remembered, but it must be ‘the book’ because there was the title, as before: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, with a monochrome photograph of Winston Churchill adorning the cover. “Look at him, Winston. Is he not black, like you?” Winston hesitated; O’Brien continued: “Am I not black, Winston? Is Chan over there not black? Or Rodriquez?” Winston realised what was required and quickly corrected himself. “In the mirror I see me, a black man, in good health after the party has cared for me.”
O’Brien was not fooled. “Oh, Winston,” he said, “it doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter, for instance, how enthusiastically you shout the party slogans. It doesn’t matter how vociferous you are during the two-minute white hate. If you don’t believe it, you are just lying to yourself. And to us, which is worse.” Winston braced for the shock. Instead, O’Brien said, with a sad tone, “Do you know what is in Room 101, Winston?”
The day was cold but bright and Winston, flanked by two officers of the Thought Police left the Ministry of Truth. It felt good to breathe clean fresh air again, even though it made him cough violently. In his handkerchief, speckles of blood mixed with the sputum, but this was nothing new. He retrieved a Victory cigarette from a crumpled packet in his thin overcoat, begged a light from one of the officers and inhaled deeply. The coughing started up again, but this time it was almost soothing. The condemned man, he knew, was due one last pleasure.
They walked past his old workplace, where the statue to that long dead writer had recently been removed. Continuing down Reggae Street and past Pickaninny and eventually on into Blackhall, Winston observed how the hateful false history of his youth had been replaced by the truth, as old plinths now supported new, vibrant celebrations of the lively monoculture of Oceania. Eventually, they came to Parliament Square and Winston dutifully took a knee before the statue of Winston Churchill. He looked at the statue and its ebony features seemed to look back at him. Tears filled his eyes as he knew, he finally knew, he loved Black Brother.