«Contents PART ONE 4 Chapter 1 5 Chapter 2 14 Chapter 3 19 Chapter 4 24 Chapter 5 30 Chapter 6 38 Chapter 7 41 Chapter 8 47 PART TWO 58 Chapter 1 59 ...»
A very old man, bent but active, with white moustaches that bristled forward like those of a prawn, pushed open the swing door and went in. As Winston stood watching, it occurred to him that the old man, who must be eighty at the least, had already been middle-aged when the Revolution happened.
He and a few others like him were the last links that now existed with the vanished world of capitalism.
In the Party itself there were not many people left whose ideas had been formed before the Revolution.
The older generation had mostly been wiped out in the great purges of the fifties and sixties, and the few who survived had long ago been terrified into complete intellectual surrender. If there was any one still alive who could give you a truthful account of conditions in the early part of the century, it could only be a prole. Suddenly the passage from the history book that he had copied into his diary came back into Winston’s mind, and a lunatic impulse took hold of him. He would go into the pub, he would scrape acquaintance with that old man and question him. He would say to him: ‘Tell me about your life when you were a boy. What was it like in those days? Were things better than they are now, or were they worse?’ Hurriedly, lest he should have time to become frightened, he descended the steps and crossed the narrow street. It was madness of course. As usual, there was no definite rule against talking to proles and frequenting their pubs, but it was far too unusual an action to pass unnoticed. If the patrols appeared he might plead an attack of faintness, but it was not likely that they would believe him. He pushed open the door, and a hideous cheesy smell of sour beer hit him in the face. As he entered the din of voices dropped to about half its volume. Behind his back he could feel everyone eyeing his blue overalls. A game of darts which was going on at the other end of the room interrupted itself for perhaps as much as thirty seconds. The old man whom he had followed was standing at the bar, having some kind of altercation with the barman, a large, stout, hook-nosed young man with enormous forearms.
A knot of others, standing round with glasses in their hands, were watching the scene.
‘I arst you civil enough, didn’t I?’ said the old man, straightening his shoulders pugnaciously. ‘You telling me you ain’t got a pint mug in the ‘ole bleeding boozer?’ ‘And what in hell’s name IS a pint?’ said the barman, leaning forward with the tips of his fingers on the counter.
“Ark at ‘im! Calls ‘isself a barman and don’t know what a pint is! Why, a pint’s the ‘alf of a quart, and there’s four quarts to the gallon. ‘Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.’ ‘Never heard of ‘em,’ said the barman shortly. ‘Litre and half litre–that’s all we serve. There’s the glasses on the shelf in front of you.’ ‘I likes a pint,’ persisted the old man. ‘You could ‘a drawed me off a pint easy enough. We didn’t ‘ave these bleeding litres when I was a young man.’ ‘When you were a young man we were all living in the treetops,’ said the barman, with a glance at the other customers.
There was a shout of laughter, and the uneasiness caused by Winston’s entry seemed to disappear. The old man’s white-stubbled face had flushed pink. He turned away, muttering to himself, and bumped into Winston. Winston caught him gently by the arm.
‘May I offer you a drink?’ he said.
‘You’re a gent,’ said the other, straightening his shoulders again. He appeared not to have noticed Winston’s blue overalls. ‘Pint!’ he added aggressively to the barman. ‘Pint of wallop.’ The barman swished two half-litres of dark-brown beer into thick glasses which he had rinsed in a bucket under the counter. Beer was the only drink you could get in prole pubs. The proles were supposed not to drink gin, though in practice they could get hold of it easily enough. The game of darts was in full swing again, and the knot of men at the bar had begun talking about lottery tickets.
Winston’s presence was forgotten for a moment. There was a deal table under the window where he and the old man could talk without fear of being overheard. It was horribly dangerous, but at any rate there was no telescreen in the room, a point he had made sure of as soon as he came in.
“E could ‘a drawed me off a pint,’ grumbled the old man as he settled down behind a glass. ‘A ‘alf litre ain’t enough. It don’t satisfy. And a ‘ole litre’s too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.’ ‘You must have seen great changes since you were a young man,’ said Winston tentatively.
The old man’s pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and from the bar to the door of the Gents, as though it were in the bar-room that he expected the changes to have occurred.
‘The beer was better,’ he said finally. ‘And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer–wallop we used to call it–was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course.’ ‘Which war was that?’ said Winston.
‘It’s all wars,’ said the old man vaguely. He took up his glass, and his shoulders straightened again.
“Ere’s wishing you the very best of ‘ealth!’ In his lean throat the sharp-pointed Adam’s apple made a surprisingly rapid up-and-down movement, and the beer vanished. Winston went to the bar and came back with two more half-litres. The old man appeared to have forgotten his prejudice against drinking a full litre.
‘You are very much older than I am,’ said Winston. ‘You must have been a grown man before I was born. You can remember what it was like in the old days, before the Revolution. People of my age don’t really know anything about those times. We can only read about them in books, and what it says in the books may not be true. I should like your opinion on that. The history books say that life before the Revolution was completely different from what it is now. There was the most terrible oppression, injustice, poverty worse than anything we can imagine. Here in London, the great mass of the people never had enough to eat from birth to death. Half of them hadn’t even boots on their feet.
They worked twelve hours a day, they left school at nine, they slept ten in a room. And at the same time there were a very few people, only a few thousands–the capitalists, they were called–who were rich and powerful. They owned everything that there was to own. They lived in great gorgeous houses with thirty servants, they rode about in motor-cars and four-horse carriages, they drank champagne, they wore top hats—-’ The old man brightened suddenly.
‘Top ‘ats!’ he said. ‘Funny you should mention ‘em. The same thing come into my ‘ead only yesterday, I dono why. I was jest thinking, I ain’t seen a top ‘at in years. Gorn right out, they ‘ave. The last time I wore one was at my sister-in-law’s funeral. And that was–well, I couldn’t give you the date, but it must’a been fifty years ago. Of course it was only ‘ired for the occasion, you understand.’ ‘It isn’t very important about the top hats,’ said Winston patiently. ‘The point is, these capitalists– they and a few lawyers and priests and so forth who lived on them–were the lords of the earth.
Everything existed for their benefit. You–the ordinary people, the workers–were their slaves. They could do what they liked with you. They could ship you off to Canada like cattle. They could sleep with your daughters if they chose. They could order you to be flogged with something called a cat-o’-nine tails. You had to take your cap off when you passed them. Every capitalist went about with a gang of lackeys who—-’ The old man brightened again.
‘Lackeys!’ he said. ‘Now there’s a word I ain’t ‘eard since ever so long. Lackeys! That reg’lar takes me back, that does. I recollect–oh, donkey’s years ago–I used to sometimes go to ‘Yde Park of a Sunday afternoon to ‘ear the blokes making speeches. Salvation Army, Roman Catholics, Jews, Indians–all sorts there was. And there was one bloke–well, I couldn’t give you ‘is name, but a real powerful speaker ‘e was. ‘E didn’t ‘alf give it ‘em! “Lackeys!” ‘e says, “lackeys of the bourgeoisie! Flunkies of the ruling class!” Parasites–that was another of them. And ‘yenas–‘e definitely called ‘em ‘yenas. Of course ‘e was referring to the Labour Party, you understand.’ Winston had the feeling that they were talking at cross-purposes.
‘What I really wanted to know was this,’ he said. ‘Do you feel that you have more freedom now than you had in those days? Are you treated more like a human being? In the old days, the rich people, the people at the top—-’ ‘The ‘Ouse of Lords,’ put in the old man reminiscently.
‘The House of Lords, if you like. What I am asking is, were these people able to treat you as an inferior, simply because they were rich and you were poor? Is it a fact, for instance, that you had to call them “Sir” and take off your cap when you passed them?’ The old man appeared to think deeply. He drank off about a quarter of his beer before answering.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘They liked you to touch your cap to ‘em. It showed respect, like. I didn’t agree with it, myself, but I done it often enough. Had to, as you might say.’ ‘And was it usual–I’m only quoting what I’ve read in history books–was it usual for these people and their servants to push you off the pavement into the gutter?’ ‘One of ‘em pushed me once,’ said the old man. ‘I recollect it as if it was yesterday. It was Boat Race night–terribly rowdy they used to get on Boat Race night–and I bumps into a young bloke on Shaftesbury Avenue. Quite a gent, ‘e was–dress shirt, top ‘at, black overcoat. ‘E was kind of zig-zagging across the pavement, and I bumps into ‘im accidental-like. ‘E says, “Why can’t you look where you’re going?” ‘e says. I say, “Ju think you’ve bought the bleeding pavement?” ‘E says, “I’ll twist your bloody ‘ead off if you get fresh with me.” I says, “You’re drunk. I’ll give you in charge in ‘alf a minute,” I says.
An’ if you’ll believe me, ‘e puts ‘is ‘and on my chest and gives me a shove as pretty near sent me under the wheels of a bus. Well, I was young in them days, and I was going to ‘ave fetched ‘im one, only—-’ A sense of helplessness took hold of Winston. The old man’s memory was nothing but a rubbishheap of details. One could question him all day without getting any real information. The party histories might still be true, after a fashion: they might even be completely true. He made a last attempt.
‘Perhaps I have not made myself clear,’ he said. ‘What I’m trying to say is this. You have been alive a very long time; you lived half your life before the Revolution. In 1925, for instance, you were already grown up. Would you say from what you can remember, that life in 1925 was better than it is now, or worse? If you could choose, would you prefer to live then or now?’ The old man looked meditatively at the darts board. He finished up his beer, more slowly than before. When he spoke it was with a tolerant philosophical air, as though the beer had mellowed him.
‘I know what you expect me to say,’ he said. ‘You expect me to say as I’d sooner be young again. Most people’d say they’d sooner be young, if you arst ‘em. You got your ‘ealth and strength when you’re young. When you get to my time of life you ain’t never well. I suffer something wicked from my feet, and my bladder’s jest terrible. Six and seven times a night it ‘as me out of bed. On the other ‘and, there’s great advantages in being a old man. You ain’t got the same worries. No truck with women, and that’s a great thing. I ain’t ‘ad a woman for near on thirty year, if you’d credit it. Nor wanted to, what’s more.’ Winston sat back against the window-sill. It was no use going on. He was about to buy some more beer when the old man suddenly got up and shuffled rapidly into the stinking urinal at the side of the room. The extra half-litre was already working on him. Winston sat for a minute or two gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out into the street again. Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified–when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.
At this moment his train of thought stopped abruptly. He halted and looked up. He was in a narrow street, with a few dark little shops, interspersed among dwelling-houses. Immediately above his head there hung three discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded. He seemed to know the place. Of course! He was standing outside the junk-shop where he had bought the diary.
A twinge of fear went through him. It had been a sufficiently rash act to buy the book in the beginning, and he had sworn never to come near the place again. And yet the instant that he allowed his thoughts to wander, his feet had brought him back here of their own accord. It was precisely against suicidal impulses of this kind that he had hoped to guard himself by opening the diary. At the same time he noticed that although it was nearly twenty-one hours the shop was still open. With the feeling that he would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he stepped through the doorway. If questioned, he could plausibly say that he was trying to buy razor blades.
The proprietor had just lighted a hanging oil lamp which gave off an unclean but friendly smell. He was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and bowed, with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick spectacles. His hair was almost white, but his eyebrows were bushy and still black. His spectacles, his gentle, fussy movements, and the fact that he was wearing an aged jacket of black velvet, gave him a vague air of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or perhaps a musician.
His voice was soft, as though faded, and his accent less debased than that of the majority of proles.
‘I recognized you on the pavement,’ he said immediately. ‘You’re the gentleman that bought the young lady’s keepsake album. That was a beautiful bit of paper, that was. Cream-laid, it used to be called. There’s been no paper like that made for–oh, I dare say fifty years.’ He peered at Winston over the top of his spectacles. ‘Is there anything special I can do for you? Or did you just want to look round?’ ‘I was passing,’ said Winston vaguely. ‘I just looked in. I don’t want anything in particular.’ ‘It’s just as well,’ said the other, ‘because I don’t suppose I could have satisfied you.’ He made an apologetic gesture with his softpalmed hand. ‘You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the antique trade’s just about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock either.