February 2022

Orwell's True and Secret Ending for 1984

20 mins to read

7,500 words

The dystopian classic introduced the world to doublethink, thoughtcrime, and Newspeak. And while its ending may seem final, Orwell lays the clues for a much more subtle ending open for discussion. What is the ultimate fate of Big Brother, the Party, and totalitarianism after 1984?

And what does a 17th century nursery rhyme have to do with it all?


  1. Introduction
  2. Questions of class
  3. From police to tramp
  4. A time of war
  5. The world of 1984
  6. Orwell's true ending
  7. Oranges and Lemons
  8. The end

In 1903 British India, a baby boy named Eric Arthur Blair was born. His great-grandfather had been an affluent country gentleman and a slave-owner. His grandfather was an unexceptional Reverend. And his father worked as a minor bureaucrat in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service.

What would Eric Arthur Blair grow up to do? Well, the world would come to know him by his pen name: George Orwell.

Questions of class

Orwell grew up and was educated in an England stratified by class. In The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) , Orwell recounts one of his earliest memories and the first moment he became aware of this:

I was very young, not much more than six, when I first became aware of class-distinctions. Before that age my chief heroes had generally been working-class people, because they always seemed to do such interesting things, such as being fishermen and blacksmiths and bricklayers. I remember the farm hands on a farm in Cornwall who used to let me ride on the drill when they were sowing turnips and would sometimes catch the ewes and milk them to give me a drink; and the workmen building the new house next door, who let me play with the wet mortar and from whom I first learned the word ‘b—’; and the plumber up the road with whose children I used to go out bird-nesting. But it was not long before I was forbidden to play with the plumber's children; they were 'common' and I was told to keep away from them.

So, very early, the working class ceased to be a race of friendly and wonderful beings and became a race of enemies. We realized that they hated us, but we could never understand why, and naturally we set it down to pure, vicious malignity. To me in my early boyhood, to nearly all children of families like mine, 'common' people seemed almost sub-human.

What exactly was it about the working class that so offended Orwell's family and class?

It is summed up in four frightful words which people nowadays are chary of uttering, but which were bandied about quite freely in my childhood. The words were: The lower classes smell.

That was what we were taught--the lower classes smell. And here, obviously, you are at an impassable barrier. For no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling. Race-hatred, religious hatred, differences of education, of temperament, of intellect, even differences of moral code, can be got over; but physical repulsion cannot.

Very early in life you acquired the idea that there was something subtly repulsive about a working-class body; you would not get nearer to it than you could help. And even 'lower-class' people whom you knew to be quite clean--servants, for instance--were faintly unappetizing. The smell of their sweat, the very texture of their skins, were mysteriously different from yours.

And though his family were not wealthy, the Blairs still considered themselves as part of the gentry and certainly above the working class. Orwell explains:

I was born into what you might describe as the lower-upper-middle class. The upper-middle class, which had its heyday in the eighties and nineties, with Kipling as its poet laureate, was a sort of mound of wreckage left behind when the tide of Victorian prosperity receded. Or perhaps it would be better to change the metaphor and describe it not as a mound but as a layer--the layer of society lying between £2000 and £300 [approx $350,000 - $55,000 today] a year: my own family was not far from the bottom.

You notice that I define it in terms of money, because that is always the quickest way of making yourself understood. Nevertheless, the essential point about the English class-system is that it is not entirely explicable in terms of money. Hence the fact that the upper- middle class extends or extended to incomes as low as £300 a year--to incomes, that is, much lower than those of merely middle-class people with no social pretensions.

Probably there are countries where you can predict a man's opinions from his income, but it is never quite safe to do so in England; you have always got to take his traditions into consideration as well. A naval officer and his grocer very likely have the same income, but they are not equivalent person.

When he was 15, and just as Europe plunged into the Great War, Orwell won a scholarship to Eton, an elite boy's boarding school. (This was the only way his family could afford to send him.) It was here that he would discover first-hand the differences within the upper-middle class that could exist:

I had been made to understand that I was not on the same footing as most of the other boys. In effect there were three castes in the school. There was the minority with an aristocratic or millionaire background, there were the children of the ordinary suburban rich, who made up the bulk of the school, and there were a few underlings like myself, the sons of clergyman, Indian civil servants, struggling widows and the like. These poorer ones were discouraged from going in for ‘extras’ such as shooting and carpentry, and were humiliated over clothes and petty possessions. I never, for instance, succeeded in getting a cricket bat of my own, because ‘Your parents wouldn't be able to afford it’. This phrase pursued me throughout my schooldays.

Orwell did not have the money to attend university and he did not have the academics for another scholarship. The career choices open to him as an adult were few:

Probably the distinguishing mark of the upper-middle class was that its traditions were not to any extent commercial, but mainly military, official, and professional. It was this that explained the attraction of India (more recently Kenya, Nigeria, etc.) for the lower-upper-middle class. The people who went there as soldiers and officials did not go there to make money, for a soldier or an official does not want money; they went there because in India, with cheap horses, free shooting, and hordes of black servants, it was so easy to play at being a gentleman.

And so Orwell would leave England for the first time. He joined the Imperial Police and, sailing through the Suez Canal and Ceylon, arrived at his new station as a policeman in the hot, humid country of Burma.

From police to tramp

Orwell's monthly salary as a policeman was Rs. 255 (approx. $30 today). But in Burma, it was not social class nor wealth that mattered, but race:

In an 'outpost of Empire' like Burma the class-question appeared at first sight to have been shelved. There was no obvious class-friction here, because the all-important thing was not whether you had been to one of the right schools but whether your skin was technically white.

And yet, a twenty-something year old Orwell became increasingly ill-at-ease. The more he socialized with the locals, the priests, the prostitutes, and with other fellow British drop-outs; the more he performed the brutal beatings and imprisonments that was demanded of his police enforcement role; the more negative his view of colonialism became:

I was in the Indian Police five years, and by the end of that time I hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness which I probably cannot make clear. In the free air of England that kind of thing is not fully intelligible. In order to hate imperialism you have got to be part of it.

I was in the police, which is to say that I was part of the actual machinery of despotism. Moreover, in the police you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters, and there is an appreciable difference between doing dirty work and merely profiting by it. Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job. Even the other Europeans in Burma slightly looked down on the police because of the brutal work they had to do.

I should expect to find that even in England many policemen, judges, prison warders, and the like are haunted by a secret horror of what they do. But in Burma it was a double oppression that we were committing. Not only were we hanging people and putting them in jail and so forth; we were doing it in the capacity of unwanted foreign invaders. The Burmese themselves never really recognized our jurisdiction. The thief whom we put in prison did not think of himself as a criminal justly punished, he thought of himself as the victim of a foreign conqueror. The thing that was done to him was merely a wanton meaningless cruelty. His face, behind the stout teak bars of the lock-up and the iron bars of the jail, said so clearly. And unfortunately I had not trained myself to be indifferent to the expression of the human face.

(Orwell would later draw from his personal experience and publish his first fiction book Burmese Days (1934), a scathing critique of colonialism.)

And when Orwell saw the similarities between the colonizer and the colonized in Burma with the ruling class and the working class back home, his views on class began to shift too:

It was the first time that I had ever been really aware of the working class, and to begin with it was only because they supplied an analogy. They were the symbolic victims of injustice, playing the same part in England as the Burmese played in Burma. In Burma the issue had been quite simple. The whites were up and the blacks were down, and therefore as a matter of course one's sympathy was with the blacks. I now realized that there was no need to go as far as Burma to find tyranny and exploitation.

In a sort of personal crisis, Orwell quit the police force, returned to England, and decided to try to understand the working class that he had previously so deplored.

I knew nothing about working-class conditions. When I thought of poverty I thought of it in terms of brute starvation. Therefore my mind turned immediately towards the extreme cases, the social outcasts: tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes. These were 'the lowest of the low', and these were the people with whom I wanted to get in contact. What I profoundly wanted, at that time, was to find some way of getting out of the respectable world altogether.

Not quite 25 yet, Orwell began to explore the roughest parts of London and meet with its poorest people. Soon, he would go further: dressing as a tramp named "P.J. Burton" and living among them:

I could go among these people, see what their lives were like and feel myself temporarily part of their world. Once I had been among them and accepted by them, I should have touched bottom, and--this is what I felt: I was aware even then that it was irrational--part of my guilt would drop from me.

Orwell would continue to lead this double life for the next five years - sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessicity - sometimes for just a night and sometimes for months at a time. He became obsessed with exploring poverty and understanding the lower class - and not just in London but in Paris too, where he lived and tramped for another two years.

He would eventually publish his very first book, a memoir called Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) about his experience to favorable reviews. It was here, for the first time, that the world was introduced to "George Orwell" - after the patron Saint of England and the River Orwell.

(Eric Arthur Blair very seriously considered choosing "P.J. Burton" as his pen name instead.)

By now, he had stopped tramping, but he had not stopped writing nor had he stopped thinking about social and political conditions. Since returning from Burma, Orwell had called himself an anarchist. But as events developed in Europe, for the first time, Orwell would identify as a socialist and take direct political - and military - action.

A time of war

By the 1930s, the Bourbon Restoration had failed and the Kingdom of Spain had had given way to an equally unstable Second Spanish Republic. Following an attempted military coup in 1936, Spain would plunge into total civil war for the next three years.

On one side: the Republican government co-operating with communist and anarchist forces; and on the other: the Nationalist rebels spearhearded by a military junta in alliance with Falangists, monarchists, conservatives, and traditionalists.

In his essay Why I Write (1946), Orwell outlines his political development:

First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision.

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.

Orwell would spend Christmas 1936 travelling to Spain to support the Republican faction. Its unclear if Orwell initially intended to participate simply as a journalist or if he had always planned on being a combatant - but become a soldier he did:

I knew there was a war on, but I had no notion what kind of a war. If you had asked me why I had joined the militia I should have answered: ‘To fight against Fascism,’ and if you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: ‘Common decency.’

In May 1937, after a few months rotating between fighting on the streets and on the frontlines, Orwell was spotted by an enemy sniper and shot through the throat - just barely missing his main artery. He was rushed to the hospital and declared unfit for further service.

In Homage to Catalonia (1938), Orwell recounts his experience in the war, his opposition to fascism, and particularly his disillusionment with political factionalism and and misinformation.

The Republican alliance was breaking down and Orwell's milita was under political attack from its own side. As his comrades were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, Orwell manages to flee the country. He is tried in absentia as a fascist and a Trotskyist agent.

Back home, Orwell finds his political views out of favor and struggles to find work - with his health also beginning to deteriorate.

When World War II arrives in England, Orwell is rejected for military service due to his ill health. Instead, he works in the propaganda wing of the BBC until 1943, when he resigns to focus on writing a new novel shaped by his experience of factionalism during the Spanish Civil War: Animal Farm (1945).

Animal Farm was almost lost when a V-1 bomb is dropped on Orwell's home. Orwell spends hours sifting through the rubble to find the manuscript - but by the time it is ready for publication, Orwell had larger concerns: The United States had just dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan to finish the Pacific War and usher in the Atomic Age.

Orwell envisioned a new type of future that he coined the "Cold War" in You and the Atomic Bomb (1945):

So we have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation. But suppose – and really this the likeliest development – that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless.

We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. Few people have yet considered its ideological implications – that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbours.

When Animal Farm is published, Orwell experiences unprecendented commercial and critical success, catapulting him into a world-wide celebrity and intellectual. But Orwell did not want to rest on his laurels.

From Why I Write:

Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

That book would be Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The world of 1984

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

And so Nineteen Eighty-Four begins with these iconic lines. We follow one Winston Smith, living in a a recognizable (particuarly to those who had lived through the Blitz) but unfamiliar London:

This, he thought with a sort of vague distaste --this was London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania. He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the willow-herb straggled over the heaps of rubble; and the places where the bombs had cleared a larger patch and there had sprung up sordid colonies of wooden dwellings like chicken-houses?

This world is dominated by the omnipresence of a surveillance state in the form of Big Brother, telescreens, and the Thought Police:

The black moustachio’d face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house-front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own. Down at street level another poster, torn at one corner, flapped fitfully in the wind, alternately covering and uncovering thesingle word INGSOC. In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the police patrol, snooping into people’s windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.

The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. Youhad to live --did live, from habit that became instinct --in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

And its population is driven by daily and unending propaganda - particularly in the form of the Two Minutes Hate - against the enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein; his organization, the Brotherhood; and his ideology, as espoused in the book:

The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teethon edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started. As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to thescreen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared.

A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. The Brotherhood, its name was supposed to be. There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book.

The oppressive but supposedly benevolent nature of the government captured in its paradoxical catchphrase:


And just like its three slogans, the function and organization of the ruling Party is self-contradictory:

The four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided. The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.

Winston works in the Ministry of Truth - which is actually concerned with lies:

There were the huge printing-shops with their sub-editors, their typography experts, and their elaborately equipped studios for the faking of photographs. There was the tele-programmes section with its engineers, its producers, and its teams of actors specially chosen for their skill in imitating voices. There were the armies of reference clerks whose job was simply to draw up lists of books and periodicals whichwere due for recall. There were the vast repositories where the corrected documents were stored, and the hidden furnaces where the original copies were destroyed. And somewhere or other, quite anonymous, there were the directing brains who co-ordinated the whole effort and laid down the lines of policy which made it necessary that this fragment of the past should be preserved, that one falsified, and the other rubbed out of existence.

Winston's job is to rewrite historical records to match the state's official and ever-changing version of history - and particularly in regards to Oceania's perpetual war and alliance with the two other superstates in the world:

Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

Nothing is too large or too minute to be rewritten - from altering a Big Brother speech to correctly predict a military attack, to inventing a wholly fictional person to replace a disgraced former hero, to adjusting past chocolate ration projections to match current shortages.

And it is here that Winston begins to question the nature of reality and truth against the totalitarian machine:

The frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened --that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But wheredid that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale --then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control”, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’

Winston's defiance begins when he procures pen and paper and confronts his own memory:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp. He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just asecond. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote: April 4th, 1984.

But even that is a futile exercise:

He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him. To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984. It must be round about that date, since he was fairly sure that his age was thirty-nine, and he believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945; but it was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two.

(Orwell himself was born in 1944.)

Events accelerate when one of Winston's colleagues named Julia hands him a love note and they begin a passionate secret affair - solidfying his resistance to the Party's narrative.

Winston is invited to the flat of his superior, O'Brien, who reveals himself to be a member of the Brotherhood and gives Winston a copy of Goldstein's book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which he reads to understand the means and ends of the Party - but not its motivation.

Inevitably, Winston is betrayed and revealed; he is tortured and made to denounce Julia; and the story ends with Winston effectively converted and a true believer:

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Orwell's intentions for such a bleak finish have been discussed and argued over since its publication. Is the ending a prophecy? A warning? A parody? All of the above?

And if a totalitarian state such as the one in 1984 was to arise, can it be resisted or even defeated? If so, how?

Is it, as Winston believes early on, "If there is hope, it lies in the proles"? Is it, as outlined in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, the result of the Middle overthrowing the High? Could one of the foreign powers Eurasia or Eastasia emerge triumphant?

What exactly is the ultimate fate of Big Brother, the Party, and totalitarianism about 1984?

Orwell's true ending

Although Winston's story ends there, Nineteen Eighty-Four the book continues; there is an appendix after the final chapter.

And this appendix does not necessarily appear at the end of the book only. Less than a thousand words into the story, there is the one and only footnote in the entire novel pointing towards it:

The Ministry of Truth --Minitrue, in Newspeak1 --was startlingly different from any other object in sight.
1 Newspeak was the official language of Oceania. For an account of its structure and etymology see Appendix.

The appendix, titled The Principles of Newspeak, explains and outlines the rules and reasoning behind Newspeak - as well as offering tantalizing hints about the future of the world of 1984:

Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech. The version in use in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak dictionary, was a provisional one, and contained many superfluous words and archaic formations which were due to be suppressed later. It is with the final, perfected version, as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the dictionary, that we are concerned here.

Clearly, the Eleventh Edition of Newspeak is not so final or perfect - the appendix is written in our own Standard English. And from its first sentence, both the footnote and the appendix is written in the past tense:

Newspeak was the official language of Oceania.

So the appendix is written post-1984, in a world where Newspeak is of the past (and by extension, so too are Big Brother, the Party, and Ingsoc totalitarianism) and the author is able to discuss it freely and critically.

Therefore Newspeak fails and Big Brother falls after 1984, right? Maybe not. The appendix provides more questions than it does answers.

First: who is the author of this appendix? Clearly the author of the appendix is not the same as the narrator of the novel. Whereas the story in 1984 is told solely through Winston's limited perspective, the appendix consciously acknowledges its author and an audience ("we," "we now," "our own day").

Certain critics have placed it in the same category as Goldstein's The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism - a document from the world of 1984 that provides true and uncensored information about it.

And this certainly may be feasible - but why include the only footnote in the novel and point it towards a document from the future? Is it really Orwell or Nineteen Eighty-Four's style to suddenly insert such a metafictive strain in the story?

Why would Orwell include the appendix in such a manner that draws so much attention to itself and seemingly introduces a new narrator out of nowhere?

(Orwell would later adamantly refuse to remove the appendix at the request of a U.S. publisher.)

In his essay, "The Two Narrators and Happy Ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four," Richard K. Sanderson draws a comparison between Goldstein's book and Nineteen Eighty-Four's appendix:

Along with Winston, we are led to believe that this book, unlike all the other documents, has escaped the clutches of the Party censors and could therefore give us an independent if not purely "objective" view of Oceanian society. Winston is excited to find that the book confirms many of his own thoughts and seems to be a solid explanation of how things "really" are. But later this confidence is shattered when O'Brien declares that he himself, in collaboration with others, authored this tract. This gameplaying sadist has lied before and could be lying now, but we have no way to be certain. Most readings of Nineteen Eighty-Four depend to some extent on information that is provided only in the "Goldstein" tract: the historical formation of the three superstates that rule the world, the si;:e and structure of the Party (six million people belong to the Inner Party), the class structure of Oceania (the proles are eighty-five percent of the population).

I would suggest that the real horror of the "Goldstein" book is not that it verifies the world of the novel but that it fails to verify any world. Does Big Brother exist? Does Goldstein exist? Does the Brotherhood exist? Did the Party write the "Goldstein" book? Winston cannot get straight answers to his questions and neither can the reader

The truthfulness of "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" is in doubt largely because of uncertainty about its authorship, and, as we have seen, a nearly identical ambiguity surrounds the Appendix.

During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell became disillusioned with the idea of objective journalistic truth as he saw both sides mis-represented and mis-representing.

(In fact, upon completing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell would revisit Homage to Catalonia and place two chapters into a newly created appendix. His reason for doing so? To seperate the personal account from the historical and poltiical discussion.)

And just as O'Brien traps and manipulates Winston with Goldstein's book, Orwell does the same for the reader with the appendix:

There are strong resemblances between O'Brien's manipulation of Winston and Orwell's manipulation of the reader. Just as O'Brien plays upon Winston's desire for certain knowledge about Oceania's social and political structure, leading him on with the possibly spurious "Goldstein" tract, so the story's narrator draws the truth-seeking reader into an Appendix whose truth value cannot be determined.

The footnote's implied promise of verification is hollow, and the reader's attempts to determine the "objective truth" about Oceania —its social and political structure, its language, its fate —are frustrated. By trying to reconcile the novel and the Appendix, we experience for ourselves —"outside" the novel, as it were —what it might be like to inhabit a world in which the authenticity (never mind the accuracy or objectivity) of all documents is in doubt, in which documents are almost dreamlike, unfixed in time, infused with self-contradiction, at once recognizable and cryptic.

So... there's no answer then? Not quite.

Nineteen Eighty-Four's true resolution does not lie in the appendix (and its accompanying footnote), but in a 14th century nursery rhyme.

Oranges and Lemons

Throughout Nineteen Eighty-Four, a nursery rhyme is repeated in parts by multiple characters. It is first introduced in Part I by Mr. Charrington, the shop-owner (and secret Thought Police agent), as he shows Winston an old picture of a church:

“I know that building,” said Winston finally. “It’s a ruin now. It’s in the middle of the street outside the Palace of Justice.”
“That’s right. Outside the Law Courts. It was bombed in --oh, many years ago. It was a church at one time, St. Clement’s Danes, its name was.” He smiled apologetically, as though conscious of saying something slightly ridiculous, and added: “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s!”
“What’s that?” said Winston.
“Oh -- ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s.’ That was a rhyme we had when I was a little boy. How it goes on I don’t remember, but I do know it ended up, ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.’

It lodges itself in Winston's brain as a gateway to an alternate London:

the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston’s head. Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere orother, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing.

In Part II, the rhyme re-appears as Winston and Julia admire the picture after making love:

“It’s a church, or at least it used to be. St. Clement’s Danes its name was.” The fragment of rhyme that Mr. Charrington had taught him came back into his head, and he added half-nostalgically: ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s!’”
To his astonishment she capped the line:
“You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s,“When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey-
“I can’t remember how it goes on after that. But anyway I remember it ends up, ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!’”
It was like the two halves of a countersign. But there must be another line after “the bells of Old Bailey”. Perhaps it could be dug out of Mr. Charrington’s memory, if he were suitably prompted.
“Who taught you that?“ he said.
“My grandfather. He used to say it to me when I was a little girl. He was vaporized when I was eight - at any rate, he disappeared. I wonder what a lemon was,” she added inconsequently. “I’ve seen oranges. They’re a kind of round yellow fruit with a thick skin.”

One more stanza is revealed after O'Brien inducts Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood:

Almost at random Winston said: “Did you ever happen to hear an old rhyme that begins ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s’?”
Again O’Brien nodded. With a sort of grave courtesy he completed the stanza:
“‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s, When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey, When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.’”
“You knew the last line!” said Winston.
“Yes, I knew the last line. And now, I am afraid, it is time for you to go.

And then finally, when Charrington reveals himself as an agent of the Thought Police, he quotes the last line:

“You may as well say good-bye,” said the voice. And then another quite different voice, a thin, cultivated voice which Winston had the impression of having heard before, struck in; “And by the way, while we are on the subject, Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”

But there are more stanzas to the rhyme that neither O'Brien nor Charrington recite, most commonly:

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell at Bow.

Alternative versions of the nursery also include St. Margret's, St. Giles', St. Peter's, Whitechapel, and so on - all of them actual churches in the real world.

Nor is "here comes a chopper to chop off your head!" the end of the rhyme. There remains one more line that is never quoted:

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Chip chop chip chop the last man is dead

(In fact, Orwell's working title for Nineteen Eighty-Four was "The Last Man in Europe").

Textual references to Oranges and Lemons date back to the 17th century but the rhyme is almost certainly older - and some of the churches themselves date back to before the Norman Conquest.

So what does it mean?

In his essay The Prevention of Literature (1946) Orwell meditates on the resistance of poetry - and especially lyrics - compared to prose:

It is not certain whether the effects of totalitarianism upon verse need be so deadly as its effects on prose. Above all, good verse, unlike good prose, is not necessarily and individual product. Certain kinds of poems, such as ballads, or, on the other hand, very artificial verse forms, can be composed co-operatively by groups of people. Whether the ancient English and Scottish ballads were originally produced by individuals, or by the people at large, is disputed; but at any rate they are non-individual in the sense that they constantly change in passing from mouth to mouth. Even in print no two versions of a ballad are ever quite the same. Many primitive peoples compose verse communally. Someone begins to improvise, probably accompanying himself on a musical instrument, somebody else chips in with a line or a rhyme when the first singer breaks down, and so the process continues until there exists a whole song or ballad which has no identifiable author.

The reader is welcome to analyze the geographical and historical significance of Oranges and Lemons endlessly, as well as its poetical and literary meaning, and come to any number of conclusions - but all that is almost incidental.

Totalitarianism can be resisted so long as an individual exists outside the machine to resist it - whether through history or memory; language or poetry; action or hope.

And just as these things can destroy totalitarianism, so too can they create it. Big Brother is born through history (having swallowed memory), matures through language (having swallowed poetry), and rules through action (having swallowed hope).

The appendix demonstrates this for literature through an example converting the Declaration of Independence (1776) to Newspeak:

It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink. A full translation could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson's words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.

Likewise, in O'Brien's interrogation of Winston, he reveals this necessary symbiotic relationship:

Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.

O'Brien's picture cannot exist without a human face for Big Brother's boot to stamp on; doublethink by definition requires the double.

Through this end, it is entirely possible to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as an endorsement of totalitarianism and a manual for fascism.

And therein lies Orwell's motivation for for writing Nineteen Eighty-Four and inventing doublethink; for including an appendix after the novel and a footnote within it; for incorporating a real poem but concealing parts of it: it is to stimulate discussion (and action if need be!) and to serve as both proscription and prescription against totalitarianism.

And that is Orwell's true and secret ending for 1984.

The End

It took four years for Orwell to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, during which his health continued to decline. He finished the manuscript in December 1948 and left for a sanatorium the following month.

Orwell would not live to see Nineteen Eighty-Four published. Early on the morning of January 21, an artery burst in Orwell's lungs, killing him at the age of 46.

In Why I Write Orwell identifies the "four great motives for writing": sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political impulse.

I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.

In peacetime, perhaps, George Orwell would have been a very different type of author. It's hard to imagine that an Orwell writing for egoism or historical impulse could have produced Nineteen Eighty-Four. And if he did, the ending could have been merely aesthetic: pessimistic and nihilistic or parodic and farcical.

But the Orwell who who grew up during WWI, fought in the Spanish Civil War, was bombed in WWII, and foresaw the Cold War; the George Orwell who contains Eric Arthur Blair, P.J. Burton, and Winston Smith; the George Orwell who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four and then added an appendix to it - that George Orwell wrote for a clear purpose:

A desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.

Further Readings

Books by George Orwell

Essays by George Orwell

Or why not read the Russian dystopian classic that inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1920)?

Thank You For Reading

Join the newsletter.  Publishes every other Tuesday.