The book is set in a future world that is dominated by three perpetually warring totalitarian states: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The book’s hero, Winston Smith, is an ordinary guy and minor party functionary in Oceania. His job is to rewrite history in the Ministry of Truth and to bring it in line with current political thinking. He lives in a London still shattered by a nuclear war that took place not long after World War II. Oceania’s totalitarianism resembles the more sinister aspects of the Soviet Union when Orwell was writing, at a time when he had become disillusioned with socialism. The population is brainwashed into unthinking obedience, love of Big Brother, and hatred of Eurasia and Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the Brotherhood, an underground group of dissenters. His longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. He has a forbidden affair with a like-minded woman, and soon they are monitored for signs of deviant thought and behavior. Winston and his girlfriend break the rules and, although they think they have done so with impunity, are actually being watched closely. When Winston is approached by O’Brien, who appears to be a member of the Brotherhood, the trap is sprung, and they are sent to the Ministry of Love for a violent reeducation. The ensuing imprisonment, torture, and brainwashing of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to root out his independence and destroy his dignity and humanity.
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink. (1.3.20)¨
The Party’s concept of doublethink is contrary to reason, logic, and the workings of the brain. It takes a great effort for Winston to engage in doublethink. So what this quote is also explaining his role in the novel which is to rewrite history in the Ministry of Truth and to bring it in line with current political thinking.
This is Winston’s story, and we only get information through his eyes. Why does this work? Part of what makes 1984 awesome is that we feel the same emotions as its protagonist. If Winston feels confused about history, we are likewise...