The settings of 1984 are important for the ways in which they conjure up particular atmospheres appropriate to what Orwell wishes to communicate. The book was published while the Second World War was still fresh in the memories of the people, and many of its results were still evident in physical form as could be seen, for example from the bombed sites in and around London. As a result, many of the individual features of the settings of ‘‘1984’’ can be traced back to England between 1939 – 45.
At the beginning of the book Winston returns to his flat in Victory Mansions to begin his diary. Everything is squalid. The lift does not work and the hall smells of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. The weather is bitterly cold and a swirl of gritty dust pursues Winston to the entrance to the flats. Inside everything is a dreary, and from his window Winston can sees no colour except for the posters with the caption, ‘Big Brother is watching you. ’ All reflects the frustration which Winston feels, and it is obvious that war-time England is mirrored in these descriptions.
Other settings in the early sections of ‘1984’ are described in ways that both reject what life was like in the Second World War and reinforce the feelings of frustration felt by Winston before he starts his love affair with Julia and begin to make progress in his revolt against the party e. g. The records department at the Ministry of Truth is described in all its mechanical horror so that Winston and his fellow workers are made to appear like insignificant insects contributing their small quota to the life of the controlling power. Orwell goes further this to emphasise the decline in the quality of life since the Party has taken over.
The canteen where Winston meets Syme and Parsons resembles a British restaurant in the Second World War, but Orwell focuses on all that is vile about it from the greasy metal trays to the pannikins of pinkish-grey stew resembling vomit. The crowded restaurant and the deafening noise are emphasized, and the appearance of Parsons on the scene, reeking of stale sweat, adds to the unpleasantness. Everything about the atmosphere in the restaurant is appropriate to Winston’s state of mind, and the chapter ends with the remaining tobacco falling frustratingly out of his cigarette when the whistle blows as a signal to return to work.
Winston has, however, begun his rebellion by starting the diary and one day he finds himself in the prole area where he brought the book in which he intends to record his thoughts and experiences. The descriptions of the Prole quarter are not very different from those of working-class areas Orwell would have known. He describes his ideal set up by the Party as ‘something large, terrible and glittering’ and contrasts it with reality of ‘decaying, dingy cities where underfed people shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes. When Winston and Julia reveal their love for one another they have difficulty finding a place to meet; Julia, however; has had previous love affairs and she and Winston meet in the countryside in a place known to her that resemble the Golden Country of his dreams. Here the quality of the natural world is used by Orwell to reinforce the genuine feeling that exists between the two lovers. It also reinforces the idyllic harmony that can exist between people when they are free of the Party’s power.
O’Brien’s luxury flat is a great contrast to Victory Mansions, but we have already learnt from Julia that the members of the Inner Party have the best of everything. When Winston is transported to the Ministry of Love the atmosphere is once more squalid, as it was in the deck-up where he had been taken immediately after his arrest. Once again, Orwell emphasizes those qualities that reflect Winston being at a disadvantage. The female prisoner in Part 3 Chapter 1 vomits ‘copiously on the floor. ’ Winston has a dull rain in his belly and the lights are never turned out. Ampleforth is unshaven and has ‘large dirty toes… ticking out of the holes of his socks,’ while Parsons casts a longing glance at the lavatory pan, rips down his shorts and uses the lavatory loudly and abundantly. It then turned out that the plug was defective and the cell stank terribly for hours afterwards. Everything combines to take away the dignity of the individual. Other aspects of Orwell’s descriptions of the settings in the Ministry of Love are important as they reflect the stages of Winston’s integration. At first he is strapped down tightly during the interrogation by O’Brien, but gradually he is allowed to have his bounds a little looser.
Eventually, after he has begun to make his effort to conform, his varicose ulcer is dressed with soothing ointment and he is given new dentures and clean clothes. Nevertheless, Winston is unable to hide his inner rebellion from O’Brien, and is sent to room 101. ‘The room where he had been interrogated by O’Brien was high up near the roof. This place was many metres underground, as deep down as possible to go. ’’ The psychological implications are evident. In room 101, Winston will look into his very soul. After his release from the Ministry of Love, Winston frequents the Chest nut
Tree Cafe, significant as the meeting place of the traitors: Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford remembered by Winston earlier in the novel. The setting is dreary, the table tops dirty, and the flat oily smell of Victory Gin is inextricably mixed up in Winston’s mind with the smell of the rats of room 101. However, the most striking setting mentioned in the final section of 1984 is the park on the occasion remembered by Winston when he and Julia met after their release from prison. The contrasts between their meeting in the Park, and their meeting in the countryside on the occasion of their first lovemaking, are striking and poignant.