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  • "Ingsoc in Relation to Chess": Reversible Opposites in Orwell's 1984Author(s): Graham GoodSource: NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 50-63Published by: Duke University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1346017 .Accessed: 04/11/2013 20:30

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  • "Ingsoc in Relation to Chess": Reversible Opposites in Orwell's 1984.


    The usual interpretation of 1984 is that it shows us a bold but doomed reassertion of human values in the face of an inhuman tyranny. Among these values are sexual love, privacy, and memory of the personal and collective past: all of them are associated with the love affair between Winston and Julia. Although some disturbing features in the book are often noted, such as Winston's reverence for O'Brien even after the revelation that he is working for the Thought Police, and such as the "inhuman" oath Winston and Julia are willing to take to join the supposed rebel conspiracy called the Brotherhood, the basic interpretation remains in place, qualified by a certain uneasiness.

    My contention is that this basic or "manifest" reading is contradicted by an opposite but "latent" reading. The reversibility of opposites is a cardinal principle of Ingsoc, the reigning ideology of Oceania, and is announced by slogans like "War is Peace" and "Freedom is Slavery" (curiously, the third slogan, "Ignorance is Strength," is not exactly an opposition). My argument will be that this principle is not confined to Ingsoc, but applies to 1984 as a whole. The novel is structured around a set of oppositions, like the Party vs. the Brotherhood, which are symmetrical and interchangeable. Emotional and political allegiances can be switched instantaneously: from the start of the novel, Winston's loathing of Big Brother can change suddenly into adoration1 and he feels that it does not matter whether O'Brien is a friend or enemy (p. 24). This principle in the novel is shown in the reversible interpretations of the roles of the main characters: Winston takes Julia to be a spy at first, then accepts her as a fellow rebel; with O'Brien, he assumes unorthodoxy first and later has to reverse the assumption; and the same principle applies to Winston's own behavior. Thematically, the principle is shown in two related motifs: the game of chess, and the pattern of black and white imagery which persists throughout. The interchangeability of black and white, as sides in the game, as colors in the pattern and as symbols of any pair of opposites, lies at the heart of Orwell's own thinking, not merely of the ideology of Ingsoc.


    "Ingsoc in relation to chess" is the title of a lecture that Winston has to sit through at his Community Centre on the day when Julia passes him her "I love you" note; the lecture is frustrating for him, since he wants to be alone to think about this dramatic event. The title, of course, is a wry joke at the expense of an ideology like Marxism which claims to be universally applicable, but although Winston "writhed with boredom," the topic may have been better than many,

    1 1984, (London: Penguin, 1973), p. 15.

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    since chess does turn out to be one of Winston's interests. At any rate, the lecture must have had some effect on him, because when he is finally alone, he takes from chess a metaphor to describe the situation he faces. He is preoccupied with the urgency of his desire for Julia. "A kind of fever seized him at the thought that he might lose her, the white youthful body might slip away from him... But the physical difficulty of meeting was enormous. It was like trying to make a move at chess when you were already mated" (90).

    In this image, sex and chess are closely interlinked, and we are reminded of the tradition of lovers as chess players which appears, for example, at the end of The Tempest when Ferdinand and Miranda are "discovered" at chess. But here the image only makes sense if Julia is more a piece to be taken (as so often the language of sport, like the word itself, is also sexual) rather than the opposing player, which is presumably the Thought Police or the Party. Her white body is a pawn, perhaps offered as a sacrifice leading to a trap. Winston is tempted into playing, but he is already "mated." Given the associations already created, this could be a sublimated pun: "mate" means simultaneously winning Julia and losing the game. The actual phrase is passive ("already mated") and this corre- sponds well to Winston's sexual passivity (Julia initiates and essentially manages the affair), as well as creating a strong association of desire and defeat. Obviously, even to think about the problem of responding to a checkmate, you have to believe that you are not mated while you try out the possible moves, and this is exactly what Winston does. He knows he is going to lose, in the sense that the Thought Police will eventually capture and punish him, but he suspends, at least intellectually, the idea that he has already lost before he even starts. He is drawn into a match right at the end when the outcome is a foregone conclusion and his moves are meaningless. At a deeper level, though, this image of being mated not eventually, but already, stays with him and surfaces again in the last part of the book.

    Whether she is a pawn or a player, Julia's whiteness is repeatedly stressed: her white face, set off by dark hair and lips, is practically a leitmotif, and when she flings aside her overalls, "her body gleamed white in the sun" (103). This mythical gesture of self-exposure haunts Winston's imagination: to him it seems to symbolically annihilate the whole system of the Party's tyranny. Yet in the black and white pattern of the novel, white is very clearly the colour of the Party. After all, "White always mates" (232). Invariably, white means power, from the "glittering white concrete" (7) of the Ministry of Truth glimpsed at the beginning of the novel, to the "glittering white porcelain" (181) of the rooms in the Ministry of Love, "the place where there is no darkness," and where "men in white coats" supervise Winston's torture under the constant "white light." The final victory of Oceania is shown on the telescreens at the end of the novel as "the white arrow tearing across the tail of the black" (238). Thematically Julia is a creature of whiteness, light and exposure; her sexual power is associated with the political power of the Party, even though superficially the two seem opposed.

    Winston is equally strongly associated with darkness and blackness. As a

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  • 52 NOVELIFALL 1984

    dissident, his survival depends on hiding: hiding his thoughts, his face, his body. Symbolically, he is associated with private spaces such as the alcove in his apartment, or the room over the shop. Both these spaces are also dark and dirty, and Winston's body reflects these qualities. Just as he fears being seen by the police for political reasons, he fears being seen by Julia for sexual reasons. At the "Golden Country" meeting, "the May sunshine had made him feel dirty and etiolated, a creature of indoors, with the sooty dust of London in the pores of his skin. It occurred to him that till now she had probably never seen him in broad daylight in the open" (98). As the affair progresses, Winston gradually overcomes his physical shame and eventually gets used to being naked in Julia's presence. Significantly, he is naked at the time of the arrest: sexual exposure has become political. What follows now, still associated with white, is purification. Finally Winston fantasizes "walking down the white-tiled corridor," about to be shot, "but with everything forgiven, his soul as white as snow" (239). Power, purity and death become one, all ways beyond the darkness of self, steps on the way to love of power. Winston moves through love of Julia, through love of O'Brien, to love of Big Brother, like a novice moving from love of lower to love of higher things.

    Julia leads Winston from the darkness into the light, from hiding into the open, from filth to cleanliness. The room over the shop is usually taken as the antithesis of Room 101, but actually it is an antechamber which prepares for Room 101: Winston's bed of love with Julia prepares for his bed of pain with O'Brien. Whether deliberately or not, Julia's intervention in Winston's life objectively hastens his discovery, punishment and atonement. Julia "leads him on," through the experience of sex, towards reconciliation with the Party-or in religious terms, through sin to salvation. Winston himself at a deep level desires exposure and confession, despite his fear and his passive inability to initiate. His desire for privacy with Julia is a counter-theme, but ultimately it is weaker. At times the lovers talk longingly of their need to be alone together.


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