In 1984 by George Orwell, the protagonist Winston is taken to the Ministry of Love and put in a cell there.

When causing trouble, prisoners in the cell are threatened with 'Room 101', or told to sit quiet until they are taken to 'Room 101'. This always seems effective in making the trouble stop.

When Winston asks what Room 101 is, the other prisoners think he's making a distasteful joke and refuse to answer him.

Why did all the other prisoners know what Room 101 is, but not Winston?

  • Incidentally, where is the place where the Winston asks the other prisoners about Room 101?
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 3:23
  • @Jonah I may have misremembered, but I thought it was whenever Room 101 was first mentioned. Or he may have just thought but not asked the question, and I confused the 'distasteful joke' bit with O'Briens 'answered drily'.
    – user32390
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 4:49
  • I'm just having trouble finding it in my copy.
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 4:50
  • From memory, it's shortly after he is arrested.
    – WW.
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 11:43
  • Are we certain that everyone else did know what was in room 101? I confess I've never read the book, but based on the excerpts presented in the answer below it sounds like no one actually knows what's in room 101 but never admits to it because 'Everyone knows what is in Room 101’ because that's what they were told. Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 4:26

2 Answers 2


It's uncertain, but one possibility is that

Everyone knows

O'Brien believes that Winston must already know what is in Room 101: one's worst fears made reality.

‘What is in Room 101?’

The expression on O’Brien’s face did not change. He answered drily: ‘You know what is in Room 101, Winston. Everyone knows what is in Room 101.’

1984, p. 328

and later

For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and O’Brien came in.

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’

1984, p. 357

The implication is that no one needs to be told what is in Room 101, that they will know what it contains as soon as they know of it. Indeed, this makes sense, since it contains one's worst fear; without information, a person's mind imagines the most horrible things, which is precisely what Room 101 contains.

Obviously, he initially does not know.

Only once, when two Party members, both women, were pressed close together on the bench, he overheard amid the din of voices a few hurriedly-whispered words; and in particular a reference to something called ‘room one-oh-one’, which he did not understand.

1984, p. 298

It is likely only once he is told that he knows what is in Room 101, and thus begins to imagine the worst horrors conceivable to him, that he then knows what is in Room 101.

The other prisoners probably suspect that he has gone through this process.

  • 1
    I didn't DV, but I'm still considering it.  You didn't answer the question.  "They believe he must already know."  Well, obviously.  How did they find out?  Why didn't he find out earlier? Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 2:52
  • @PeregrineRook O'Brien clearly implies that everyone must know. Think about it this way. If someone says that there is a room with something terrible in it, and they won't tell you what it is, you think of the worst thing you can imagine. That's what O'Brien is getting at.
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 2:53
  • @Jonah but Winston didn't even know that Room 101 contained
    – user65039
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 3:05
  • @KarmaBot I believe the implication is that he did indeed know, although he would not admit it to himself. Certainly O'Brien, that master of psychology, thought so. As to why, well, I added a guess.
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 3:09
  • 2
    My impression is that you are answering "how did people know what was in Room 101?", not "why did Winston not know what Room 101 was?", which are different things entirely. And I wouldn't trust a word O'Brien says, reality matters not a jot to him :P
    – DavidS
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 9:23

He knew. But he had such a strong fear from that, from the rats, that he couldn't think on it. But he knew very well, that he will meet rats there.

Also you know, what would you face in Room 101.

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