In George Orwell's 1984, if my understanding is correct Winston Smith's job is basically to find items in printed works that disagree with the Party's current ideology and edit/remove them - (e.g. flush the offending parts down "memory holes").

The idea being, with no written evidence of a fact, people can only rely on their own malleable memory which the Party can easily manipulate into believing the current orthodoxy.

But do people not have copies of books and newspapers at home? How do Winston and his co-workers edit those?

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    Yeah, it'd be a lot easier when everyone is on ebooks and such. Something to think about
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 16:04
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    Too bad Orwell wasn't a better prophet, or he might have suggested that books had all become electronic sometime in the past few decades. He surely does admit that the dating of 1984 is very suspect -- that it might in fact be decades later than that.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 16:13
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    This is in-universe speculation, but keeping one's own copy of a book or newspaper would probably be thought of as an aspect of "personal time" ( I can't recall exactly what Orwell called it) that he described as looked down upon as a sort of mental illness, the same as spending time alone, or having your own thoughts. Trying to pass off an old newspaper clipping as "evidence" that the party was re-writing history would surely be regarded thought-crime, in the least, if not full-blown paranoid insanity.
    – user151841
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 18:02
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    You have to understand the extent to which 1984 depicts, in fiction, things that actually happened in Soviet Russia 15 years earlier. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 23:20
  • @Paul No idea if you were referring to this actual event, but I remember thinking how immensely ironic this was (right after it was reported): nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html
    – Deepak
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


This is directly addressed in the novel. In short, Smith's job is to "correct" a wide range of printed materials, updating not only the facts of the articles and books, but also the language, rendering it into the latest version of newspeak.

  • Some documents are held on file in the Ministry's own archives (for their own quality control).

    What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of The Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs — to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.

  • Other books and newspapers are held by private individuals and local archives (libraries, for example) but with strict records kept regarding who has them at present. Even so, once a "correction" has been issued, it's still a mammoth undertaking to track down every copy of a thing and replace it with the latest version.

    The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction. A number of The Times which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also, were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of forgery was to be committed: always the reference was to slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the interests of accuracy.


What I recall (from rereading the book a couple years ago) is that individual copies of anything other than newspapers are rare, and the habit of preserving newspapers or clippings is treated as antisocial behavior. Thus, the two occasions we see (one as a memory only) in which Winston actually sees a printed item that contradicts a (recently changed) "fact", it sticks in his mind. It is for this reason, too, that the book he's lent that documents all the perfidy of Ingsoc is so easily accepted as real -- because books are so rare.

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