11

In the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, a ministry

whose primary job was not to reconstruct the past but to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programs, plays, novels- with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment...

A daunting job, to be sure.

The Ministry of Truth (along with its sisters Love, Plenty, and Peace) lies in London, in Airstrip One (formerly England). Airstrip One is

itself the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania

which lends the question: why are the Ministries of Peace, Plenty, and Truth in London rather than a more populated city or province?

While I can imagine multiple Ministries of Love to keep order in every province, Peace seems less necessary in every province, especially since mass recruitment doesn’t appear to be an issue - the war is fought by trained specialists, rather than by massive numbers of people. Entertainment seems to be fairly standardized, thanks to writing being controlled by machines and distributed in a standard language, so Truth wouldn’t need to be in every province. And Plenty, best we can tell, doesn’t seem to do much except decide what is going to be scarce this month. So, why would they be in London rather than the most populous province? The only reason I can think of is London is the home of the Revolution, shown by the original leaders of the Revolution meeting under the Spreading Chestnut Tree, but keeping the Ministries there because that was the original home seems more sentimental than normal for the Party. Again, why are the Ministries in London? In- and out-of-world answers are welcome.

  • 5
    Presumably for the same reason that all the ministries are currently in London, because nobody who's powerful enough to run a ministry wants to end up living three hours away from London. – Valorum Jun 21 '18 at 19:03
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    Authors tend to use their own personal base of reference as the underlying fictional base of reference, even if they're writing in the future, so for Orwell, Ministry's are in London (as per Valorum's comment) so his fictional Ministries are also in London. (Publishers also prefer a base of reference that will be recognised by the initial national readership because if the book's not a national success it doesn't have much chance internationally.) – Nicola Talbot Jun 21 '18 at 19:07
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    Oh it's so annoying that I can't edit comments. That misplaced apostrophe in my previous comment is going to haunt me. – Nicola Talbot Jun 22 '18 at 11:30
13

It is not at all clear why the capital of the English-speaking mega-state of Oceania should have its capital in London. One can hazard guesses: Perhaps the major cities of the New World, or at least Washington D. C., we're wiped out in the early period of the war, leaving London as a natural backup choice. Maybe it was deemed important to have the center of administration close to the Eurasian battle front. Whatever the original answer was, any record of it would have been destroyed long ago, down the memory hole, since it would conflict with the official history that Oceania had always been at war.

And that assumes that London really is the capital of a great transcontinental state (that there is only one set of ministry buildings, located in the capital). Winston Smith (and thus the reader's viewpoint) never leaves Great Britain, and it is a major theme in the book that anything he has not personally witnessed is suspect. The government controls all information and feeds the people a constant stream of lies. Maybe Oceania does not exist, and the state is only Airstrip One, or even just London and environs.

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    Or the ministries have multiple offices, and the ones in London are just the only ones known to Winston and the reader. – jwenting Jan 7 at 5:34
  • @jwenting Good point. – Buzz Jan 8 at 2:09
12

The most populous province is not necessarily the most important. London may be the capital of Oceania.

The capital provinces of the USA, Brazil, and Australia are also not their most populous.

  • 4
    Also, the EU is run from Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, and the UN from New York and Geneva. Of those, New York is the only 'high population' city, and it isn't 3rd highest in the UN. – Scott Jun 22 '18 at 6:22
  • Or consider the Netherlands, where the seat of the government is not the capital city, nor is it the largest city. – jwenting Jan 7 at 5:35
1

While the accepted answer is also a good possibility, I believe that this book mentioned in the story does in fact give us the right conjectures and description regarding 1984's society. And therefore, my answer is based on that assumption. The book I mention is-

THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF

OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM

by

Emmanuel Goldstein

While this book may be fake, the basic ideas and societal structure it describes seem accurate to us as readers (and also Winston Smith in the story). The accuracy of the description is such that it compels us to believe that it is true. Winston Smith makes a note of this in the same chapter -

The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.

So, assuming the book tells the truth, the following paragraph from the book is worth considering (highlight by me)-

In principle, membership of these three groups is not hereditary. The child of Inner Party parents is in theory not born into the Inner Party. Admission to either branch of the Party is by examination, taken at the age of sixteen. Nor is there any racial discrimination, or any marked domination of one province by another. Jews, Negroes, South Americans of pure Indian blood are to be found in the highest ranks of the Party, and the administrators of any area are always drawn from the inhabitants of that area. In no part of Oceania do the inhabitants have the feeling that they are a colonial population ruled from a distant capital. Oceania has no capital, and its titular head is a person whose whereabouts nobody knows. Except that English is its chief lingua franca and Newspeak its official language, it is not centralized in any way.

What we can guess from this is that London may be the capital of just one region being administrated from there. Also note that it is geographically separate from the rest of Oceania so ideally should have some local governing bodies. As to why the 4 ministries also have offices in London -

  • Ministry of Love- for thought control of locals.
  • Ministry of Plenty- Different regions will most probably have different shortages. You can't say there is shortage of tobacco when you grow it locally. (You can but they would just produce it illegally themselves)
  • Ministry of Peace- London is close to Oceania's border. Also, last minute changes in policy (Enemy changes from Eurasia to Eastasia once in one paragraph worth of time) require local and fast supportive action.
  • Ministry of Truth- Also local for daily work of falsifying stuff and making new dictionaries and entertainment. Like English is local language to London (Newspeak is official language), other regions may also have local languages and literature to be dealt with.
  • Excellent answer! I, however, disagree with one point. Thanks to the Principle of Doublethink, I find it completely plausible for the Ministry of Plenty to inform farmers the crops in their fields are at a shortage, and the harvest would continue unabated. Great points and references, too! – Imperator Jan 7 at 12:00
  • @Imperator Thanks :) I agree with your point. When I explained about Ministry of Plenty, I was just trying to say that the shortages in various regions of Oceania would not necessarily be the same. – Shanty Jan 19 at 12:29
0

I belive that it's not capital as we think abut it today. As much as party is decentralized by means of cells(party members), same go for state itself. London was capital of Landing line I, and it was local office of ministry, caring about local bussines around England. It was way to small to cover whole state.

And, if take in account, that they edited physical mediums, they had to have local office of ministry in every relatively big city.

Plus, it would be really nonsense to have actual capital so close to border with eurasia (france was eurasia).

So I believe live that there are local offices of all 4 ministry across whole country, perhaps in different sizes. Don't think that ministry of prosperity is required in every city, but others surly would have departments everywhere!

  • 1
    Nothing weird about having your capital close to the border with a hostile neighbour. Just look at South Korea for example. – jwenting Jan 7 at 5:36

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