In Chapter 2 of Part 2 of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell writes this:

Sometimes it stopped for a few seconds, spread out and resettled its wings, then swelled its speckled breast and again burst into song. Winston watched it with a sort of vague reverence. For whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it.

I found his usage of "vague reverence" intriguing. What does this phrase mean? Might he be hinting to Winston's vague memories of the dream?


That is an interesting phrase "sort of vague reverence". Were I to write that passage, I would have not added that phrase. A careful writer picks his words carefully & a careless editor, thinking they were superfluous, would be tempted to delete them. Yet he did, which suggests his words here are intentional, & worth looking more closely at.

"Reverence" is related to the verb "revere", an act one performs to things considered sacred. We can understand Smith considering a wild creature sacred, so that part is understandable. However, when one reveres someone or something, one is attentive to it, one gives it close attention. Which seems to contradict the adverb "vague", which implies that Smith's action was done in an off-handed or inattentive fashion.

In other words, Orwell could be understood to say here that Smith watched the thrush carefully, yet did not really see it.

If you haven't read the Q&A Spagirl linked to yet, this is the point where you may want to now. Some interesting ideas are presented there.

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    I feel like "vague" fits well with the image built up of Smith, or in general of members of the society portrayed in 1984. Any kind of emotion or feeling is blunted, only able to be expressed "vaguely", except for those that are directed by those in power, like the Two Minutes Hate (maybe also except for sexual urges?). People have lost their personalities. Reverence for nature is not a thing encouraged by Big Brother; it's even difficult for Smith to feel or remember how to feel it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 10 '20 at 22:07

Reverence is a deep respect shown to someone or something.

Usually, when you revere something, you know why you do so, and it is colored by that knowledge. One reveres a mountain for its majesty, or a perfect rose for its beauty.

In this case, Smith does not really understand why it is singing, but he knows it's not for a specific audience. This is particularly sharp because his own life is, and he knows it is, under constant surveillance, making just about everything he does being for the watcher. He does not articulate this difference (perhaps he can't bring himself to?), but the result is that his reverence is therefore vague -- he does not know exactly why he reveres it.

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