There were also memories of another kind. They stood out in his mind disconnectedly, like pictures with blackness all round them.

He was in a cell which might have been either dark or light, because he could see nothing except a pair of eyes. Near at hand some kind of instrument was ticking slowly and regularly. The eyes grew larger and more luminous. Suddenly he floated out of his seat, dived into the eyes, and was swallowed up.

He was strapped into a chair surrounded by dials, under dazzling lights. A man in a white coat was reading the dials. There was a tramp of heavy boots outside. The door clanged open. The waxed-faced officer marched in, followed by two guards.

'Room 101,' said the officer.

The man in the white coat did not turn round. He did not look at Winston either; he was looking only at the dials.

He was rolling down a mighty corridor, a kilometre wide, full of glorious, golden light, roaring with laughter and shouting out confessions at the top of his voice. He was confessing everything, even the things he had succeeded in holding back under the torture. He was relating the entire history of his life to an audience who knew it already. With him were the guards, the other questioners, the men in white coats, O'Brien, Julia, Mr Charrington, all rolling down the corridor together and shouting with laughter. Some dreadful thing which had lain embedded in the future had somehow been skipped over and had not happened. Everything was all right, there was no more pain, the last detail of his life was laid bare, understood, forgiven.

What is the ticking instrument, and why is he swallowed up into a pair of eyes? Why is Julia and Mr Charrington with him and what is the dreadful thing that was skipped over?

  • 2
    Instead of asking us to do all the work, it would be better if you edited your question to provide your own interpretation (even a basic one would be ok) and ask if you're on the right track. Or, ask specific questions about particular phrases that you don't understand. PS - welcome to Literature.SE. I'm looking forward to your more detailed question :-) Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 5:38
  • Welcome to Literature SE! Please could you edit your post to clarify your specific problem, e.g. which particular parts of this passage you're having difficulty understanding? If you can narrow down the question a little, we can get it reopened and answered. Thanks! :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 12:02
  • 2
    Thanks for editing! I've voted to reopen now that the question is clear enough to be answerable. We need to wait for enough others to agree with my vote. By the way, @hellish, it looks like you've created a second account - please check these instructions for merging your two accounts, which will enable you to make further edits without review and to mark an answer as correct.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 22:19

4 Answers 4


what is the dreadful thing that was skipped over?

Orwell is painting a picture of a dissident in a totalitarian regime and how that system suffocates the human spirit.

The 'dreadful thing' is exactly what Winston thought of this system. It's dreadful and terrifying. Once his spirit is broken then it's no longer dreadful, everything was 'all right'. 'There was no more pain' because he was no longer able to resist. 'And the last detail of his life was laid bare' is the panoptician in operation - Big Brother who is no brother at all. And being laid bare he is 'understood' which is a travesty of being understood. And his dissidence is 'forgiven', which is a travesty of the Christian virtue of forgiveness, as well as in other major traditions. (Remember, Orwell was writing at a time when the Christian tradition was much stronger than it is in today's mostly secular society. And he could draw on that tradition in his writing). By inverting the sense of understanding and forgiveness, Orwell is referencing The Ministry of Truth, which as readers we know as The Ministry of Lies.

why is he swallowed up into a pair of eyes?

Because his spirit is 'swallowed up' by the panoptic apparatus.

Near at hand some kind of instrument was ticking slowly and regularly.

We don't know what the instrument actually is as Orwell doesn't describe it. What it is isn't important to the narrative arc. What is important is the 'ticking' which references time and mortality. For human beings, because we are finite creatures and live in time, time is always of the essence and always present. The ticking of clocks was redolent of time then as clocks ticked.

Orwell in this passage is tackling the question of why some people break under torture. It should be obvious - it's torture. Nevertheless, some people show far more fortitude than others. Orwell doesn't touch this question. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the wife of Osip Mandelstam, wrote a book of their life together under the repressive Stalinist regime. One thing she wrote has stayed with me. That some people - a few - did not break gave her hope for the future. That hope proved true.


This passage is (I think) the torture scene near where they fit the rat cage onto Winston's head. Its meaning is probably that it is the moment where Winston ceases to be Winston; he is back to being a conformist unit in a dystopian society. "He loved Big Brother", the last line, is biting because "he" is used instead of "Winston". Furthermore, the idea of "loved" here is love by the definition of Oceania.

This is a post-humanity society, remember. The last shreds to which Winston clung that made him human (passion, caring for Julia, wanting to be an individual, even in secret, which led to his hoarding of beautiful items not issued to him nor possessed by any standards by anyone else) are removed from him. In part he is relieved - he no longer has to live a lie, and no longer fears having his humanity taken away from him - there is simply nothing left to take except his memories - and even those he hands over to the authorities. He now has a sense of animal contentment of belonging in a herd and having his basic needs fulfilled.

  • The OP seems to be asking specifically about the ticking instrument and the eyes, as well as the overall point of this passage.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 7:56

I too was wondering what this passage meant and I can't seem to find any kind of interpretation online. My only guess is that he is either experiencing some type of dissociation due to electric shock (this would explain the man staring at the dials and Winston feeling like he floated out of the seat he is strapped to) or the effects of some drug that was given to him. I'm assuming that the ticking instrument is possibly a heart monitor. As for the dreadful thing that had been skipped over...I still haven't figured this one out. Maybe he just felt an overwhelming relief at having confessed everything he had held back his entire life. Maybe he was finally able to forgive himself for the guilt he felt regarding his mother and sister. Of course, this is just my own interpretation. I do not know if this is what the author actually meant. It would be nice if someone else could chime in with an explanation.

  • 1
    Hello, and welcome to Literature! Thank you for your answer; however, on SE we prefer that answer are just that - answers. That is, they don't contain additional questions. It'd also be beneficial if your thoughts were more fleshed, possibly with reference to particular parts of text that led you to your interpretation. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 14:31

The, "ticking thing" was probably a metronome of sorts. Orwell likely had knowledge of real world experiments in mental institutions. Psychologists eventually used them for what was referred to as, "neural timing". In context, it would be similar to a Chinese water torture; a relentless demand for information. The, "pair of eyes" were how his deranged mind was perceiving the examination light being shone in his face. The image I have is that of being in a dental chair.

His trip down the corridor with all of the characters in his mind was a delusion brought about by drugs and electrical stimulation of his brain.

The, "dreadful thing" was his fear of losing himself. Now that he was broken, he no longer cared. A relief for him but horrific to you, the observer. It's similar to the final scenes in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', 'Brazil', or the WEF commercial showing the guy with the distant smile and the note, "You will have nothing and be happy." Orwell saw it coming.

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