Study Guide

1984 Memory and the Past

By George Orwell

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Memory and the Past theme in 1984

(Click the themes infographic to download.)

The Party seeks to control everything -past, present, and future. Another effort towards attaining that goal is to control its constituents' memory. Without memory, the people cannot know the past. Without memory, the Party is able to control history. By controlling the past, the Party also controls the present - because its constituents will accept everything the Party says. In order to control the collective memory of its constituents, the Party forbids its members to keep written records of their lives, and mandates that any photographs or documents be destroyed through "memory holes" placed throughout Oceania. Since memory is unreliable unless corresponding reality may confirm it, over time, reality becomes fuzzy at best, and Party members are soon willing to believe whatever the Party tells them. Thus, the Party manipulates the past in order to control the present, thanks to our ever-failing memory.

Questions About Memory and the Past


  1. How ironic is it to name a garbage chute a "memory hole"? Why do you suppose the Party names that, among other things like the Ministry of Truth and the Ministry of Love, so ironically?
  2. How reliable is memory in 1984? Is this normal? In what ways are the characters' memories affected and altered by what the Party says, by time, and by, well, reality?
  3. Does the Party succeed in altering memory, or not?


Chew on This

Winston explores his memory in an attempt to reconnect with the past because he believes the past holds the answers to the Party's rise to power in the present. He therefore agrees with the Party's theory that to control the past is to control the future.

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