“It struck him as curious that you could create dead men but not living ones. Comrade Ogilvy, who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten, he would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar.” – George Orwell (1984)
In chapter IV Orwell introduces us to Winston’s role in the Ministry of Truth.
Winston must alter the record of a speech made in December 1983, which referred to Comrade Withers, one of Big Brother’s former officials who has since been vaporized. Since Comrade Withers was executed as an enemy of the Party, it is unacceptable to have a document on file praising him as a loyal Party member. Winston invents a person named Comrade Ogilvy and substitutes him for Comrade Withers in the records. Comrade Ogilvy, though a product of Winston’s imagination, is an ideal Party man, opposed to sex and suspicious of everyone. Comrade Withers has become an “unperson:” he has ceased to exist. Watching a man named Comrade Tillotson in the cubicle across the way, Winston reflects on the activity in the Ministry of Truth, where thousands of workers correct the flow of history to make it match party ideology, and churn out endless drivel—even pornography—to pacify the brutally destitute proletariat.
Winston’s life at work in the sprawling Ministry of Truth illustrates the world of the Party in operation—calculated propaganda, altered records, revised history—and demonstrates the effects of such deleterious mechanisms on Winston’s mind. The idea of doublethink—explained in Chapter III as the ability to believe and disbelieve simultaneously in the same idea, or to believe in two contradictory ideas simultaneously—provides the psychological key to the Party’s control of the past. Doublethink allows the citizens under Party control to accept slogans like “War is peace” and “Freedom is slavery,” and enables the workers at the Ministry of Truth to believe in the false versions of the records that they themselves have altered. With the belief of the workers, the records become functionally true. Winston struggles under the weight of this oppressive machinery, and yearns to be able to trust his own memory.
Accompanying the psychological aspect of the Party’s oppression is the physical aspect. Winston realizes that his own nervous system has become his archenemy. The condition of being constantly monitored and having to repress every feeling and instinct forces Winston to maintain self-control at all costs; even a facial twitch suggesting struggle could lead to arrest