Dear Orwell Today,

I have to do a seminar on the symbolism in 1984 for my grade 11 English class. I was wondering if you could help me understand the meaning and significance behind The Chestnut Tree Cafe and what it really is, as well as the diary.

Thank you,

Greetings Marni,

The "Chestnut Tree Cafe" is kind of based on the old Soviet Union coffee shop where the intellectuals of the Communist Party would meet to discuss their superiority over the workers who they despised but whom they pretended to care for. Everything they said was politically correct and towed the Party line of justifying doing bad things to people "for their own good" while they themselves, of course, lived like pigs at the trough.

There were these kind of literary cafes in London too and that's where many aspiring writers hung out in the hopes of catching the eye of a magazine owner or publisher who could give them a job or publish their work. Writers and managers who worked for The London Times, or the New Statesman, or the BBC  etc whose offices were near Bloomsbury street (the so-called "Bloomsbury Crowd") all went to a restaurant named the Cafe Royal. Orwell never joined them there because he was politically incorrect and, like Syme in 1984, "he had read too many books and said things that would have been better left unsaid".

Instead of going to the Cafe Royal Orwell went to coffee shops and pubs where poverty-stricken poets and writers hung out and where the working and middle class people went.

I visited some of ORWELL'S PUBS & RESTAURANTS and ORWELL'S LOCAL PUB when I was in London.

The end of 1984 - when Winston starts "frequeting the Chestnut Tree Cafe" - is symbolic of him having joined "the Party" and being a "goodthinker" like everyone else. At that point in his life Winston has convinced O'Brien and the Party that "he loves Big Brother", whereas before they tortured him and put the rats on his face he was still suffering from "false memories".

Some more symbolism of the Chestnut Tree Cafe is that Orwell probably chose its name from a nursery rhyme or song that was prevalent in the days when he was growing up. Its words were "under the spreading chestnut tree, I kissed you and you kissed me" but in 1984 Orwell changes those words to "under the spreading chestnut tree I sold  you and you sold  me". You'll recall that 1984 has many references to nursery rhymes and typical English folklore, ie "oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemens" etc. Orwell uses references to these cultural cornerstones as a way of showing how in Big Brother's world no one remembers them anymore, they having been thrown down the "memory hole" in the "falsification of the past" that goes on so that people will not be able to learn from history to see what the future holds.

The symbolism of Winston's "diary" is that really it is Orwell's "book" - 1984 - that is being written because Winston is really Orwell.

Just as Winston knew that the penalty for writing his diary would be death, so too did Orwell know that the price he'd pay for writing 1984 would be death. In Winston's case it was death from the "thought police" whereas in Orwell's case it was death by illness through pushing his body beyond human endurance by living in cold, damp, northern Scotland to get the isolation he needed in order to write the book that would tell the world everything he'd learned about the secret organization that was planning to rule the world in exactly the way Winston described it in his diary.

Remember, Winston was writing his diary to people "in the future or in the past, to a time when thought is free" as a warning and to help them avoid it happening to them. So too was Orwell writing his book to people in the present and in the future (knowing he'd be dead) so that they would read it and be warned.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

CHESTNUT TREE CAFE ROYAL and 1.Winston's Diary and 45.Chestnut Tree Cafe and WHY ORWELL WROTE 1984

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~