Glass Paperweight in 1984: Role & Significance

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  • 0:00 What is the Glass Paperweight?
  • 1:35 Symbolism & Significance
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
George Orwell's novel '1984' is full of symbolism. In this lesson, we'll examine the significance of one of those symbols, the glass paperweight, and learn what it means to the main character.

What Is The Glass Paperweight?

What is the glass paperweight in George Orwell's novel, 1984? The glass paperweight is purchased from an antiques store by the protagonist, Winston Smith. When Winston finds it, he is immediately entranced by its beauty. The glass paperweight is described as a big lump of glass with a tiny piece of pink coral inside of it.

You might not think of a glass paperweight as being particularly beautiful or magical. But Winston finds this object to be fascinating because he's never actually seen one before, or an object specifically designed to be beautiful.

When Winston finds the glass paperweight, he's in an area of London he shouldn't really be traveling through. He's coming back from a prole pub, where he tried to talk to an old man about the past before the totalitarian, controlling government took over. The proles are the bottom rung of the social ladder in Oceania, the supercontinent Winston lives on.

Winston purchases the glass paperweight, and keeps it in the room he rents in the prole quarter of the city. He looks at it often and tries to understand the world it came from. He has basically no memories of his own childhood, or what the world was like before Big Brother came to power. He wants to learn about this past, this world in which a glass paperweight of such quality and beauty was an unremarkable, everyday item.

The glass paperweight also provides a sort of bond between Winston and the man who sells it to him, Mr. Charrington. Mr. Charrington owns the antique shop, and rents the room to Winston. Winston immediately trusts him because the old man tells him stories about the past. He explains the purpose of the glass paperweight, as well as what coral is, since Winston is unfamiliar with it.

Symbolism and Significance

The glass paperweight is an important symbol in the novel. A symbol is an object that stands for something else, usually a powerful idea. The glass paperweight is a symbol of Winston's failed attempts to connect to and understand the past. Imagine living in a world where history is completely rewritten by the government. Imagine you, as a citizen, are trained to believe everything the government tells you, unquestioningly. Imagine not even being able to trust your own memories of an event.

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