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Memory Hole in 1984

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
George Orwell's novel 1984 is still read today due to its fascinating plot and creepy dystopian world. Learn what a memory hole is in this lesson and test yourself with a quiz.

What's A Memory Hole in 1984?

A memory hole in George Orwell's novel 1984 is an opening in a wall connected to a chute, which then connects to an incinerator. The chute is inside the wall, so all that can be seen is the opening. Think of a laundry chute, albeit a laundry chute that would burn your clothes up, and you'll get the idea. It's required that people place all refuse paper into these holes, which destroys these materials completely. Since citizens of Oceania, especially government workers, have absolutely no privacy and are constantly watched, this order is followed to a 'T.'

The only reason to have memory holes would be to destroy something completely, right? Hmmm...doesn't sound sketchy at all. You'd probably agree that burning stuff to a crisp doesn't generally scream 'I'm a reputable person!' And yet, memory holes are used by all government employees without a second thought.

The Purpose of Memory Holes

The primary purpose of the memory hole is to dispose of all unwanted documents. Now, if you're a top-tier member of the ruling Inner Party and you want to keep the masses docile and oppressed without actually realizing they're oppressed, what's one thing you'll want to do? That's right - dispose of any evidence that makes you or Big Brother look less all-knowing than you want people to think you are. And that's where the memory holes come in.

In the Ministry of Truth, which is basically the ministry of propaganda and straight-up lying, memory holes are used to dispose of evidence that history has been tampered with. Can you believe the nerve of the Party? They actually rewrite history in order to make themselves and Big Brother look absolutely supreme! And how on earth are they supposed to cover this up? Well, that's where the memory holes come in.

The workers who rewrite historical events (like the novel's protagonist, Winston Smith) receive their daily orders on slips of paper, and they also usually receive the original document they're meant to alter. So, for example, if Winston has to completely rewrite a news article in which now disgraced Party members are given an award, he'll get his orders and the original news article to work off of. He'll rewrite the article, probably saying something about how these Party members have always been traitors to Big Brother. But what's the problem once he's finished?

That's right - there's totally evidence left that someone could use to prove that this historical event has been fabricated or altered! And we can't have that. So away into the memory hole goes the original article and the slip of paper with the rewrite order on it. Poof - just like that, the offending documents no longer exist, and all that remains is the completely false, newly rewritten article.

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