Room 101

Room 101 is the designation of a particularly awful torture chamber within the Ministry of Love in ‘1984.’

The prisoners in the Ministry of Love are well-aware of the terror of the room. But, like Winston, they aren’t entirely sure what lays in wait for them. When Winston is still being held in the communal cell, he witnesses other people consigned to the room. Orwell writes: 

One, a woman, was consigned to ‘Room 101’, and, Winston noticed, seemed to shrivel and turn a different colour when she heard the words.


Room 101 Meaning

Room 101 is a prison chamber in 1984 in which a prisoner’s worst fear is manifested, as determined by the Party. The Party, through their various means of investigating and spying on their citizens, is all-knowing (as Winston is reminded of when he’s arrested.) They are aware of every citizen’s worst fear and are prepared to use that fear against them. 

In one more instance, on page 298, another prisoner is selected to go to Room 101. Orwell writes: 

There was a gasp and a flurry at Winston’s side. The man had actually flung himself on his knees on the floor, with his hand clasped together. 

‘Comrade! Officer!’ he cried. ‘You don’t have to take me to that place! Haven’t I told you everything already? What else is it you want to know? There’s nothing I wouldn’t confess, nothing! Just tell me what it is and I’ll confess straight off. Write it down and I’ll sign it—anything! Not room 101!’

The man goes on, asking to be shot, starved, hanged, or left to die in any other way. He tells the guard he’ll give away anyone they want him to. He’s got “a wife and three children” and that the Ministry can “take the whole lot of them and cut their throats in front of [his] eyes, and, [he’ll] stand by and watch it.” He’s willing to endure anything except Room 101 (Part III, Chapter II).

What is the Ministry of Love? 

The Ministry of Love is one of the four ministries that run the government of Oceania in 1984. It, like the other four ministries, is named for the opposite of its true purpose. It is the place in which upper Party members, like O’Brien, torture dissenters, like Winston Smith, into becoming loyal to Big Brother. No one is quite sure what goes on inside the Ministry of Love (until one is taken there). 

It is, in the most basic terms, responsible for brainwashing citizens into believing whatever it is the Party wants them to believe. It is depicted as a building with no windows, surrounded by barbed wire and guards. The other four ministries are the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Truth. 

Where is Room 101 Used in 1984

Room 101 comes into 1984 towards the end of the novel, during the climax. It’s there that Winston Smith is taken after he refuses to renounce his love for Julia or accepts the tenants of the Party. In the novel, he spends time there with O’Brien. Prior to this, Smith had questioned O’Brien several times about the nature of Room 101 and what exactly it was that prisoners saw in there. O’Brien, before taking Winston to the room, says the following: 

You know what is in Room 101, Winston. Everyone knows what is in Room 101.

(Part III, Chapter II). 

Later he adds: 

You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.

(Part III, Chapter V)

When Winston Smith is taken to the room, he learns that every prisoner’s worst fear is manifested there. The Party, which knows everything about everyone in their society, knows exactly what it is they need to do to break Winston. 

Winston Smith and Room 101 

Winston suffers his worst fear in Room 101. That is, being trapped and unable to escape from rats. Guards bring in a thing “made of wire, a box or basket of some kind.” O’Brien notes that: 

The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.

(Part III, Chapter V)

Winston saw that the box was oblong, made of wire, and had a fencing mask attached to the front of it. The cage was divided into two compartments. On one side, there were rats. O’Brien knows that in Winston’s case, “the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.” 

George Orwell writes in regard to Winston’s reaction: 

A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water. 

It seems impossible to him that they could do to him what they’re about to do; he’s in shock. The following lines include O’Brien taunting Winston with what the rats might do to him and Winston pleading to be told what it is O’Brien wants him to do. The mask, O’Brien says, 

will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue. 

It’s at this point that Winston breaks, accomplishing what Room 101 is meant to. He tells O’Brien to “Do it to Julia!” the woman that he’s been in love with and meeting with clandestinely. O’Brien knows then that they can make Winston believe and do anything they want him to. It’s only at this point that the Party will be willing to kill him.

FAQs 

What does the saying Room 101 mean?

It refers to a place where one encounters their worst fears and is broken beyond repair, as seen in George Orwell’s novel 1984.  

What should be in Room 101?

In Room 101, people are going to find their worst fears. For Winston Smith, this is rats for someone else. It could be anything from fire to the death of one’s children, to bugs. 

What is the symbolic significance of Room 101 in 1984?

Room 101 is a symbol of the Party’s power. They know everything about everyone and have the power to do anything to anyone they want. They also have the ability to change minds irrevocably, as they do to Winston’s. 


Related Terms in 1984 

  • Big Brother: the leader of Oceania and the face of the Party. He’s desired as a war hero, inventor, and more. He may also not be real. 
  • INGSOC: newspeak for English Socialism, the governing system used throughout Oceania. 
  • Ministry of Truth: one of the four ministries that run the government of Oceania. It is responsible for changing news media, art, and books to reflect Party beliefs. 
  • Ministry of Love: responsible for brainwashing the citizens of Oceania. 
  • Doublethink: cognitive dissonce. Or the act of thinking two contradictory things at once. Or believing that the two things are true. 


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