Almost every aspect of society in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is controlled. Personal thought, privacy and space is never given. One of the main goals of the Party is to control people’s thoughts. Their memories are replaced with the Party’s own version of the truth. Every person is always being watched, even by their own family members and friends. Since Big Brother and the Thought Police are always watching, it is impossible for any type of individualism to flourish. Winston is struggling to remember his history. He is besieged to make sense of what happened to his world. This is where the symbolism of the coral paperweight comes in. The coral paperweight purchased at Charrington’s shop becomes a dominant symbol in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Winston wanders through prole neighborhoods, fearful because he knows the Party disapproves of his life, and his desire for solitude and knowledge. He enjoys the prole neighborhoods because the proles live less controlled lives. They represent more of what life was like before the Party came into power. Winston follows an old man into a pub, planning to ask him about life before the Revolution. After buying the man a beer, he asks him about the past, but the old man is drunk. Winston then realizes that there is no one who can tell him whether life was better or worse in the past – that history has been eradicated. After leaving the pub he finds himself outside of an antique junk shop owned by an intelligent prole named, Mr. Charrington. Because he suspects that life is worse under Party rule, Winston is enthralled by Mr. Charrington and his items from the past. He feels that the items that he finds in this shop are from a better time.
As Winston wanders through the shop his eye was caught by the glass paperweight. “It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the color and texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or sea anemone.” (Orwell 95) Winston paid four dollars for the object and put it into his pocket. “What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one.” (Orwell 95) Winston finds the paperweight to be fascinating because he has never seen one before. He has never seen any object that was specifically designed to be beautiful. The paperweight is a beautiful relic from a more civilized time, symbolizing his desire to connect with the past, and the fragility of memory.
Winston looks at the paperweight often trying to understand where it came from. With very few memories of his childhood, or a time without Big Brother, he wants to learn about the past. He wants to learn about a world where the beautiful glass paperweight was an unremarkable, everyday item. In his world, citizens have no connection to real events since the government rewrites history to maintain its authority. It is no wonder that Winston would want a real connection to the past and not one given to him by his government. Winston believes that he has found the connection to the past with the glass paperweight, especially after Mr. Charrington describes to him the paperweight’s history and purpose.