To Orwell Today,
re: for consultation - from Beijing, PRC

Dear Sir/Madam!

I stumbled upon your website today while searching for the decipherment of the sentence "Of all horrors in the world - a rat!".

This is serious. I brought this up with an American, a Russian (who translated 1984 into Russian), and two Chinese interpreters - all face to face - and a westerner on the Internet (Michael King). They all say that it means, "Rat is the most terrible thing in the whole wide world", but I don't agree with them. Now that (I hope) you're experts about Orwell, I'd like to hear your opinion about it - actually, I think that the sentence means this:

"There are so many horrible things in this world, why the hell should I be afeard of a little (fucking) rat!"

- I know, from the context it is pretty clear that Winston IS afraid of the thing, but, he, as a MAN, in front of a woman, he just doesn't want to admit that he is so fearful.

Am I right?

Thanks a lot and a Merry X-mas!
Wang Yuqi

Greetings Wang,

You're right that Winston was a bit embarassed about how he reacted about the rat, especially in front of Julia (a girl) who, like in so many other things, was more efficient than Winston. But that's one of the things he liked about her and when he was around her it was safe for him to be more himself and express his true feelings. She was there to deal with the rat which was nice for Winston because otherwise he might have blown his cool.

Here's the pertinent excerpt from 1984:

"...She suddenly twisted herself over in the bed, seized a shoe from the floor, and sent it hurtling into the corner.

"Get out, you filthy brute."

"What was it?" he said in surprise.

"A rat. I saw him stick his beastly nose out of the wainscoating. There's a hole down there. I gave him a good fright, anyway."

"Rats!" murmered Winston. "In this room!"

"They're all over the place," said Julia indifferently as she lay down again. "Some parts of London are swarming with them. Did you know they attack children? Yes, they do. In some of these streets a woman daren't leave a baby alone for two minutes. It's the great huge brown ones that do it. And the nasty thing is that the brutes always--"

"Don't go on!" said Winston, with his eyes tightly shut.

"Dearest! You've gone quite pale. What's the matter? Do they make you feel sick?"

"Of all horrors in the world - a rat!"

She pressed herself against him and wound her limbs round him, as though to reassure him with the warmth of her body. He did not reopen his eyes immediately.

"I'm sorry," he said; "it's nothing. I don't like rats, that's all."

"Don't worry, dear, we're not going to have the filthy brutes in here. I'll stuff the hole with a bit of sacking before we go. And next time we come here I'll bring some plaster and bung it up properly."

Feeling slightly ashamed of himself, he sat up against the bedhead. Julia got out of bed, pulled on her overalls, and made the coffee. She brought the glass paperweight over to the bed to have a look at it in a better light. He took it out of her hand, fascinated, as always, by the soft, rain-watery appearance of the glass..."[end quoting]

In real life, Orwell DID blow his cool regarding a rat. While in the trenches during the Spanish Civil War he hated rats crawling over him so much that one time he stood up and shot one, which caused the enemy on the other side to zero in on their location and lob a bomb at them. It blew out the cook house and a few other valuable supplies, much to Orwell's embarassment.

But also, in real life, Orwell had witnessed rats during his days as a tramp living with the poor and he'd heard about them attacking children in their beds. So he put features of this into 1984.

And also, for purposes of the plot, Orwell had to choose something that Winston feared the most so that the Party would have a psychological weapon to use against him when all else failed. Remember that in the book it is shortly after the Thought Police (listening behind the picture) hear about Winston's aversion to rats that they go kick down the door and haul him into the Ministry of Love and use his fear against him.

Here's the pertinent excerpt from 1984:

"...'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, '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.'

The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O'Brien was standing, Winston could not see what the thing was.

'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 implement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.'...

'In your case,' said O'Brien, 'the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.'...

'Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.'..."[end quoting]

Although the above excerpt from 1984 says, literally, that to Winston "rats are the worst thing in the world" it shouldn't be taken literally that Winston thinks nothing in the world is worse than rats because obviously, to Winston, Big Brother is worse than rats. But emotionally and psychologically there is nothing worse than rats for the effect they have on Winston's psyche. Like Winston says to Julia:

"It's nothing. I don't like rats, that's all."

I think you can see now that you are partly right and also the others are partly right in your interpretations of what Winston means by saying "Of all the world's horrors - a rat!".

All the best,
Jackie Jura

Go to 31.Love Nest and 44.Room 101

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

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com