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The Glass Paperweight Symbol Analysis

The Glass Paperweight Symbol Icon
The old glass paperweight sold to Winston by Mr. Charrington represents the past. The level of craftsmanship required to make it is no longer achievable, since production standards have dropped and the Party has abolished beauty for its own sake. The tiny fragment of coral embedded in the paperweight represents the fragility of human relationships, particularly the bond between Julia and Winston, which is destroyed by O'Brien as easily and remorselessly as the paperweight is smashed by the Thought Police. The paperweight also symbolizes the room in Mr. Charrington's house that becomes a private sanctuary for the lovers, imagined by Winston as a separate world, frozen in time.

The Glass Paperweight Quotes in 1984

The 1984 quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Glass Paperweight. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of 1984 published in 1961.
Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes
He turned over towards the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, and that in fact he was inside it, along with the mahogany bed and the gateleg table and the clock and the steel engraving and the paperweight itself. The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia's life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl
Related Symbols: The Glass Paperweight
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston and Julia have secretly met in the room above Mr. Charrington's junk shop, enjoying the forbidden pleasures of black market food, spontaneous singing, and time together away from the surveillance of the Party. At the end of this scene, Winston stares at the antique glass paperweight he has bought, marveling at its beauty and complexity. Under the Party, all production has become purely functional, and thus craftsmanship no longer exists and beautiful objects are (literally) relics of the past. 

Winston's fascination with the paperweight is moving, and the level of detail in this description betrays the way in which citizens living in free societies might end up taking such small manifestations of beauty and skill for granted. Winston's desire to be inside the paperweight highlights the strength of his longing for privacy and for an internal life beyond the reach of the Party. The phrase "in fact he was inside it" also reflects Orwell's repeated challenging of the binary between external reality and our internal perspective. 


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The Glass Paperweight Symbol Timeline in 1984

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Glass Paperweight appears in 1984. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 8
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon
Reality Control Theme Icon
...bought the diary. The owner, an intelligent prole named Mr. Charrington, shows him a glass paperweight with a piece of coral inside, which Winston buys, and a print of an old... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 4
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...it another day. As they ready to leave the room, Winston gazes into the glass paperweight, imagining that it is the room they are in, and that the coral inside is... (full context)