Room 101 is a room introduced in the climax of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It is a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love, in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia, with the object of breaking down their resistance.
|“||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.||”|
Depiction in the novel
Such is the purported omniscience of the state in the society of Nineteen Eighty-Four that even a citizen's nightmares are known to the Party. The nightmare, and therefore the threatened punishment, of the protagonist Winston Smith is to be attacked by rats. This is manifested in Room 101 by confronting Smith with a wire cage that contains two large rats. The front of the cage is shaped so that it can fit over a person's face. A trap-door is then opened, allowing the rats to devour the victim's face. This cage is fitted over Smith's face, but he saves himself by begging the authorities to let his lover, Julia, suffer this torture instead of him. The threatened torture, and what Winston does to escape it, breaks his last promise to himself and to Julia: never to betray her emotionally. The book suggests that Julia is likewise subjected to her own worst fear (although it is not revealed what her worst fear is), and when she and Winston later meet in a park, he notices a scar on her forehead. The original intent of threatening Winston with the rats was not necessarily to go through with the act, but to force him into betraying the only person he loved and therefore break his spirit.
Orwell named Room 101 after a conference room at Broadcasting House where he used to sit through tedious meetings. When the original room 101 at the BBC was due to be demolished, a plaster cast of it was made by artist Rachel Whiteread and displayed in the cast courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum from November 2003 until June 2004.
The novel's popularity has resulted in the term "Room 101" being used to represent a place where unpleasant things are done. According to Anna Funder's book Stasiland, Erich Mielke, the last Minister of State Security (Stasi) of East Germany, had the floors of the Stasi headquarters renumbered so that his second floor office would be number 101.
In the BBC comedy television series Room 101, the concept is radically changed from that of Orwell, and celebrities are invited to discuss their pet hates and persuade the host to consign them to oblivion, as metaphorically represented by the idea of Room 101.
In The Ricky Gervais Show, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant play a game called "Room 102," based on the concept of "Room 101," in which Karl Pilkington has to decide what things he dislikes enough to put in Room 102. This would result, according to their game, in these things being erased from existence.
The concept of a "Room 101" has also entered into many fictional works.
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, the physical location of Room 101 (and the Ministry of Love) is given as the MI5 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross.
One sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Sound involved the hapless residents of room 102, the telescreen repair centre, who could not ignore the things happening in the next room. They were greatly inconvenienced by some of the more irrational fears, like killer whales, and suspicious of the number of people who claimed their worst fear was sex.
- "The Real Room 101". BBC. Archived from the original on 5 January 2007.
Meyers, Jeffery. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. W.W.Norton. 2000. ISBN 0-393-32263-7, p. 214.
- "BBC Broadcasting House – Public Art Programme 2002–2008". Retrieved 2009-05-18.
- Brooks, Richard (23 March 2003). "Orwell’s room 101 to be work of art". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 2009-05-18.
- Byrnes, Sholto; Tonkin, Boyd (18 June 2004). "Anna Funder: Inside the real Room 101". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2008-02-02. (Profile of Funder and her book, Stasiland)
- Risely, Matt (18 September 2011). "Doctor Who: "The God Complex" Review". IGN. Retrieved 31 March 2012.