Insight into 1984

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

6079 Smith, Winston

Very early on in the novel, we are introduced to Winston Smith. He works in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting the past so as to ensure that in the eyes of the people of Oceania, the Party is infallible.

Winston, in the simplest sense, is a very tired man. Tired of his job. (“With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started”) Tired of the low quality goods (Victory Gin, Victory Cigarettes, etc) Tired of being watched. Tired of the system.

Winston lives each day as it comes, without any source of joy or comfort to look forward to. I think this monotony of his life is what struck me at the beginning of the novel because I can't imagine living a life filled with dread and misery. However, this changes slightly when he purchases a diary to write his innermost thoughts.

This is when the story becomes exciting for me because the possession of a diary itself is extremely dangerous in the land of Ocenia. The possession of a diary is in fact, the first step to his downfall. Thoughtcrime, as it is known, is as unforgivable as the crime itself. We witness a side of Winston who is dying to change the existing situation so that he can live a better life. We see a man who craves for reality, instead of the lies fed to him by the Party. Through his entries in the diary, the reader catches a glimpse of Winston's character and his memories.

It is very obvious as one reads the novel, that Winston is different from the people in Oceania. From the conversations that he has and the questions he asks himself, we are made aware that Winston does not blindly accept the statements made by the Party. At one moment in time, he asks himself after an announcement is read, if he is alone, in the possession of a memory.

Perhaps, due to his difference, Winston feels an obligation to change the situation in Oceania. He could very well see himself as a saviour, a Messiah of some sort, who was "blessed" with the ability to differentiate a lie and the truth. This belief is perhaps, what compels Winston to take steps to rid Oceania of the Party. It could have brought out the unwavering determination that Winston had later on in the novel.

Orwell also manages to make Winston’s character out to be a super hero in this story. SuperSmith-fighter of all evil and saviour of the world! He is just one man (with Julia’s help) out to rid Oceania of the Party. His determination, despite the huge obstacles presented to him, is admirable, if not a little unbelievable and far-fetched. I mean, if I had been in Winston’s shoes, I admit I wouldn't have had the guts to do anything about the situation.

In such a place where everyone is watching you, it is absurd to think that one would succeed to change the existing situation. This could be a cynical view, as others might point out.

However, Winston’s goal, as we find out, is not to be the ‘hero’ who saves the day. He says that he would be contented with the fact that he had made a contribution in getting rid of the Party and allowing people in Oceania to live peacefully. Isn't that a great sacrifice? To be willing to give up his life with the knowledge that he had made a contribution to getting rid of the Party, and yet, not to be able to enjoy the results when the Party is overthrown? When Winston uttered that statement, I realised that this man's ambition is to 'save Oceania' and he was more than willing to do anything in his power to make that happen.

However, although it may appear as if Winston is the ‘hero’ in this novel, he wears this average-Joe image that is rather endearing. He wishes for things that any other man would want-a wife, a nice home to live in and happiness. (“ He wished that they were a married couple…every time they met.”) It is truly sad as one reads the novel that his simple dreams are not fulfilled even though he tries to make it happen.

Another characteristic that struck me about Winston was the fact that he was a tad naive. This was shocking to me as Winston is made out to be this intelligent man with great knowledge. Let’s face it. He thinks that for “a fraction of a second” when his eyes met O’Brien’s, there was this “unmistakable message” that had passed between them. In addition, he walks into O’Brien’s quarters and declares that he is the enemy of Big Brother.

Hello? Hasn’t this guy watched Bond movies before, where the “bad guys” trick James Bond by pretending to be on his side? When Julia and Winston met O’Brien to swear that they would do anything for The Brotherhood, I knew they were done for. However, I have to admit that in such a miserable and oppressive environment, people like Winston and Julia were easily fooled, as their strong determination to succeed prevented them from having a perfectly clear view about the dangers that awaited them in every corner.

Alas! Winston and Julia are caught. The torment begins (where O’Brien promises to “save” Winston) and it is remarkable how Winston manages to stand by his beliefs for a period of time before he becomes “perfect”. Winston, the super hero, has failed in saving Oceania, and at the end of the novel, “He had won the victory over himself.” Sigh....


  • At November 30, 2004 at 8:19 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Hi Nadia,

    I must apologise for not posting a comment on your previous blog - your blog is so long AND sensible i didn't know where or how to start addressing it! Good job! Keep the brain juices flowing!

    Pertaining to Winston:

    Orwell certainly wanted to paint a very bleak picture of the world of Oceania right from the beginning of the novel so you're definitely right to pick that up. In fact, we're probably right to say that Winston, the average-Joe as you said, becomes our rightful protagonist simply because the world he is living in is so bleak and dreary, such that even the thought and intention of rebellion is itself heroic.

    I think what is really scary about 1984 is not so much that Winston wishes for simple things (happy family, etc.) and doesn't get them, but that he actually had a wife, had a loving family, etc. but that even in his own lifetime, his memory of these things were fading due to the power of propaganda and brainwashing. Even within your lifetime, you can't remember if things have improved or not. Personal memory becomes one big blur... What are we without our memories? (ah... that's a nice lead-in to Androids...)

    Yes, sensitive readers would already suspect if O'Brien was a true rebel and whether Winston was reading too much into that "look". But remember, Winston was brainwashed in his sleep for the past seven years. Have you ever wondered why the Party bothered to do this? Why the 7-year prank on a poor pen-pusher? Why PROVOKE him to rebellion, and even facilitating him the tools and accessories, such as the fake antique shop, complete with old man and painting, etc.? What do you think?



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