1984’s Winston Smith Character Analysis
George Orwell’s novel 1984 followed in the footsteps of his previous works that mocked the political entities of the day. Written in 1949, the novel is set in a futuristic totalitarian state referred to as Oceania. The totalitarian regime known as The Party, has absolute control of everything, including people’s lives and their minds.
The people are continuously monitored with cameras everywhere and are constantly reminded that Big Brother is always watching them. The Party also uses other methods to keep the people subdued, such as brainwashing them, using war and the Thought Police to propagate fear, and rewriting history so that people are not attuned to the truth. The pervasive agenda of The Party is therefore represented by its rather blatant slogan: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”
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The protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, who is a clerk at the Records Department in the “Ministry of Truth”. His work basically involves changing past records of events, such as newspapers and doctoring photographs to meet with The Party’s demands. His insider dealings with the regime has made him question everything about The Party’s affairs and as a result, he feels dissatisfied with the status quo. Here are the character traits of “6079 Smith W”, the name given to him by the telescreen.
From the very beginning it becomes apparent that Winston is a curious person. This is because he is used by The Party to alter history to make it seem that it is a perfect regime when it is not. He is among the few people in the novel who can see the regime for what it is- an authoritarian regime that will hang on to power through all means.
He is particularly curious as to why The Party is going through all the pains to ensure that history is rewritten to favor it. He senses that something must be wrong somewhere and as a result, he loathes his employers. Since he comes across these ancient documents before they are destroyed, he is able to see how previous regimes ruled. He is also acquainted with the democratic institutions that enabled people to select the leaders of their choice and the rights and freedoms that people enjoyed previously.
He is also rebellious. Owing to the fact that he is aware of the regimes pervasive goal to completely destroy humanity, he starts rebelling against it. He keeps a diary, where he scribbles the words “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER”. Keeping a diary or any literary material is forbidden, because The Party understands the repercussions of having intellectuals around.
The Party therefore suppresses intellectualism in favor of ignorance, which it promotes as strength. Winston makes it his business to oppose most of the rules throughout the novel. Chief among them is his relationship with Julia. All forms of relationships are banned to discourage any form of pleasure and bonding, so that all loyalty is given to the Party. O’Brien says this to Winston:
“We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman…”
With Julia by his side, Winston feels rejuvenated and continues the relationship with her till the closing stages of the novel, even though it puts his life at risk. The fact that Julia also hates The Party only prolongs his rebellious streak, because he now has someone who understands him and is willing to be part of the revolution.
Furthermore, Winston is very loyal- loyal to his course, that is. He wants to fight the oppressive regime and does not digress from his purpose throughout the book. However, his unwavering loyalty keeps him blinded from the fact that nobody is to be trusted. He therefore reveals his true intentions to O’Brien, who is a high ranking official of the party, which subsequently leads to his downfall.
In addition, he is paranoid. This stems from the fact that he knows he is constantly being watched. Since he keeps a written journal of his dislike for Big Brother, he believes that The Party officials already know his secret and it is only a matter of time before the Thought Police come breaking into his door. Due to his paranoia, he has resolved to live a risky life, because he knows his life is doomed either way. As a result, it can be concluded that he is also brave. It should be noted that the regime is so powerful that nobody has the guts to go against it, except Winston. And even though he fails in the end, he is courageous enough to try.
He is also a nonconformist. He is not a sheep that believes everything that is thrown at him. He is among the few people who still can reason like human beings. During the “Two Minutes Hate”, everybody seems to show unwarranted hatred towards Goldstein, who is accused of going against the wishes of The Party.
Although Winston participates in this public condemnation of an innocent person, it is only a façade so that he does not come out as a Goldstein’s sympathizer. It is due to this nonconformist approach that he feels lonely, even though he is surrounded by people. He knows that to be able to coexist with them he has to be completely brainwashed like them and with no ability to think, which he cannot bring himself to do it.
Winston is hardworking too. Even though he is used to advance the false narrative of The Party’s achievements, he is actually great at his job. Through the author’s admission, he loves his job. It keeps him distracted from his lonely and pathetic life. It gives him a form of escape to a world of fantasy whenever he reads about past regimes and how great life was.
Moreover, he is very intelligent. His job requires high level of precision and creativity in order to pull it off. He is very proficient in his job and is the reason that The Party has given him so much responsibility despite being just 39 years. Furthermore, it takes high level of intelligence to be able to break the law for such a long time without getting caught.
Unfortunately, he is also gullible. With his high rate of paranoia, it would be expected that he would be wary of everyone. Since he is lucky enough to get a person that shares his sentiments in Julia, he thinks that there are people like them, which leads him put down his guard. O’Brien acts suspiciously from the onset, which unbeknownst to Winston would have been a telling sign. A high ranking official behaving weirdly in a way that reveals he is against the regime that was unrealistic. Even Winston hated the regime, but acted like the other brainwashed masses in public and only became himself when he was away from the prying eyes.
Furthermore, he was a confidential employee of The Party, sooner or later they would come for him because he carried a lot of secrets with him. For them to keep O’Brien in his vicinity so that he could win his trust shows that they had been monitoring him closely for a while and knew something was not right with him. They just had to be sure, before they acted. Lastly, Winston is a misogynist. He has grown to mistrust women, because he says they are the most bigoted and adherents of the party politics.
“He disliked nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones. It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy…” (11/2)
But, his dislike for them is not because they are very loyal to The Party, it is because he is unable to get them to bed. They all have a Junior Anti-sex League sash on their hips, which is basically a mark of chastity. He just could not have them, despite being so attracted to them. Then comes Julia who is pretty and different from the rest of the women, which makes Winston have deep affections for her.
“He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.” (17)
It would be expected that since he has deep affection for Julia he would show her respect. But, he sexualizes her like the rest of the girls and even hates her in the beginning. The irony is that he changes his stance when Julia informs him that she loves him. He jumps to the idea of being in a relationship with her, because of the infatuation he has for her.
That explains why most of their meetings were mostly sexual. At one time he accuses her of infidelity when she declines his sexual advances because she is menstruating. Furthermore, he also dislikes his wife Katherine for her deep loyalty to Big Brother.