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Is Winston Smith a tragic hero? How is he like Macbeth or isn't he?

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stephanie08 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 4, 2007 at 12:31 AM via web

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Is Winston Smith a tragic hero? How is he like Macbeth or isn't he?

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 4, 2007 at 1:01 AM (Answer #1)

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Orwell named his central character Winston Smith after Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during World War II; he also gave him the most common British last name, Smith. A thirty-nine-year-old man who works in the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith is fairly ordinary. His heroism is heartfelt, not out of false notions of rebellion for the sake of power and glory. In this way, he is very different than Macbeth, who became obsessed with both power and glory. Because of the visceral nature of his actions, he acts in a foolhardy manner. For example, he keeps a diary in order to record events as he experiences them, even though he is very likely to get caught by the Thought Police. Similarly, he rents the room above a junk shop to use as a love nest with Julia despite the obvious risks. Finally, Winston trusts O’Brien, not suspecting that he is a loyal member of the Inner Party who is trying to entrap him. In this way, he is very like Macbeth, who also acts foolishly and rashly, before consideration. He is easily swayed to risk by the witches' prophecies, and thus leaves himself open to attack.

Despite these similarities, however, Winston - unlike Macbeth - is not a tragic hero. Winston's downfall is not the result of his own frailties, but the society with which he is conflict. The Thought Police are Winston's antagonist, not his own rebellion. Macbeth, the archetype of a tragic hero, is brought down by his own desires. Winston, an unlikely but true hero, is the voice of reason in a totalitarian state.

When Winston is captured and tortured, he continues his defiance as long as possible. He has a strange respect for his torturer, O’Brien, and seems to enjoy their battle of intellect, ideas, and wills. Indeed, he has been thinking about and fascinated by O’Brien for years, even dreaming about him. In a way, he seems happy to be confronting him at last.

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