Discuss the significance and nature of Winston's dreams. Deconstruct the dream wherein O'Brien claims that they "shall meet in a place where there is no darkness" (Orwell 25), and the dream in which Winston's mother and sister disappear (29). What are the underpinnings of these dreams? What deeper meanings do they hold? Why does the author devote as much time as he does to Winston's dreams?
Because the Party has robbed Winston of a genuine imaginative life, his dreams—the one time of day his mind is uncontrolled—take on an outsized significance. As the novel opens, Winston rebels against the Party by keeping a journal, an act he knows will inevitably lead to his death. Since his imagination has been trampled, he has trouble knowing what to write. Initially, the dream of meeting O'Brien in the place of no darkness functions as a novel or work of art or religion might in our culture, representing an alternative reality. As Winston begins his journal, he remembers that dream of seven years ago because it represents a hope that somehow his life will change for the better. We find out later that the dream is prophetic, for O'Brien and Winston do meet in a place of no darkness—the torture chambers—but Winston cannot know this at the time.
Not too long after starting the journal, Winston has a new dream, about his mother and sister. He dreams he is staring down at them. They are in a deep well, looking up at him, without reproach, and their lives are sacrifices, he realizes, for his own life. When he awakes, the dream becomes a portal into a deeper awareness of his own situation:
It was one of those dreams which, while retaining the characteristic dream scenery, are a continuation of one’s intellectual life, and in which one becomes aware of facts and ideas which still seem new and valuable after one is awake. The thing that now suddenly struck Winston was that his mother’s death, nearly thirty years ago, had been tragic and sorrowful in a way that was no longer possible. Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there was still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason. His mother’s memory tore at his heart because she had died loving him, when he was too young and selfish to love her in return, and because somehow, he did not remember how, she had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable. Such things, he saw, could not happen today. Today there were fear, hatred, and pain, but no dignity of emotion, no deep or complex sorrows. All this he seemed to see in the large eyes of his mother and his sister, looking up at him through the green water, hundreds of fathoms down and still sinking.
Winston's human emotions have been largely shut down by the Party. Despite his deep stirrings to regain his humanity, he is, as the novel opens, a person filled with hate and fear, the two primary emotions instilled by the Party. But the dream indicates that he is beginning to reach back towards a deeper humanity, to grope towards love and human relationship. He will realize this dream of a truly human life, albeit briefly, with Julia.
The dream in which Winston's mother and sister disappear represents his guilt. When Winston was a young boy, he took more food from his mom and sister than he was supposed to. His mother pleaded with him to stop, but Winston took it and ran out. That was the last time Winston ever saw them. He sees them on a sinking ship about to die, and Winston believes that it was his actions that got them killed. The dream is being used to highlight his guilty feelings.
The dream in which O'Brien tells Winston that they "shall meet in a place where there is no darkness" is a hopeful line and dream for Winston. He believes it means that there is a place where the Party doesn't exist or a time when it won't exist. That will be "the light" for Winston. In reality though, the dream foreshadows Winston's time of torture with O'Brien where the lights are always on.
The reason that Orwell devotes time to these dreams is that they further develop Winston as a character. Recalling the information about his mother, the reader realizes that Winston has a volatile, rebellious side to him. The dream shows that he is not sadistic though. He harbors genuine guilt. The O'Brien dream continues to highlight Winston's desire for rebellion, especially when you remember that he had another dream with a naked woman that destroys the party. Winston hates the party, and his dreams show that emotion as well as his desire to do something about it.
In part one, chapter two, Winston's dream of O'Brien is symbolic of both his desire for companionship and his desire to escape the Party's rule. In O'Brien, Winston sees a potential ally, a person whom he can trust and who shares his vision for the future.
In the next chapter, Winston dreams of his mother. Specifically, he dreams of being on a sinking ship in which he is, ultimately, the only survivor. This dream is significant because it reminds him of the sacrifices that a mother makes for her children, based on loyalty, love, and devotion. Winston realizes that in a world ruled by Big Brother, all of these traits are lost because the Party seeks to destroy personal and familial loyalty. Instead, the Party brainwashes people into feeling loyalty and love for Big Brother. This dream, therefore, shows the sinister nature of the Party's control.
By devoting so much time to these dreams, Orwell gives us an insight not only into Winston's character, but also into the harsh realities of living under totalitarian rule. These dreams show the psychological damage and oppression of such a regime.