1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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In Orwell's 1984, what are Winston's thoughts about human heritage and dying?

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In the early chapters of George Orwell’s novel 1984, the protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, comes to various conclusions about human heritage and about dying or death.  These conclusions include the following:

  • At one point, Winston thinks of himself as

a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.

In other words, only by preserving one’s reason, only by resisting the impulse to go mad or become crazy, was it even possible to imagine resistance to the Party of any kind, let alone bring such resistance into actual practice. Resistance had first to be imagined as possible before it could become a social fact. If the Party were able to drive people insane, it would be able to control not only the present but also the past and the future. Only human rationality – only the ability to think for oneself and to think freely – could preserve human freedom. As long as one person remained sane, the Party had not yet completely triumphed.  Even if that one person were unable to communicate with others, the mere fact of his or her continuing sanity made it at least conceivable that the Party could be challenged and perhaps even overthrown. Of course, resistance from many persons would be preferable to resistance from just one, but only by holding on to one’s own sanity was it even possible to imagine making contact with other sane persons.

In a way, the quotation cited above seems relevant to Orwell’s own position in life. He must sometimes have thought that in an age of horrific totalitarianism, he ran the risk of being one of the few sensible people left.  His novel is in some ways his own small attempt to preserve his own sanity, to encourage sanity in others, and to make contact with the other sane persons who did continue to exist.

  • Shortly after the passage quoted above, Winston has another thought:

He was already dead, he reflected. . . .  Now that he recognized himself as a dead man it became important to stay alive as long as possible.

Winston, of course, is not literally dead – at least not yet.  He is “already dead” in the sense that he has already lost much of his liberty, especially much of his intellectual freedom.  Paradoxically, however, the mere fact that he can see himself as “already dead” suggests that he is still alive, still free enough intellectually to recognize the threat of metaphorical death and to resist it. By calling himself a dead man, he gives evidence (to himself and to us) that he is still alive enough to resist true total intellectual death – the kind of death that really matters.

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One major character that contributes to Winston's final self-betrayal is O'Brien. With just one glimpse, Winston repeatedly states throughout the novel that he believes O'Brien is part of the Brotherhood.Apart from his thoughtful nature, Winston’s main attributes are his rebelliousness and his fatalism. Winston hates the Party passionately and wants to test the limits of its power; he commits innumerable crimes throughout the novel, ranging from writing “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” in his diary, to having an illegal love affair with Julia, to getting himself secretly indoctrinated into the anti-Party Brotherhood. The effort Winston puts into his attempt to achieve freedom and independence ultimately underscores the Party’s devastating power. By the end of the novel, Winston’s rebellion is revealed as playing into O’Brien’s campaign of physical and psychological torture, transforming Winston into a loyal subject of Big Brother.

One reason for Winston’s rebellion, and eventual downfall, is his sense of fatalism—his intense (though entirely justified) paranoia about the Party and his overriding belief that the Party will eventually catch and punish him. As soon as he writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER”Up until the end of the novel Winston is viewed as an intellectual who can resist the stifling of his individuality. At many points during 1984Winston emphasizes his hatred toward the party, Big Brother, and the Thought Police. Winston can be described as a curious and pensive character that holds an ambitious attitude to learn about the past. Winston's curiosity is revealed when he attempts to talk to an older man at a bar about the past; he believes that "If there was anyone alive who could give you a truthful account of conditions in the early part of the century, it could only be a prole" (87). Although Winston does not succeed in gaining information from the old man, his information obtaining personality and sense of naivety are contributing factors to his self-betrayal. By the end of the novel, with the help of physical and psychological torture, Winston is manipulated to be a loyal subject of Big Brother. The views he once held were then erased, and his thinking changed drastically. The transformation of Winston's hatred towards Big Brother to the love of Big Brother demonstrates Winston's final betrayal.

 in his diary, Winston is positive that the Thought Police will quickly capture him for committing a thoughtcrime. Thinking that he is helpless to evade his doom, Winston allows himself to take unnecessary risks