While Winston Smith of 1984 is certainly no Hamlet, and the genres of these two works are so disparate, perhaps the reader can, at least, find in the two protagonists some commonality in their conflicts of Self vs. Society.
- Both Hamlet and Winston feel a certain malaise in their worlds.
In his first soliloquy, the deep melancholy of Hamlet is evident as he expresses his disappointment in his world,
How wear, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!....
....Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely (1.2.133-136)
This disappointment is, perhaps, not so directly stated by Winston Smith in the exposition of 1984; however, it becomes apparent that he is quite unhappy with his life in Oceania. For, life is a pretense; he must set his face in
an expression of quiet optimism which was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen.
Winston dreams of his childhood, a vague memory in which he is not certain what has happened to his mother, but he remembers love. His longing for expression is such that he purchases a book he uses for a diary, an act that is criminal in his society. But, Winston hopes to express himself and derive a sense of individuality in a society in which there is none. He, too, is melancholic.
- Both Hamlet and Winston live in an environment of deception.
As the ghost of his father, King Hamlet, has revealed to his son, King Claudius has murdered him and taken Hamlet's mother as his queen in a deceptive manner.
The entire Danish court is corrupt: Polonius uses his daughter Ophelia in order to obtain information from Hamlet; he himself hides behind the arras in the queen's room when Hamlet comes to talk to her, and, making a false move, draws upon himself Hamlet's sword. In addition, Hamlet's former friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, attempt to extract information for King Claudius; then, they take Hamlet to England in order to have the prince slain. In obeisance to her father, Ophelia attempts to gain knowlege of the affairs of state from Hamlet and causes Hamlet to deny his having loved her. And, when Laertes returns from France, Hamlet is at odds with him, as well.
Winston meets Mr. Charrington, an older man who has the junk shop and who has let a room to Winston where he can meet his girlfriend Julia and they can truly be themselves with each other without a telescreen. However, Charrington proves false as he actually a mean-spirited man of the Inner Party who betrays Winston and his girlfriend.
- Both Hamlet and Winston still feel real emotions and worry about the state of affairs.
Extremely distraught about the death of his father and his mother's "incestuous marriage," Hamlin considers suicide until seeing Fortinbras who is willing to sacrifice his life for the honorable promise made to regain a small tract of land for Norway. After witnessing "the delicate and tender prince's" willingness to die for honor, Hamlet is moved to free the Danish court of corruption: "This is I, Hamlet the Dane," Hamlet declares as he sets about avenging his father's death by dueling Laertes.
Winston, too, is motivated to risk his life in order to feel human and free. His time with Julia is certainly a pleasure to him; moreover, his use of the diary allows Winston self-expression, even though he knows he will be caught and tortured. He, like Hamlet, seeks existential meaning. "To be, or not to be," is, certainly, the question for both Winston Smith and Hamlet.