In 1984, why does Winston feel that he murdered his mother?

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Educator

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Winston has only hazy, dreamlike memories of his mother and sister. In reality, there's no evidence he murdered her: she and his sister disappeared one day after he snatched a small piece of chocolate from his starving sister's hand and ran away. When he came back, they were gone. Rationally, he understands that his mother might even be alive, in a work camp, and that like him, his sister might have been sent to a center for orphaned children.

While Orwell doesn't tell us precisely why Winston believes he murdered his mother, the narrative makes it psychologically realistic that Winston would believe that. First, Winston remembers being constantly hungry and continually grabbing food from his mother's plate, as well as "pilfering" food she didn't guard constantly. So, in a literal sense, he was contributing to killing her through accelerating her slow starvation. Second, he recognizes that she behaved in a giving and loving way he could not reciprocate: she could sacrifice herself out of love for him and his sister. He could only behave, as a child, selfishly. On an intuitive level, he realizes he had a brute survival instinct that she was willing to give up for him. Third, he has highly symbolic dreams in which he is somehow killing his mother and sister, who are at the bottom of a pit while he is at the top. The dreams seem to be Winston's way of understanding that he, to some extent, survived at their expense, at least when they were all together, through his willingness to grab more than his fair share of food. Further, it would be realistic for a child whose mother has disappeared to fantasize he was responsible. Finally, until he falls in love with Julia, Winston leads a dehumanized existence: he has a hard, if not impossible, time feeling emotions beyond fear, guilt, hate and anger. Almost the only way he is able to experience anything emotionally (though he is able to appreciate beauty) is to feel something negative. So, since he does have feelings for his mother, they would probably manifest in a negative way, such as in the sense he killed her. After all, the only way he is initially able to feel emotion towards Julia is through a desire to hurt and kill her, a violent fantasy. After he is rehumanized through loving Julia, Winston is able to recognize that he didn't murder his mother. 

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shake99's profile pic

shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the main character, Winston, has vague, guilt-ridden memories of his mother. The nebulous nature of Winston’s memory is a function of the Party’s efforts to control every facet of its citizens’ lives—he is no longer sure of the events in his own past.

In Book 2, Chapter 7, Winston awakes from a dream and tells his girlfriend Julia:

Do you know, that until this moment I believed I had murdered my mother?

This statement implies that Winston now no longer believes that he murdered his mother. Orwell is not clear about why Winston has changed his mind about this, but he does state that Winston’s dream reminds him of the last time he saw his mother and what their life was like together after his father’s disappearance.

Based on Winston’s memories, it seems that as a boy Winston believed that his theft of a small piece of chocolate from his mother somehow ultimately led to her death. This is never directly stated, but it seems clear that Winston associated the two events in his mind.

This section of the story gives Orwell a chance to show how most citizens under the Party’s control have become bereft of emotional attachments. Winston’s memory of his mother contrasts with that idea:

If you loved someone, you loved him, and when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love.

Winston’s mother did not abide by the Party’s goal of eliminating emotional loyalty to anyone other than the party. Notably, this leads to a further revelation on the part of Winston. The proles, citizens who are not part of mainstream life in Oceana, still maintain traditional relationships with each other:

The proles are human beings. We are not human.

Winston has managed to overcome the Party’s brainwashing techniques and come to several important revelations. Unfortunately, his independent thinking will cost him severely later in the story. 

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Orwell provides several clues as to why Winston feels guilty in regards to his mother. First, Winston cannot distinguish whether his "memories" are truly past events or misrecollections of his childhood. He thinks that he selfishly became upset with his mother over chocolate and perhaps snitched on her, but he does not know if the incident truly occurred or if his mother's disappearance was connected to the chocolate incident.

Furthermore, Winston observes the Parson children's treatment and eventual betrayal of their father, and most likely thinks that he could have been capable of such behavior as a boy against his own mother because of the Party's strong indoctrination of children.

Winston's sense of guilt over his relationship with his mother illustrates not only Orwell's depiction of totalitarian regimes' ability to cause individuals to question their recollection of the past but also their method of brainwashing the youth into loyalty to the regime rather than to their own families.

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