Download 1984 Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Winston Smith

Winston Smith is the pensive, fatalistic, and justifiably paranoid protagonist of George Orwell’s novel 1984. He is a member of the Outer Party and works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth. His job is to “rectify” historical records to align with the current rhetoric of the party. However, despite working for the Party, Winston secretly resents it. As the novel progresses, Winston becomes increasingly rebellious, coming to trust his own intellect over Party doctrine. He believes that the proles—short for proletariat—hold the key to liberating society and that his job is to spread dissent in the hope that they will one day revolt.

Winston was born before the Party came into power. Unlike younger generations, he remembers the time before the Party existed. However, he was too young during the revolution to remember explicit details and only has vague impressions. These vague memories give him the intellectual motivation to rebel. His ability to conceive of a reality in which the Party does not exist helps him discern the Party’s lies, such as their claim that they invented the aeroplane. For Winston, rebellion is about asserting the truth of his own experiences. Though he cannot recall the pre-Party world in explicit detail, he has a “feeling in his bones” that humans are not meant to live the way that the Party forces them to.

Winston's Job

Winston is fascinated by the past. Because of his position at the Ministry of Truth, he has a connection to the past that many Party members do not. More so than most others, Winston is privy to the fallibility of the Party and the meaninglessness of documentation. However, it is not until he holds the definitive proof of the Party’s lies—the picture of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford—that he truly begins to develop rebellious thoughts. At that moment, the past ceases to be mutable for Winston. The physical proof of the Party’s lies gives him permission to trust his own memory again.

Winston and the Notebook

Purchasing the notebook represents Winston’s first act of physical rebellion. Though he has committed “thoughtcrimes” for years, it is the act of writing “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” in his notebook that, in Winston’s mind, truly seals his fate. From that moment on, Winston views himself as one of “the dead.” This change is freeing for him. Since he knows he will inevitably be caught and killed, he takes risks that he otherwise may not have. Only by abandoning his instinct for self-preservation is Winston able to reconnect with the forgotten past and his own body.

Winston's Paperweight and Ulcer

Both the glass paperweight and Winston’s ulcer represent the ill effects of repressing of human nature. Winston’s fascination with the paperweight speaks to his desire to connect with the past. Winston admires beauty. His humanity has not been entirely snuffed out. He longs for the eras in which useless things could exist just because they were beautiful. However, the harsh, ascetic world he lives in strives to suppress beauty, love, and aesthetic appreciation. The paperweight provides a symbolic safe-haven from this dystopia.

After Winston begins his affair with Julia, he imagines the paperweight as a protective barrier between them and the Party. Under this illusion, Winston feels more human. He comes to trust in his own thoughts and feelings, experiencing real happiness for the first time in decades. This is reflected physically, as his ulcer—which represents Winston’s repressed humanity—stops itching. Under Party rule, sexuality, creativity, and individuality are all suppressed in favor of conformity and Party orthodoxy.

Winston's Attitude Towards Women

Prior to receiving Julia’s note, Winston views women negatively. He accuses them of accepting Party rhetoric too easily, especially the anti-sex rhetoric. He resents Julia for wearing the Junior Anti-Sex League sash, which indicates that she is not sexually available. His sexual frustration...

(The entire section is 1,215 words.)