Essential Passage by Character: Winston Smith

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For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn. His mind hovered for a moment round the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word DOUBLETHINK. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

1984, Part 1, Chapter 7, p. 7 (Plume: New York)

Winston Smith is a low-level Party member who revises history so that past facts are aligned with the Party’s present stance on issues and events. He likes his job, though he does not have much liking for the Party itself. However, up until this point, he has kept his opinions to himself, as such views would surely alert the Thought Police and Winston would be summarily carted away to prison. Winston lives by himself in a small apartment in Victory Mansions, a complex situated in London in Oceania (once known as England). His neighbors are fellow Party members, who address him as "comrade," reminiscent of Soviet Russia. His sparsely furnished accommodations include a telescreen, which is a television screen that not only presents information from the Party twenty-four hours a day, but also monitors citizens at home and out in public. This constant surveillance is reflected in the motto displayed prominently on posters throughout the city: “Big Brother Is Watching You.” Big Brother is the affectionate title given to the supreme leader of the party. All love and tribute is paid to Big Brother as the personification of the Party.

One day Winston strolls through the proletariat (“prole”) district. The proles are individuals who are not part of the Party. Making up about eighty-five percent of the population, proles are not as strictly regulated as the Party members. This differentiation has led to a strict class system that prevents Party members from any real interaction with the proles. Thus it is a bit dangerous for Winston to be in the prole district, though not illegal since technically there are no laws against doing so. Winston has a strange attraction to the proles and is keenly interested in their lives outside of Party control.

Winston, browsing through a second-hand book shop, discovers a blank book, filled with cream-colored pages, meant to be a journal or diary. On a whim, Winston pays two dollars and fifty cents for the book and takes it home. He hides it in his desk in the alcove. The alcove, because of the curious nature of the construction of the apartment, is out of sight of the telescreen. Thus, while he is seated at his desk, Winston is invisible, though he can still be heard.

Winston decides he wants to use the book as a diary. Although keeping a diary is not illegal, Winston believes that it would be punishable by death, should he be discovered. He writes the date—April 4, 1984—at the top. He is unsure exactly why he wants to keep a diary. First of all, he is not even sure of the date. More importantly, whom is he writing for? He decides he is writing for the future. With this realization, he knows the deep significance of what he is doing. He is not sure exactly what this diary will accomplish. If nothing changes, no one will care. If things do change, he thinks, his predicament would be meaningless.

Winston Smith is presented as a paradox, as signalized by his name. “Winston” alludes to Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain during World War II. Like Churchill, Winston will stand as a bulwark against the dark, braving the forces of darkness and tyranny in an earthly, as well as a spiritual, battle. The name “Smith” is the most common English surname, making Winston something of an Everyman, representative of the common people, going about their day-to-day business while the war goes on around them. In this dual nature, the conflict is set up between Winston the citizen-savior and Big Brother.

There are elements of the classic hero archetype in Winston. Separated from his parents at an early age, he is raised in an alien culture, destined to be its savior, should he choose the calling. His magic talisman could be said to be this diary, with which he will set the future free from tyranny. Akin to the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King, Winston’s varicose veins are an unhealable wound, one which begins to improve once he connects with Julia. The exercise of free will inherent in their affair is an attempt to break the power of the evil Party. However, Winston fails in his quest in that he submits to torture, betrays Julia, and grows to love Big Brother.

The necessity for hiding this diary signals that danger of thought to the Party. Winston is intelligent and, more importantly, introspective. He thinks, and therefore he is dangerous. The danger, as Winston knows, lies in the fact that thought usually leads to action, even small, insignificant twitches that may alert the Thought Police that he is contemplating rebellion. He has observed co-workers and passersby who, by small facial expressions, alerted him to the possibility that they might be having thoughts that they consciously know are against the dictates of the Party. Winston’s biggest fear, he later states, is that he will talk in his sleep, revealing his unconscious thoughts. Though the common method of “crimestop” is used to stop anti-Party thoughts before they come to full flower, Winston pursues his thoughts, contemplating the ramifications of the actions he dreams of taking.

The words that Winston first writes down are “Down with Big Brother.” This bold declaration is certain death. Winston believes that even after his death, his diary may spark the future with a desire for freedom. He does not write for himself; he writes for the future. He thus continues the hero motif in being willing to lay down his life for the good of his people. He continues to write, knowing that each word is damning him in the eyes of the Party if, and when, he is discovered. Though his official job is to revise history, his mission in keeping this diary is to record that most dangerous of concepts: Truth.

Essential Passage by Character: Julia

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He felt her shoulders give a wriggle of dissent. She always contradicted him when he said anything of this kind. She would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated. In a way she realized that she herself was doomed, that sooner or later the Thought Police would catch her and kill her, but with another part of her mind she believed that it was somehow possible to construct a secret world in which you could live as you chose. All you needed was luck and cunning and boldness. She did not understand that there was no such thing as happiness, that the only victory lay in the far future, long after you were dead, that from the moment of declaring war on the Party it was better to think of yourself as a corpse.

1984, Part 2, Chapter 3, p. 135 (Plume: New York)

After their first sexual encounter, Winston and Julia manage to meet again only once, at an abandoned church, where they make love. In this encounter, Winston discovers more facts about Julia. She is twenty-six years old, a machine operator in the Fiction department, and lives in a hostel with thirty other girls, whom she despises. She does not think she is clever as she has no particular interest in reading the books she helps create. She makes a great show of being a Party loyal, participating in the Junior Anti-Sex League.

On the side, Julia is anything but a loyal P arty member. She has been sexually active since she was sixteen, her first lover being a sixty-year-old man of the inner Party, who later committed suicide in order to avoid arrest. Winston notices that she is neither overtly against the Party nor particularly enthralled by it. Julia breaks the rules in order to break the rules, simply because they deprive her of doing what she wants.

Winston shares with her about his wife, Katherine, who disappeared a year and a half after they were married. He describes their life together as a cold and loveless marriage. Katherine followed the Party line that sex was only for creating children. It is not for pleasure, especially for the woman. As such, Winston does not have any particular feeling of loss. Julia is not bothered by the fact that he is a married man. Because the Party does not allow for divorce, they both know that there is no chance of the two of them ever getting married.

Julia explains her theory that the Party does not approve of sex because it is an attempt to manipulate people into using that pent-up sexual energy in fighting and in adoration of Big Brother. Thus, to her, sex is a means of getting back at Big Brother.

Winston relates to Julia about a time when he and Katherine were walking along a cliff. He had a strong desire to push his wife over the edge. He regrets now that he did not, though he is not sure that he could actually have convinced himself to do it. However, he knows that it would have made no difference, so he cannot actually win. He states that some kinds of failure are better than other kinds.

Julia, he knows, does not agree with him. She cannot accept the premise that the individual is always defeated in a fight against Big Brother. She knows that she herself is doomed to be caught and killed by the Thought Police. Paradoxically, she is trying to create for herself her own secret world, one in which she can do what she wants, provided she is lucky and smart enough. She cannot understand that such things will not bring happiness and that true victory will only come long after death.

In the meantime, Julia insists on being alive. She rejects Winston’s fatalism that they will both eventually die at the hands of the Party.

Julia functions as a personification of free will, intent on going against the Party’s dictates and pursuing her own course. However, she rebels, not for the good of society, but for her own pleasure. She wants to do what she wants to do, and the Party is simply standing in her way.

From an early age, Julia has rejected the Party’s position that women are beings who exist merely to work and to bear children for the Party. The notion that women are not to enjoy sex is a target of contempt for her, and one that she has repeatedly endeavored to prove wrong. Her involvement with the Junior Anti-Sex League is symbolic of this fight. By holding up the restrictions on sex, speaking out against it, lauding it as one of the highest principles of Big Brother, Julia sets herself up as an intentional paradox, pursuing the very thing that she is supposedly fighting against. By making the Anti-Sex League her chief concern, she is also naming it as a target. It is through sex that Julia will fight against the repressions of the Party. By restricting pleasure, the Party has handed Julia a weapon to fight against them. She will engage in sex, frequently and with enjoyment, to prove the Party wrong.

Yet Julia’s rebellion against Big Brother is not part of Winston’s fight for the destruction of the Party. She takes little interest in his ramblings about the evils of Big Brother and is only halfheartedly eager to meet with O’Brien in order to join the Brotherhood, which is the underground organization of freedom fighters. The Party is not, to her, a tyrannical beast, but merely a barrier to her fulfilling her desires and wishes.

By using her body to rebel against Big Brother, Julia serves as a foil against which Winston is highlighted as the intellectual reasons for fighting totalitarianism. Julia does not pay much attention to Winston when he speaks of the logic behind resistance; in fact, she usually goes to sleep. She is willing to go along with his quest, solely because she is physically attracted to him. Her notion of love is the fulfillment of physical needs freely with a person of one’s choice. To Winston, love is a bonding of souls and intellects. With his wife, Katherine, he experiences neither physical nor intellectual satisfaction. With Julia, he has at least accomplished the physical relationship. The marriage of true minds is still out of his grasp.

Julia accepts that fact that they will be caught and put to death. She has resigned herself to this fact as the price she pays for choosing her own course. To do what one wants, for one’s own benefit and one’s own pleasure, is to her the highest good. She uses her “noble hedonism” for the good of herself. The possibility of others having the same freedom does not seem to occur to her, and if it did, it is doubtful that she would be interested. Her stand against Big Brother is a lonely one, and even Winston’s love cannot convince her to view their fight from a higher plane.

Essential Passage by Theme: Totalitarianism

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"The proles are not human beings,” he said carelessly. “By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

1984, Part 1, Chapter 5, p. 53 (Plume: New York)

Winston, in his job at the Ministry of Truth, is in charge of revising the news to more accurately reflect the image that the Party wants to project of history. Mostly, it is tedious work, rewriting data to match new quotas, changing news reports of the war, and so on. Among his co-workers is Syme, who works in the Research Department. Syme is writing the new eleventh edition of the Newspeak dictionary, to him a fascinating work to decrease the vocabulary of the English language. At lunch one day in the canteen, eating the unappetizing meals served to the workers, Syme joins Winston at his table. The conversation starts with Syme asking Winston of he has any razor blades. Winston replies that he does not, though in fact he does, hoarding two new blades since the supply has dried up a long time ago. Syme speaks of the recent hanging of prisoners, an event that is open to the public. In fact, the public is encouraged to attend. While Syme goes into graphic detail about the hanging, and specifically about the hangings as he thinks they should be carried out, Winston tries to avoid entering into the conversation.

Winston switches topics by asking Syme how the dictionary is coming along. This sparks Syme’s interest, and he goes off on a detailed description again, but this time about the glories of Newspeak. He discusses how much improved the language will be, ridding itself of the numerous adjectives and adverbs, narrowing them down to just one or two. Syme laments Winston’s lack of appreciation for Newspeak, pointing out that in his news revisions, Winston still has a tendency to lapse into Oldspeak. “You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words,” Syme tells him.

Syme then tells Winston that the whole purpose of Newspeak is to “narrow the range of thought.” Its final goal is to make thought-crime (thinking independently) impossible, because there will be no words to express it. Syme states, “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.”

Syme points out that by the year 2050, no one will be able to understand the conversation that he and Winston are now having, because of the destruction of words. Winston starts to protest, “Except the proles,” but stops himself, feeling that this remark would be “unorthodox.”

Syme, however, knew what he was about to say and replies, “The proles are not human beings.” He goes on to rejoice that, by the year 2050, Oldspeak will have disappeared. The great classics of the English language—Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Byron—will have been destroyed. They will have been rewritten into Newspeak and thus mean something totally different. Syme says that even the Party slogans will change. Why say “Freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? All thought will be gone.

Syme and Winston both are employed in the destruction of information. Syme is destroying vocabulary. Winston is destroying history. Both these areas fall, ironically enough, in the humanities. The humanities cover the study and preservation of what humans have said and thought. By the destruction of the humanities, the Party is destroying what it is to be human. In this is the root of totalitarianism.

The third principle of Big Brother is “Ignorance is Strength.” Syme very bluntly elucidates on this concept. The goal of the Party is to eliminate thought. It is not the individual citizen who gains strength through his ignorance. The being that is strengthened is the totalitarian state. By controlling thought, the Party will control actions. By controlling actions, the Party will control history. And in a circular function, by controlling history, the Party will control thought.

Language and history are just two areas that are controlled by the Party. From the beginning, when the narrator states that the clock strikes thirteen, the reader is clued in to the fact that reality has changed, even down to the measurement of time. Rather than the standard clock of two twelve-hour sections, all time is military time of one twenty-four-hour cycle. This use of military time also reflects that military state of mind that all society functions under. War is a necessary part of society, in order to either gain power or to show power. “War Is Peace.” Without war, peace would destroy the power of the totalitarian system, which would then result in its overthrow: peace would be war. Such is the reasoning of Big Brother, and to make language say the opposite is the Party's goal. Orwell is thus the unintended creator of “political correctness.” The current usage of terms like “negative growth” instead of “loss of profit” indicates that the power of language control is one of the many areas that Orwell saw with such clarity.

The control of actions is also part of this methodology. The redefinition of sex as solely for procreation, not to be enjoyed, is a control of emotional energy away from the individual to the glorification of the state. The elimination of emotion is not as desirable as the destruction of language. Thought can be more effectively control than emotion. Therefore the state has chosen to merely reassign emotion for the good of the state. The devolution of sexual passion and enjoyment to the mere animal instinct of reproduction takes away the humanness of the individual as much as the destruction of thought and language.

It is for this reason that Julia chooses sex as her means of rebellion. Winston, on the other hand, chooses thought for his means of attack. Julia, symbolizing the body, cannot effectively fight against the state. Animals have bodies, and use them for attack and reproduction. But it is only humans who think, who reason, who reflect. In this is the greatest danger, as Big Brother knows full well.

The most effective weapon against totalitarianism is thought, expressed in language. For this reason, to Winston, the destruction of language is the most obvious sign of the point where the Party gains total victory.

Essential Passage by Theme: Free Will

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The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

1984, Part 1, Chapter 7, p. 81 (Plume: New York)

Winston’s diary becomes the repository of all his “rebellious” thoughts. Though he thinks that O’Brien might be a compatriot of his feelings, he does not yet have an opportunity or the nerve to approach him. In the relative seclusion of his apartment, at his desk in the alcove that is not visible from the telescreen, Winston writes his reflections of freedom and revolution.

He writes, “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.” The proles are not directly regulated as much as Party members are. They have the freedom to think, read, and live according to their own desires, within the limits of their poverty. Making up eighty-five percent of the population, the proles are seen by Winston as the possible force for change. Yet, on the other hand, he realizes that this is unlikely, since the Party controls everything. Thus revolution is unlikely to come from within.

Winston remembers one time walking down a street when he heard what he thought was a riot. Hoping that the people were rising up at last, he hurried to the spot, only to find them arguing over pots and pans being sold at a stall. Winston realizes that until the people become conscious, thinking human beings, they will not rebel. Sadly, he realizes, they will not become conscious until after they rebel. They live like animals, which is exactly what the Party wants them to do.

After reading a children’s history book, which he knew was a collection of Party lies, Winston tries to remember an incident from his past. In his work he had come across a photograph of three men. These men were accused of being traitors to the Party and Oceania, and had confessed to their crimes. The three men were then pardoned and released. Winston saw them once in the Chestnut Tree Café, their dejected faces showing that they knew they were doomed. Indeed, they were eventually arrested again and executed. The photograph Winston had found was proof that the confessions had been lies.

In frustration, Winston writes in his diary, “I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.” He thinks that perhaps he is a lunatic, the only one to think the way he does. He worries, however, not so much that he is a lunatic, but that he is wrong.

The Party tells the people to reject what they see and hear. But Winston knows that he is right and that Big Brother is wrong. No matter what lies they tell, Winston has the power to disbelieve. Winston writes in his diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

The concept of free will, an individual’s liberty to make his or her own choices, is a threat to the totalitarian state. This is presented throughout 1984 as free will in one’s actions, thoughts, and information. Free will encompasses not only a choice, but also a choice made on the access to true information.

Winston, as a Party employee involved in the rewriting of history, is well aware of the Party’s manipulation of the past. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” By denying the individual access to accurate information of current events and history, the Party is taking away his or her power to make decisions based on what is happening in the world around him, as well as what has happened in the past. To learn from the mistakes of the past, as well as benefit from its wisdom, the average citizen is thus able to effectively evaluate the state. As the saying goes, “History is bound to repeat itself.” By rewriting history into that which has never happened, Big Brother is preventing history from thus repeating itself. By controlling the past, he thus controls the future.

Democracy cannot exist without an accurate presentation of history. By depriving the people of the knowledge of the past, the Party thus effectively cuts off any budding democracy at its roots. The free will of the people is denied them.

By controlling the language, the state also controls the expression of thought. Though it cannot effectively prevent a person from thinking, the state can take away the words necessary to express those concepts, either in thought or in words. No words, no thoughts. No thoughts, no choice. Free will is thus destroyed.

Winston places his hopes in the proles, the common people who live outside the strict dictates of the Party but not totally out of the control of Big Brother. Making up eighty-five percent of the population, Winston feels that they could easily overthrow the state if they chose. The problem is, he realizes, is that they have lost not only the right to choose but the power to choose. With the control of Big Brother of all information, the proles have been living almost hand-to-mouth, struggling for some means of existence beyond mere survival. They have become content with the way things are. They do not hope for more, because they have no concept of “more.”

Julia has a different view of free will than does Winston. To her, free will is simply the right to do what she wants. She wants to control her own body, and she exhibits this by what would be called by the state promiscuity. This is her power of resistance. However, it is limited only to herself. Her free will is only for Julia, with no thought of whether or not others have free will. To Julia, others are inconsequential, except when they are involved in her desire to exercise her own choices.

Winston, however, does have a higher view of free will. The individual will not have free will until the masses have free will. It is for this reason that he is writing this diary. Hopefully, if he does not survive, this diary will be a message of hope to future generations—a message of making one’s own choices and also participating in the choices made by the government and the country as a whole.

Winston thus states that the whole concept of free will lies not in the right to do what one wants to do but to do what one ought to do. It is in making the choice for right. It is standing against that which is wrong, whatever its source.

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