Essential Passage by Character: Winston Smith
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...
(The entire section is 4,633 words.)