1984 Essay, Research Paper
On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.” (Orwell 4 “Nineteen”).
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a negative utopian picture, a society ruled by rigid totalitarianism. The government which Orwell creates in his novel is ruled by an entity known as Big Brother and consists of three branches. The Ministry of Truth, overseeing the distribution of propaganda and other printed materials, the Ministry of War, the millitary unit, and the Ministry of Love, the law enforcement division, make up the government. The main character, Winston Smith, does not completely accept the ideology that is fed to him by the government, through the concept of Big Brother. When one examines George Orwell’s life, it can be clearly seen that he personifies his political perceptions, social and aesthetic characteristics, and self-examination of his own writing, through Winston Smith, in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell’s political perceptions, especially his skepticism of mass media, are given life through Winston Smith. Spending time working for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), Orwell experienced many distorted truths and propaganda (Woodcock 9). This led to an intense distrust of those in power and their influence on the information distributed to and recieved by the general public. Orwell explains how history is altered by whomever is in power. In Orwell’s essay “Revising History” he examines the credibility of history and finds that it is based on the person or group in control. Orwell hated totalitarianism, primarily because of its attacks on unbiased truth and so saw it as the enemy. If a person or organization in power finds a fact damaging or out of sync with his cause, he can simply change it by the manner in which it is reported. Orwell states, “A certain degree of truthfulness was possible so long as it was admitted that a fact may be true even if you don’t like it.” (”Revising” 1). He is supporting his ideas with an obvious example familiar to most. World War II, Orwell points out, had two very distinct slants depending on whether you subscribe to the Nazi account or that of their enemies. Another telling example he spoke of was the broadcasted outcome of the Spanish Civil War being decided by the winning power’s preferences. Simply put, Orwell boldly claims that “History is written by the winners,” (Orwell, “Revising” 1). So Orwell’s own distrust is obvious in his creation of the Ministry of Truth. It is here where his main character, Winston, is employed forming propaganda and changing past facts to coincide with whatever lies Big Brother is feeding the general public. According to Woodcock, Orwell definitely based the Ministry of Truth and Winston’s work on his experiences at the BBC (9). Winston’s role in Big Brother’s government was a projected charicteristic of Orwell’s political opinions.
Furter exemplifying the attribution of Orwell’s characteristics through Winston Smith, is the manifestation of Orwell’s political views in Winston’s own writings. Although Orwell wrote publicly, and Winston wrote in a private diary, they both passionately wrote for their own cause. Orwell was against totalitarianism and used Winston to reflect that when he wrote against the “evils of Igsoc” (Duda 1). Igsoc is the doctirne by which the government of Oceania, under which Winston lived, was operated. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith writes in his diary: “For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn . . .” “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” (10). Although both Winston and Orwell recognize their objective is hopeless, they still cling to the hope that maybe through their words and descriptions, (as opposed to logical arguments) that they might, even for a moment alter another’s thinking (Duda 2). Orwell writes in his essay, “Why I Write” that “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it” (4). Serving as England’s “moral conscience,” he sought to boldly reveal the truth, even to those who denied its existence (Kollar 2). Winston, much like Orwell, seemed to be sole possesor of any sort of a sense of morality as he struggled against immense odds to reveal the inequity and unjust nature of the government. Winston and Orwell both had overcome the problem of communication to others; in order to be understood, the person receiving the message must have similar a “world-view” (Duda 1). Winston writes in his diary, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (Orwell, “Nineteen” 61) Winston, trying to overcome the oppression by Big Brother and Orwell is writing to those oppressed by Communism and cannot be reached by Western publications and are oblivious to his work. He recognizes that one “Can only preach to the converted” (Duda 1).Writing not to create some wonderful, entertaining work, instead, Orwell,s motive was to reveal lies, expose them to the public, and make his views known (Orwell, “Why” 4). In “Why I Write” Orwell explains one of his primary reasons for writing as a “political purpose”, a desire to alter other’s political direction, to change the world (2). Orwell sought to have a purpose in life, much like Winston. A monotonous lifestyle was not enough for Winston, who felt the need to somehow be influential. As a result he became obsessed with politics and his rebellion against totaitariansim. Everything Winston does has political motives, even sex (Magill 1553). Orwell’s political motives behind his writing, and his goal to expose the truth to the public was demonstrated repeatedly through Winston Smith’s character.
Yet another example of a revelation of Orwell’s character through Winstons is the similarly displayed attitudes towards authority figures and upper level government officials. According to Grigson, Nineteen Eighty-Four is not so much about a Utopia as it is “power and corruption at high levels” (343). Woodcock explains that Orwell was, in his novel, expressing his concerns about men in power who would sacrifice everything for a mere crumb of power (343). O’Brien, an inner party member and Winston’s boss, brags of the Party’s “eternal power” much like Hitler boasted of the” millennial Reich”, a leader viewed warily by Orwell (Woodcock 219). Winston is unsure of his relationship with O’Brien, whether he is freind or foe, and his opinions of him fluctuate throughout the book. However, despite his hate of dictators, Orwell felt a certain, unexplainable, sympathy for Hitler, much like Winston, who at the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four realizes that he loves Big Brother (Woodcock 57). Again, Orwell has created Winston to hold his own perceptions of governmental leaders, thus holding the image of Orwell’s political beliefs.
In addition, Orwell displays his understanding of social economic classes through Winston. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston often takes long walks among the Prole section, finding comfort in their masses. Visiting the Chestnut Tree Cafe, Winston takes advantage of the absence of a telescreen which is normally present everywhere, monitoring every move, to speak to an old man about the past. Winston loves the objects of the Proles, and when he finds a glass ornament with a piece of coral inside an antique shop, he buys it even though it is illegal to posess such objects. Renting a small apartment above the shop, he and Julia, his secret and illegal lover, go there often, as there is no telescreen. He enjoys just simply lounging, listening to the sounds of the lowest class. Like his main character, Orwell too found great comfort in the lower class. After serving 5 years in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, Orwell realized that the oppression of the Burmese by the British was wrong and he could participate no more(Kollar 2). He left the comforts of middle class society in which one man places himself above another to live amongst the lowest classes of society. Orwell looked upon the lower class as “victims of injustice”, and preferred them to his peers, the middle class, who ate unappreciatively off the plate that was prepared by the lower class (Kollar 2). Both Orwell and Winston loved to move about the poverty stricken lower classes. Feeling empathy and compassion towards them, Winston and Orwell were inspired, as they placed their trust for the future in the working class. Winston Smith’s identification and preference toward the lower class was a direct result of Orwell’s own social nature as a part of his personality.
Furthermore, Orwell continued to project his individuality in Winston in some very basic and ordinary manners. Winston has a relatively decent job as an Outer Party member in the Ministry of Truth. However, due to rations resulting from ceaseless wars, Winston is accustomed to scrimping and making the most of whatever he could buy. This stems from Orwell’s life as a writer where, during the writing of a book, he practiced frugality until income was received for a publishing. Winston, as an Outer Party member, is not part of the elite Inner Party but neither is he in the lowest class, known as the Proles. Orwell was also middle class. Orwell was said to lack close friends with whom he could discuss deep issues and share his problems (Coppard, Crick 15). Winston also lacked someone with whom to share his deepest feelings. Although Winston had Julia, she did not care to discuss any kind of politics, instead their relationship was much more superficial. Both being unattractive, Orwell often complained of being ugly and had a lot of health problems, just like Winston who is described as being small and frail with a course face (Coppard, Crick 53). Sharing Orwell’s negative attitude, Winston describes much in the novel as “looking like vomit” (Magill 1532). Winston can be obviously seen as a direct personification of George Orwell.
Examining yet again his motives behind writing, Orwell used Winston Smith to explain a basic need he felt simply to record history. In Orwell’s essay, “Why I Write”, he describes writing as a “historical impulse– a desire to see things as they are, find out true facts and store them for use of posterity” (Orwell 2). In this passage from Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is writing in a diary he bought: “For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn” (10). Duda explains how, in this passage, Winston is trying to deal with his intellectual rebellion by writing his thoughts in a diary, which is illegal and makes death inevitable. He recognizes that it will probably not have an effect, only quicken his death, but he still clings to the notion that some day it might be found and used to prove the nature of his present state (1). Winston is writing simply to record a piece of history, that it might be used by the future, another example of Orwell’s influence on Winston’s character, specifically his motivation for writing.
Orwell expressed many of his fears and self-doubts as a writer through the character Winston Smith. In describing Winston’s writing, he is examining his own purposes in writing. For Orwell, writing is a means of bringing others to the thought. His basis of success is reliant on his effectiveness of reaching others (Duda 1). Orwell felt that his works without “political purpose” resulted in “lifeless books” and “sentences without meaning” (Orwell, “Why” 5). Feeling lonely and unappreciated as a child, Orwell knew that he was skilled with words, and felt that it somehow made up for some of his other weaknesses and failures (1). However, he was still very critical of himself, saying in reference to a book he was preparing to write: ‘It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure” (Orwell, “Why” 4). Smith’s uncertainty of the worthwhileness of his writings is a direct reflection of Orwell’s own wonderment of worth as a writer (Duda 1).
In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is a direct personification of the author, George Orwell. This was seen through Orwell’s political perceptions, such as his skepticism about mass media, his politically motivated writings, and his view of governmental figures. The characterization was also displayed in Orwell’s attraction to a certain social, economic class, and his basic aesthetic similarities. Orwell’s feelings about writing were also exhibited through Winston Smith; his fears of failure and his basic yearning to be remembered. Nineteen Eighty-Four will forever be remembered for its prophetic warnings of a totalitarian society in which individuality is stripped away. In a desperate attempt to pierce through invincible, omnipitant, omni-present Big Brother, Winston Smith fought to preserve his identity, an identity which was a true reflection of George Orwell.