Orwell named his hero after Winston Churchill, England’s great
leader during World War II. He added the world’s commonest last
name: Smith. The ailing, middle-aged rebel can be considered in many
1. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether Winston is a hero in
his secret battle with Big Brother, or whether he’s only a sentimental
man with a death wish, who courts his death openly through an
illegal love affair and through his alliance with the enemies of Big
a. If Winston is a 20th-century hero, it seems logical for him to
keep a diary even though he knows it will hang him.
It is right for
him to follow his heart and have an affair with Julia. He is doing the
only possible thing by seeking out O’Brien and joining the
Brotherhood, which is committed to overthrowing Big Brother. Naturally
he will defy authorities even after he is captured and tortured,
trying to keep one last shred of personality intact.
If he’s so heroic, why is he so foolhardy? It makes no sense
for him to create a permanent love-nest when he knows it will speed
his capture. “It was as though they were intentionally stepping nearer
to their graves,” he thinks. A careful man would never open up to
O’Brien without knowing whether he is to be trusted. You can argue
that Winston’s continuing defiance of the Party after his capture is
one more way of courting disaster.
Do you think Winston secretly
enjoys torture? Although he confesses to everything they want him
to, he extends the torture by continuing his inner defiance- something
the Party seems to know. Winston’s thoughts in Part Two, Section IV,
point to this interpretation.
2. You can learn more about Winston by considering his view of sex
as a means of rebellion.
He’s divorced because his wife couldn’t
produce the baby the Party expects, and wouldn’t consider sex for
any other purpose because desire is Thoughtcrime. He is drawn to Julia
because she is “corrupt,” which means she enjoys sex and has
previously taken several lovers. Knowing he will be punished, he falls
in love with her. Winston’s ideal partner for the future is not Julia,
but the mountainous prole woman who hangs out the laundry for her many children.
Another of Winston’s ideal women, whom Winston writes
about in his diary, is the refugee mother protecting her child with
her own body. Orwell may be arguing that woman-as-mother is to be
honored, but any other kind of love is to be punished.
3. Is the real love affair in Winston’s mind, and is it with
O’Brien? O’Brien is on Winston’s mind in Part One, Section I.
Winston dreams about him in One, Section II, when O’Brien says, “We
shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” In Three, I, this
dream is fulfilled in an astonishing way. Does O’Brien stand for
hope or for the fulfillment of Winston’s death wish? Does he seek
him out precisely to bring about his capture? Look at Part Three,
Sections I, II, III and IV, where Winston is captured and brainwashed.
He doesn’t hate or resist O’Brien.
Instead the two minds are locked in
a bizarre courtship. Winston respects his destroyer as he never
4. Winston’s ideas about class lines tell us something about his
values, and Orwell’s.
a. Winston despises his middle-class neighbors, the Parsons. He
bitterly resents and envies the lower classes because they are
vital, physical and mindlessly happy. They are also slightly gross
to him- particularly the huge woman with the laundry.
He sees the
underclass as the hope for the future, yet recognizes that they have
neither the brains nor the means to start a revolution. What’s more,
he doesn’t like them well enough to join them, or even enough to
disappear among them. Why doesn’t he run away to the ghetto? BECAUSE
HE IS NOT LIKE THEM.
O’Brien is his ideal, even after O’Brien starts brainwashing
Winston. O’Brien is a member of the Inner Party, polished and
sophisticated, and so high up in the organization that he enjoys a
handsome, comfortable apartment and a servant. Does