Winston Smith in 1984: Character Traits & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Background Information
  • 0:47 Winston Smith
  • 2:44 Winston's Breaking Point
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Purcell

Natalie teaches high school English and French and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we'll analyze Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell's political novel, '1984'. We'll explore the traits that make Winston Smith a definitive everyman character.

Background Information

In 1949, English writer George Orwell published his widely read anti-communist novel, 1984. It tells the story of Oceania, a fictitious nation where the ruling Party observes and attempts to control everything its citizens do, say, and even think. Everywhere they look, the citizens are greeted with telescreens portraying images of the Party's leader, known as Big Brother.

The Party manipulates and controls everyone in Oceania by spreading propaganda, revising historical facts, inventing a new language, and issuing harsh punishments to anyone who is deemed a threat. In fact, having rebellious thoughts is the most serious crime of all, subject to the worst punishments.

Winston Smith

Orwell's protagonist in 1984 is Winston Smith, a low-ranking citizen of Oceania. He's an everyman character who represents the average person, or one the readers can easily identify with.

Winston is thoughtful and intellectual, and the long passages of Winston's reflections provide Orwell with a vehicle to develop the recurring themes of manipulating thoughts through language, using physical and psychological intimidation in order to gain power and control, and the importance of teaching history accurately.

Winston has a tendency to be rebellious, which is his most prominent character trait. He detests the Party and he's constantly challenging its authority. For example, he defies the Party by writing ''DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER'' in his diary. He also enters into an illicit love affair with Julia, who unlike Winston only rebels for pleasure, not for philosophical reasons. Finally, in an act of outright rebellion, Winston joins the Brotherhood, a legendary secret group that plans to overthrow the Party.

The main reason why Winston is willing to take such dangerous risks is because of his strong fatalistic view of the world. He's understandably paranoid, and he fully expects that the Party will eventually arrest and torture him. As soon as he writes ''DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER,'' he's convinced that the Thought Police are on their way to arrest him for committing a thought-crime, an occurrence or instance of controversial or socially unacceptable thoughts. He also views his relationship with Julia as temporary because he believes that their affair will inevitably be discovered.

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