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Monday, 27 April 2015

Great Fictional Characters: Winston Smith

Continuing with the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2015

W is for Winston Smith.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

1984 is probably the most depressing book I've ever read, depressing in the same sick-to-my-stomach feeling I get when I think about oblivion. Yet I still love it and reread it often. Why?

Good question.

Maybe it's because of the main character, through whose eyes we view Oceania, and through whose heart we learn to hate it.

I like Winston Smith. Unlike the rest of society, who either blindly follow Party rules or pretend to (while breaking them whenever they feel the need), he resents the rules and feels them as a suffocating force. He clings to his humanity while mourning the loss of it in others. He knows that he is different in the thoughts he has, and this makes him both special and dangerous.

“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.” 

He's too intelligent for his own good; too aware of the wrongness of what is happening around him. He can't play along with a system so false. He sees it for what it is and wants to escape it- only he doesn't know how. The best he can manage is a petty rebellion, a war waged inside his head. Convinced that Big Brother is on to him for his Thought Crimes, he begins living his life as he if already caught, already dead.

Every time I read 1984, I'm rooting for Winston and hoping that maybe this time the story will turn out differently: that he'll beat the system and live happily ever after.

Orwell doesn't let him because to do so would give the reader hope, and there is no hope- not for humanity, not according to O' Brien.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

Winston is a great fictional character because he represents the values of a truly civilised society: democracy, peace, freedom, love, and decency. His fight is our fight. Orwell intended 1984 to be so horrifying that a civilised society would fight to stop it becoming the future. Although many elements of Big Brother are with us now, the reality is that these human values can never be stamped out. I think that's the reason I keep returning to 1984: hope in humanity.

Have you read 1984? What's your take on it?

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