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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Winston Smith

Part W of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, where every day this month except Sundays, I'll be talking about things I love - one thing for each letter of the alphabet.

As I alluded to in my post about reading, my the best book I ever read was 1984, with its main character Winston Smith. I'm about to explain as best I can why I loved it so much, but it involves talking about what happened in the story. So if you haven't yet read it and want to be surprised when you do, perhaps find another post. May I suggest this one about the UN Declaration of Rights?

You see, 1984 was the first example of what became a new rule of mine - never to read blurbs on books. I didn't read the blurb on 1984 and that turned out to be a great move. When Julia slipped Winston that note that said "I love you", I audibly gasped. I hadn't seen that coming in a million years. Then as I was getting to the end of the book, I decided it was safe to have a look. One of the first sentences was "When Winston begins a secret love affair with co-worker Julia..." Thank goodness I hadn't read that, because for me that was the biggest twist in the story. My experience of the whole book would have changed.

The thing I liked best about the story of 1984 was the ideas it created that were so alien and yet made so much sense. Things like Newspeak, created with the idea that by reducing the number of words in the English language, they'd reduce the people's capacity for free thought. It gave us the realisation that we don't necessarily create words to convey ideas, - quite possibly the words create the ideas. By banning the use of words like "freedom", "will" and "love" until everyone had forgotten of their existence, they'd eventually extinguish the concept altogether.

Then there was doublethink - a concept I've ended up applying to situations in my own life. Doublethink is more or less the ability to hold two contrasting ideas in your head at once. In the book, George Orwell uses this to hold together the entire system of government that Ingsoc has put in place. Those in the inner party have created a system that places themselves pretty much in the position of gods. Whatever they say becomes the truth, even if it contradicts a previous truth. If it does in fact contradict a previous truth, the new truth simply replaces it. The old truth never existed. Orwell takes a lot of time getting this point across. It's very difficult to convey the idea that a contrasting thought doesn't exist, because the very conveyance of that thought proves that it does. The inner members of the party know this to be the case, but through the magic of doublethink, there is no second-guessing. They create the new truth, but it also always was the truth. Makes your head hurt, doesn't it?

Then of course there's that whole system of government. Orwell points out that every single system of government fails or will fail, and manages to create a system that contradicts this. It's a cyclical system that feeds itself and ensures that those in power remain in power for all eternity. It was too complex for me to recite here, but like everything else in the book, it made sense.

Winston Smith himself - the character that carries a nasty propensity for  free thought - I see as a largely unlikable character. The image the book creates in my mind is of a man who's bitter, ugly and pathetic. But I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to somehow find a way to buck the system and be able to run away with his newfound love in Julia. But of course that was never going to happen. When they were eventually captured, it shouldn't have come as a surprise. They were saying from the moment they got together that they'd be captured and eliminated eventually. As they're being tortured to within an inch of their lives, you hope against hope that they'll be able to resist all the brainwashing and that the party will just give up. When they're released and they meet back up again, feeling next to nothing for one another, it's so very sad, but also very natural. I accepted quickly that it was the only natural conclusion to the story, much like a few pages later when the party finally puts him down. I guess that's my overall summary of the way I felt about the book - sad, but natural. The way it ended broke my heart, but it couldn't have possibly ended any other way.


  1. 1984 is one of my all-time favourite books too, Michael. It is so chilling and heartbreaking, yet we see its principles applied all around us almost every day. The movie with John Hurt as Winston Smith is great -- the one you took the photos from. But if you ever get a chance to see the old 50s version with Edmond O'Brien as Smith, see that one too. It's great as well.

  2. 1984 was a fantastic book, and the scary thing is we see a lot of Big Brother action in our world today. How prophetic it was, yet unimaginable at the time it was released.

    I haven't seen the movie yet, but will see if I can find and watch it.

    1. Every time I see images from the film I'm more intrigued.

  3. I had to read this one as part of my senior reading assignments and remember hating it. I was so pissed when he finally came to "love" or accept Big Brother in the end. Yes, I realize that torture and brainwashing led to this, but I wanted the rebel to stick to his guns and die hating those evil bastards.

    1. Hahaha that's the point - everyone everyone folds in the end ;)

      Interesting tidbit though... there's s a part of the book right at the end when he's been released and is sitting at the bar and fingers "2+2=5" into the dust, implying that he's lost the battle. But in one printing they accidentally left off the 5. That throws a whole different spin on the ending because it implies there's stillsome part of him deep down that's fighting it.


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