Winston Smith - "the last man in Europe"

It is important to note that Winston Smith is not an 'everyman' against which Oceana is measured. To him the 'proles' represent 'normal' people, and time and again he tells himself 'if there is hope it lies in the proles.' As to whether there is hope, this remains a central question in the book that is almost, but not quite resolved. (see Sample Questions) Winston's curse is that he is a thinker. As he begins to capitulate to O'Brien and tries to reconcile himself with the ideology of the Party, he observes that 'Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.'

Despite the glimmers of hope afforded him, Winston is doomed from the outset - in the event more doomed than even he realised. As discussed, aspects of the character have appeared in Orwell's previous work - he is a solitary near-failure, a member of the lower upper-middle class with few prospects, filled with impotent rage at those who control his life. In many ways, this characterised much of Orwell's life before he achieved success. When writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell may have found success, but Winston's predicament reflects the author's current struggle - that against tuberculosis. The pain Winston suffers under torture mirrors the pain Orwell suffered as he struggled to finish the book. Winston is already suffering from poor health when the book opens - an ulcerated varicose vein, coughing fits brought on by the mandatory exercises - and when he sees himself in the mirror after what could have been weeks of torture, he sees a wreck of a man. Orwell was to die only seven months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

However, just as Oceana is not Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany or a straight prediction of the future, George Orwell and Winston Smith are not one and the same. The certainties of belief, system and outcome that the book contains differ from the uncertainty, constant questioning and doubt with which Orwell addressed real world issues of totalitarianism and freedom, lies and the truth.

Despite all the political change that has occurred since its publication, and unlike Winston, the novel has remained subversive. It was never a prediction, and like the best satire it has always been a warning of what the extremes could be like. Nineteen Eight-Four warns us not to be complacent about our freedom. It is a call for vigilance against all the forces that can endanger liberty, and the need to resist them. As Pimlott writes, it is 'a protest against the tricks played by governments. It is a volley against the authoritarian in every personality, a polemic against every orthodoxy, an anarchist blast against every conformist.'

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