|Even though Winston is ultimately defeated, he remains a hero in the reader's eyes. Discuss.
Essentially becoming nothing more than "three hundred people all with the same face", the inhabitants of Oceania are reduced to mindless drones under the 'all-powerful and infallible' rule of the Party and their leader, Big Brother. Thus, George Orwell's nightmarish glimpse of a totalitarian future in Nineteen Eighty-Four positions the reader to fear the dreadful potential of a corrupt and selfish government and the elimination of identity that ensues. Orwell created Winston Smith as a beacon of hope- "a minority of one" who willingly struggles against oppression- and through his choice of limited third-person narrative perspective, the reader sympathises with Winston, and everyman who resists the Party's indoctrination. Through individual thought and action, Winston manages to collude with Julia in his search for a resistance movement to bring Big Brother down. And despite the sophistication and pervasive nature of the leaders' methods of control and domination, when Winston is defeated in the denouement of the novel, the reader celebrates just how much he has achieved against impossible odds. He remains a hero in the reader's eyes for his tenacity and defiance.
"Gazing down from every commanding corner", the Party has installed ubiquitous telescreens that watch the inhabitants of Oceania scuttle about among the grime. Deprivation and scarcity, deftly and meticulously arranged and propagated by the Ministry of Plenty, render the citizens desperate and undignified; even supposedly privileged Outer Party members must beg each other for a safe, clean razor blade. They wholeheartedly swallow the "hatred and lies" that are issued from spontaneous news bulletins broadcast throughout the superstate. When the Ministry of Plenty reports that the chocolate ration has risen to twenty grams a week, the people rejoice in the generosity of their leaders; only Winston remembers that last week the ration was actually thirty grams. Given that it is sedition, or "thoughtcrime", to question or criticise the government, Winston must keep this revelation to himself; others such as "that bloody fool" Parsons, relish the news with glee. The Party uses devious tactics, such as promoting "doublethink" (the ability to believe two seemingly contradictory thoughts at the same time), in order to confuse its people and force them to rely on the Party as the sole source of information and control. The Party slogans "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength", which are emblazoned on posters and telescreens, are sincerely accepted despite their absurdity. Through the Thoughtpolice who continuously swarm like a "bluebottle", and public punishments and denunciations of thought criminals, the Party aims to retain its power absolutely and "for ever".
But Winston is not so easily fooled. He yearns for more than the society of Oceania in 1984 will provide, wondering whether "it was always like this". Consequently, when the reader becomes privy to his rebellious behaviour, such as buying a diary and repeatedly writing "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER" in it, we are assailed by ambivalence; he is sealing his own death warrant (for "thoughtcrime doesn't entail death; it IS death"), but we also admire his quest for truth and individuality - values we treasure above all else. Winston becomes a victim of his "own nervous system" and yields to his own sexual desires by first engaging in sexcrime with a prostitute in the filthy prole quarters; he actively pursues a sexual relationship with Julia, the "rebel from the waist down"; rents a room above Charrington's shop for this purpose and meets with O'Brien, agreeing to collude with the fictitious Brotherhood to bring the Party down. Readers may revile his weakness for stupidly making himself and Julia vilnerable to arrest, or for agreeing too eagerly to "throw sulphuric acid in a child's face" or "cheat, to forge, to blackmail" in order to help the resistance, but we also admire him as a hero for having the courage to fight against an unfair and destructive system.
Because Winston is fatalistic, knowing that "sooner or later they were bound to get you", that he, like other thoughtcriminals, will be shot "in the back of the neck", the reader too, from the inception of the novel, comprehends the awful inevitability of his arrest, detainment and eventual death. His perpetual tone of foreboding doom, and the repetition of his reminder to Julia that "we are the dead", lead the reader to recognise how he has led himself to certain annihilation. However, there are indicators throughout the novel that Winston is a better person, someone to admire as a hero, despite his crimes and complicity in his own downfall, his 'conscious, gratuitous, suicidal folly'. He becomes noticeably healthier during his sexual relationship with Julia: he gains weight; his varicose ulcer subsides, "leaving only brown stain on the skin above his ankle"; he no longer drinks gin to obliterate his misery; and his morning coughing fits also cease. These are surely signs of a happier man, and Orwell allows us to become privy to Winston's fears and triumphs. When Julia clears the room of "the very worst thing" to Winston- rats- and then they stand, naked, glancing down at the fat washer-woman in the courtyard outside, the reader sympathises with their hopeless situation, but revels in their "blow struck against the Party"- that their love has superseded Big Brother's ridiculous and unfair dogma of total subservience. In these ways, Winston is already a hero; so, when he is arrested, naked and placed back-to-back with Julia and has to witness her being struck by a member of the Thought Police in the solar plexus and writhing on the floor, we are supporting him totally in his helplessness as a fragile human being stuck in a cruel regime.
As representative of the insanity and megalomaniac nature of the Party, O'Brien becomes, paradoxically, both Winston's "saviour" and torturer. Confined to the much-feared Ministry of Love, kept in a "place where there is no darkness", Winston loses sense of time and perspective. He is starved, ridiculed, beaten into submission and tortured with many unthinkable devices, such as when O'Brien tries to convince him that "2+2" can equal 4, or 3, or 5, depending on what O'Brien commands. Winston's logic is deemed "lunatic", and through pulling his sole tooth out, and making Winston face a three-sided mirror that precisely shows his feebleness and fragility, O'Brien convinces Winston that he is a "bag of filth". Eventually, when he submits to O'Brien's trump card, betraying Julia when faced with his greatest fear (of rats gnawing through his face), Winston is reduced to a shell. Regardless, the Party has spent seven years tracking this "flaw in the pattern" and the reader is enamoured by Winston's persistent protests to O'Brien (even in the face of torture) that "two and two are four". Ultimately, despite his acquiescence, Winston remains in our eyes, a hero.
As Winston sits sipping gin at the Chestnut Tree Café, a solitary figure publicly denounced himself and the Party, the reader is struck with a rush of sympathy and admiration for this broken man. We have followed him from his initial rebellion and have seen him flourish into a healthier man who can enjoy the fruits of love in a society that disallows this very special, yet basic human need. Now, we shake our heads in collective pity at a hero who had more chance than any other to bring down the Party and thwart its dirty tricks. "He loved Big Brother" and even only "made a half-hearted attempt to catch up with" Julia when he sees her after their respective expulsions from the Ministry of Love. But Orwell's didactic political parable has more resonance than this pathetic figure would normally excite; Winston did defy the Party, and only when he is assaulted by nasty and inhumane treatment does he surrender. For this, and the possibility of others refusing to accept the unfairness of a cruel government that effaces individuality, love and truth, the reader ultimately views Winston as a hero we should all aspire to be like.