- Personal Information on Winston Smith
- Winston's problems with remembering his childhood and date
- Winston's crime of having a diary
- What Winston wrote in his diary entry
Who is Winston Smith?
I am going to be trying something different with these blog posts. Instead of doing full breakdowns of the reading for the week, I thought it might be more fun to focus on one subject from the reading. Full breakdowns/summaries will be the focus of the video blog which can be found above or here. Anyways, lets get back to the show!
A lot of stuff happened in this section of Chapter One...a lot. We could talk about the setting of Oceania, Big Brother and The Party, The Brotherhood, The Two Minutes of Hate, etc. We could also have a field day with the numerous vocabulary words that were thrown at us throughout the first twenty pages (What the hell is Newspeak??). I thought it would be most appropriate to talk about what appears to me to be our central figure in this story. I mean, why not? George Orwell wastes no time introducing us to the man we will probably be following for the rest of the story.
Winston Smith is the 39 year old resident of London, Oceania. He works at the Ministry of Truth, in the Records Department. As stated, we see Winston right away trying to get out of the cold and make his way to what is seemingly his apartment/residence. Also of note, is his varicose ulcer above his ankle which gives him some issues as he is going up to his residence. We really do not know any other personal information about Winston. Winston thus far, has not mentioned anything about family, his background, anything about education, or how he looks. He wears the "uniform of the party", which are blue overalls. Seemingly, there is no sense of style to this man, but its not his fault. Nothing about clothing or how people dress is really mentioned, and I am going to venture a guess that people are dressing the same (He notes some women wearing sashes as a form of chastity).
I don't think it is a surprise that we know very little about where Winston came from, where he grew up, childhood, etc. I get that we are still very early in the book, but I am going to venture a guess that anything about Winston's past will be a mystery.
Time and Memory
On page three, Orwell gives us an important detail that is evidence to support my claim above:
"But it was no use, he could not remember: nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux, occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible."
Winston tries to muster some memories of London from his childhood, to compare and see if London was always the grimy landscape that it is at the present moment in the story. He can't do it. In fact this comes up later on in the chapter, when Winston writes in his diary for the first time (more on this later..). Winston starts to write, and begins his entry with a date, April 4th, 1984. Although he explains, that he is not for certain the year is 1984. In fact, he almost is not even sure of when he was born. He explains, "[...] but it was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two". This obliviousness to the date and his childhood are probably not just unique to Winston. It makes me think that this is done purposefully, but we will need some more information. As of right now, something is fishy, and I don't believe Orwell wrote these lines out of thin air. Winston has no recollection of his past, and no idea of the present date. It reminds me of what Victor Frankl talked about in "Man's Search For Meaning", how in the camp, they had lost a sense of time. Think about what this does to you. I would feel stuck, hopeless, trapped. When you have deadlines, you at least have something to work towards. But if you are constantly unaware of the date, you basically are living for the present and not really worried about planning for anything in the future. With Winston not remembering his past, how can he learn, reflect, grow from mistakes or misgivings. It almost feels like he is doomed to repeat his actions and days until he dies.
Another interesting component to Winston's life is his diary. On page six, we are introduced to how Winston procured this diary, by ways of purchasing it on the free market from a junk shop. Apparently the purchase made him a man with a target on his back (possibly from the Thought Police?). He clearly doesn't want it known he made the purchase, and states that opening a diary is punishable by death or being thrown into a forced-labor camp. Think about how this ties in to Winston's lack of temporal awareness and childhood memory. If you can't keep track of your life, like in a journal, wouldn't that maybe make it more difficult to reflect on past experiences or pass on information to other people? Winston seems like he doesn't write things down a lot, as he mentions that a pen is an "archaic instrument" and he is not used to writing anything by hand. The speakwrite is usually how notes are to be transcribed, and anything dictated to it will not be able to be concealed...
The diary entry is a huge event for Winston. He has spent weeks preparing for this moment, and you can feel the anxiety start to rise. When he finally puts pen to paper, he pours out a diatribe on a film viewing experience about brutal war footage that the audience is highly entertained by. By the sounds of the passage (You can find it on pages 8-9), he notes the reaction of the audience (applause), and about a woman that has complained and sequentially taken away by police. He calls this a typical prole reaction and stops writing due to a cramp. Afterwards he recalls his day at work when the Two Minutes of Hate happens.
The diary entry does not seem like much, just an explanation of his previous night. If the diary entry was just this, I wouldn't think he would get in much trouble for it? It might be less so about the content, than about the context. Big Brother would not want information being recorded and past around for future generations, or enemy countries (Eurasia is mentioned). Big Brother is always watching (think about how many posters Winston notes of Big Brother), and it sounds like things happen according to his narrative. Any writing down of thoughts, ideas, journal entries, can eat away at how Winston perceives Big Brother's world and he can then spread this to others. I am guessing that speakwrite mentioned earlier is able to be tapped into by the party to ensure you are saying all the right things...
What Winston writes next sounds way more dangerous for him, "Down with Big Brother". Here, he brings up how even if he didn't write anything down, the Thought Police would still come after him for his thought crime. Just for thinking about his diary entry, will get him arrested...think about that. Clearly, Winston is frustrated, and the diary is his outlet for his anger and other emotions about The Party and Big Brother. It doesn't sound like he can talk to anybody else about this (maybe O'Brien??) and this is the only way to express himself. It will be interesting to see if there are any repercussions from his actions, or if he is able to share his thoughts with others who are like minded.