What does one think of when the word “hero” comes up? The definition of a hero is afflicted with the main character in a book, play, or movie, which is typically identified with good qualities. But what if that is not the case? What if our hero is a cowardly man with a varicose ulcer on his right ankle and is physically unfit?
Meet Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell’s book, “1984”. Winston is a member of the Outer Party, and is under the ruling of the Inner Party, living under a mask that he is a loyal follower of Big Brother as those who do not follow Big Brother are vaporized and are never to be seen again. No one has the courage to rebel as even thinking various thoughts can result an individual to be vaporized, with everyone being watched at every moment of the day. Winston feels frustrated through the Party’s laws as he cannot even think what he wants and soon leads to him rebelling.
Winston’s journey shows that he fails to rebel against the party in the end. However, Winston is meant to be a hero as a hero is justified through his actions, rather than by his ending; Winston shows characteristics of a hero through rebellious attitude to do what is right, his bravery to rebel against Oceanian law, and the perseverance to keep rebelling until the very end, as emphasized in the book “1984”. In the very beginning of the book, Winston already shows characteristics of a hero as he commits acts of rebellion against the unfair laws of the Party. He frequents the Prole district and shops in ordinary shops; buying many items from the past. In Oceania, the act of buying such items is against the law as “Party members were supposed not to go into ordinary shops” (Orwell 6).
Winston slips through the district and buys a diary as “At the time he was not conscious of wanting it for any particular purpose. Orwell 6)The fact that Winston buys items from the Prole district frequently shows how he enjoys doing these rebellious acts since it allows him to go back to the past. Winston shows his rebellious attitude again as he repeatedly writes “in large neat capitals DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (Orwell 18).
Winston cannot publicly revolt since Oceania is filled with telescreens to spying neighbours. There are even events such as the Two-Minutes Hate where citizens conform to propaganda. Winston rebels by his eyes as “there was a space of a couple of seconds during which the expression of his eyes might conceivably have betrayed him.” (Orwell 16) Winston is a rebellious man who revolts for freedom in a totalitarian society, showing how he justifies his actions as a hero.
After Winston staggers through thinking about whenever he should rebel further, he meets Julia soon afterwards and decides to rebel together. He no longer wonders if he should rebel, he rebels because it is the right thing to do to gain freedom. He officially starts his rebellion with Julia by making love to her “even if it were only once in his whole life. The sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion. “(Orwell 68). This shows how Winston is brave by even connecting with Julia, as it can end in both of them being vaporized in the end.
Winston continues his act of bravery by pursuing a place where he and Julia can continue rebelling in private; he rents out the room above the antique shop. Here, the both of them commit more crimes that could entitle them to death. For example, Winston stops “to talk with Mr. Charrington for a few minutes on his way upstairs.”(Orwell 150) in a society in where trust is rare. Winston also comes to this room to talk about more acts of rebellion with Julia, and of course, they also continue to make love despite it being against the law.
Winston attains the title of a true rebel when he searches for O’Brien to join the Brotherhood, stating that “We believe that there is some kind of conspiracy, some kind of secret organization working against the Party, and that you are involved in it. We want to join it and work for it.”(Orwell 170) At this point, Winston realizes that there is no turning back as O’Brien “began asking his questions if he is to fully commit to being a part of the Brotherhood and Winston agrees, showing great bravery for committing thought crime and other acts of rebellion. His bravery for committing these courageous acts shows Winston in a heroic light, as he fights the Party with heavier crimes.
Winston is dead set to persevere until the very end. His ultimate goal is “to die hating them”- with “them” referring to the Party and Big Brother. Winston does not deny that he would be caught; “The first step had been a secret, involuntary thought, the second had been the opening of the diary. He had moved from thoughts to words, and now from words to actions. The last step was something that would happen in the Ministry of Love.” (Orwell 159) However, he continues to rebel by enduring both physical and mental torture; with “questioners now were not ruffians in black uniforms but Party intellectuals, little rotund men with quick movements and flashing spectacles” (Orwell 241).
Soon, he faces O’Brien torturing him through electric shocks so Winston can be converted into loving Big Brother, where Winston still doubts the certainty of the Party. O’Brien brings up that “The earth is as old as we are, no older. How could it be older? Nothing exists except through human consciousness.” (Orwell 265) Winston retorts back, saying “But the rocks are full of the bones of extinct animals – mammoths and mastodons and enormous reptiles which lived here long before man was ever heard of.” (Orwell 265) Winston “obeyed the Party, but he still hated the Party.” enough to say “I hate him” (Orwell 282), posing a problem to the Party as one should accept the Party or Big Brother entirely.
Being broken, Winston “knew that he was in the wrong, but he preferred to be in the wrong.” showing that he still has the drive to continue to fight for freedom, as he still wanted it badly. This causes him to go to Room 101- and he betrays Julia due to his fear of rats. It is easy to see that everyone ends up betraying what they love most, as the purpose of the torture is to replace anything you love most with Big Brother.
His perseverance shows how Winston- despite failing- is a heroic character as he attempted to hate Big Brother until the very end. The cautionary tale of “1984” emphasizes Winston as a hero through his dedication to rebel as far as he could, his courage for taking action in rebellion, and showing the right attitude for what is right; making him an excellent protagonist for a hero is defined through what one does, and not by what happens to the hero.
Albeit the tragic ending, does Winston’s failure to reach his goal denounce him from a hero status? In the end, the credibility of Winston being a hero is ultimately up to the reader as he can only be a hero if he fits the definition of a hero. The question is, what is a hero?
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