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Not all the characters in 1984 are rounded individuals like Winston, Julia, and O'Brien. Many have parts like bit players in a stage play, carrying signboards that signal the author's intentions. If you look at them one by one, you'll be able to write about the difference between characters as people and characters as symbols, or emblems.
• BIG BROTHER
To begin with, Big Brother is not a real person. All-present as he is, all-powerful and forever watching, he is seen only on TV. Although his picture glares out from huge posters that shout, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, nobody sees Big Brother in person.
Orwell had several things in mind when he created Big Brother. He was certainly thinking of Russian leader Joseph Stalin; the pictures of Big Brother even look like him. He was also thinking of Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Big Brother stands for all dictators everywhere. Orwell may have been thinking about figures in certain religious faiths when he drew Big Brother. the mysterious, powerful, God-like figure who sees and knows everything-but never appears in person.
For Inner Party members, Big Brother is a leader, a bogeyman they can use to scare the people, and their authorization for doing whatever they want. If anybody asks, they can say they are under orders from Big Brother.
For the unthinking proles, Big Brother is a distant authority figure.
For Winston, Big Brother is an inspiration. Big Brother excites and energizes Winston, who hates him. He is also fascinated by Big Brother and drawn to him in some of the same ways that he is drawn to O'Brien, developing a love-hate response to both of them that leads to his downfall.
• WINSTON SMITH
Orwell named his hero after Winston Churchill, England's great leader during World War II. He added the world's commonest last name: Smith. The ailing, middle-aged rebel can be considered in many different lights.
1. You'll have to decide for yourself whether Winston is a hero in his secret battle with Big Brother, or whether he's only a sentimental man with a death wish, who courts his death openly through an illegal love affair and through his alliance with the enemies of Big Brother.
a. If Winston is a 20th-century hero, it seems logical for him to keep a diary even though he knows it will hang him. It is right for him to follow his heart and have an affair with Julia. He is doing the only possible thing by seeking out O'Brien and joining the Brotherhood, which is committed to overthrowing Big Brother. Naturally he will defy authorities even after he is captured and tortured, trying to keep one last shred of personality intact.
b. If he's so heroic, why is he so foolhardy? It makes no sense for him to create a permanent love-nest when he knows it will speed his capture. "It was as though they were intentionally stepping nearer to their graves," he thinks. A careful man would never open up to O'Brien without knowing whether he is to be trusted. You can argue that Winston's continuing defiance of the Party after his capture is one more way of courting disaster. Do you think Winston secretly enjoys torture? Although he confesses to everything they want him to, he extends the torture by continuing his inner defiance-something the Party seems to know. Winston's thoughts in Part Two, Section IV, point to this interpretation.
2. You can learn more about Winston by considering his view of sex as a means of rebellion. He's divorced because his wife couldn't produce the baby the Party expects, and wouldn't consider sex for any other purpose because desire is Thoughtcrime. He is drawn to Julia because she is "corrupt," which means she enjoys sex and has previously taken several lovers. Knowing he will be punished, he falls in love with her. Winston's ideal partner for the future is not Julia, but the mountainous prole woman who hangs out the laundry for her many children. Another of Winston's ideal women, whom Winston writes about in his diary, is the refugee mother protecting her child with her own body. Orwell may be arguing that woman-as-mother is to be honored, but any other kind of love is to be punished.