Characters

Nineteen Eighty-Four features a number of named characters, but only a few play major roles in the story.

Winston Smith is the main character, whose point of view the narrator focuses on throughout the story. Julia also plays …

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Winston

Introduction

Winston Smith is the main character of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although the story is told by a third-person narrator, the point of view is limited to Winston and we get full access to his particular point of view.

Both his first and last names contain symbolic elements.

The last name Smith is one of the most common names in the English-speaking world, which shows that he is meant to represent an everyman, a representative of the average human being – and how such a person might react within a dystopian reality.

The first name Winston may be inspired by Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War and a key figure in the Allies’ struggle against Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers (which happened just a few years before Orwell wrote the book). This is meant to highlight the fact that Winston is a rebel who fights against an oppressive regime (which is in many ways comparable to Nazi Germany), even though his story ends in defeat rather than victory.

Winston is a developing character, as both his outer and inner characterisation change dramatically as the story progresses through its three parts. We have therefore split our characterisation of Winston into several different parts as well.

Part I

Outer characterisation

Winston’s outer characterisation reveals that he is a 39-year-old man at the beginning of the story. He is described as having a “smallish, frail figure”, and the description continue: “His hair was very fair, his face naturally sanguine, his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended” (p. 4).

He is also not physically fit, as we learn he has “a varicose ulcer above his right ankle” (p. 3) and a persistent, violent cough (pp. 33-34). It is also suggested that he has an alcohol problem, as he regularly uses gin as a tool to calm his emotions (p. 7).

Winston is a member of the Outer Party (p. 33), which forms a sort of ‘middle class’ in London. He therefore wears the “blue overalls which were the uniform of the Party” (p. 4). Despite this, we get plenty of indications that he is actually living in poverty to some extent, as he struggles to acquire razor blades and his apartment complex is in a poor state.

Winston works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which is in charge of making ‘corrections’ to published stories, images or videos so they fit the version of reality that the Party wants to create (pp. 41-45). Despite his rebellious tendencies (see below), Winston finds some enjoyment in his job, as it occasionally produces intellectual challenges:

Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was his work. Most of it was a tedious routine, but included in it were also jobs so difficult and intricate that you could lose yourself in them as in the depths of a mathematical problem. (p. 46)

Inner characterisation

Though Winston appears to be a devoted Party member on the outside, his inner characterisation reveals that he has a rebellious nature. Secretly, he is against Big Brother and the oppressive police state which he lives in, even though he knows these rebellious thoughts will probably cost him his life.

His first, simple act of rebellion is to purchase a diary, in whic…

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Julia

Julia is a central character in Nineteen Eighty-Four. She is Winston’s secret lover in the middle section of the story.

Her outer characterisation is revealed long before we learn her name. She is described as “[...] a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick dark hair, a freckled face and swift, athletic movements” (p. 11). We later learn in Part II of the novel that Julia is actually 26 years old and lives in a hostel with other women, whom she professes to hate (p. 136).

She is a member of the Outer Party and works in the Ministry of Truth in the Fiction Department, which mostly means that she produces an endless stream of trivial entertainment products that are meant to keep the ‘proles’ satisfied and stop them from questioning their situation. Her job does not involve actual writing - instead she operates some kind of machine used as part of the printing process. Winston “had sometimes seen her with oily hands and carrying a spanner” (p. 11), suggesting that she is a mechanic. We also learn that: “A narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League, was wound several times around the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips” (p. 12).

Initially, this makes Winston believe that Julia’s inner characterisation must be th…

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O'Brien

O’Brien is a mysterious figure at the beginning of the book.

His outer characterisation describes him as a “[...] large, burly man with a thick neck and a coarse, humorous brutal face”, but also notes that he has “a certain charm of manner” (p. 12). In particular, the narrator refers to O’Brien’s “trick of re-settling his spectacles on his nose which was curiously disarming – in some indefinable way, curiously civilised” (p. 12).

He is a member of the Inner Party, which means he enjoys a level of luxury unknown to the majority of citizens in Oceania. The description of his neighbourhood and home marks a stark contrast to the residential areas described in the rest of the book:

[...] the huge block of flats, the richness and spaciousness of everything, the unfamiliar smells of good food and good tobacco, the silent and incredibly rapid lifts sliding up and down, the white-jacketed servants hurrying to and fro… (p. 175)

O’Brien’s true inner characterisatio…

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