Let me start out by saying that, just like how I was not a physicist when reading A Brief History of Time, I was not a psychiatrist when I read 1984. I just took one semester of psychology 101 my freshman year of college (so four years ago), and that was it. With that being said, I have concluded that Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s 1984 has many severe mental problems as is made evident throughout the book.
Before I really get into my rant about Winston, let me give you a little bit of history about the relationship between myself at this particular book. First of all, yes, this is another book off “The List” as I have started calling it. For the record, as of this very moment, I am in the lead and very proud of it. Okay, enough gloating for now, there will be plenty of time for that when I win. This is my third attempt to get through this book. My first attempt was in 11th grade when I was supposed to read it for an English assignment. Each student in the class had to pick a different book and, from what I remember, analyze its symbolism or something like that. I really don’t remember. I did pull up my paper though, and browsed through it, and it basically talks about how the book is a warning for technology in the future. I didn’t read the book. I may have gotten through the first thirty pages or so (which is about 25 pages more than I read when I had to read Oliver Twist in 9th grade…still got an A+ on the paper, Mr. Travers if you’re reading this, sorry!). I still managed to get an A on the paper, but it was a pain to write since I had no idea where to even look for information. I wouldn’t recommend it. A year later in 12th grade AP Literature, I was supposed to read 1984. Yet again, I only got through the first 30 pages or so. I simply could not read this book. I found Winston un-relatable as a protagonist no matter how fascinating I found the use of technology and control. All of this surprised me, because Animal Farm (also written by Orwell) is one of my all time favorite books. I’ve been known to read it in one sitting on more than one occasion. Even so, I just couldn’t get through 1984, no matter how hard I tried. This time around, however, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to read this book, it’s on “The List” after all.
As I said at the beginning of my post, I found Winston Smith, the main character, to be a horrifically damaged man with numerous psychological problems. You honestly don’t need to be a psychologist to figure that out.
First, I want to focus on Winston’s unusual, and very strong, violent tendencies. There are two instances in the novel where Winston has extreme feelings towards someone he barely knows, or doesn’t even know at all. In the first case, he exhibits these desires towards Julia, a woman who would later become his lover. The first time he saw her, he described that he wanted to “flog her to death with a rubber truncheon.” He continues to describe the terrible acts he would do to Julia, even though he has never actually spoken to her in his life. Later, Winston describes the desire to smash “a pickaxe right into the middle of” the skull of a gentleman he didn’t even know. These violent longings seem to focus on people Winston doesn’t know, while people he does know are fine. it is almost as if Winston doesn’t trust anyone he doesn’t know and wants to destroy them.
In addition to extreme violent tendencies, Winston also displays other unusual symptoms of a possible underlying mental disorder. He shows an overactive imagination. While at work, he imagines that his coworker is working on the exact same project he is, although there is no proof of this. Winston also exhibits signs of being overly paranoid. After making eye contact, for a brief second, with a coworker and believes that the coworker instantly knows that he has his doubts about Big Brother and the government. At the beginning of the novel and throughout the text, Winston starts doubting the government and very foundation of his world. Orwell provides no reason for this, which leaves us to believe that it has come from nowhere. He questions everything and even asks “Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?” there is no way to know this answer, unfortunately, because the government has manipulated the past so much that it is unreliable. Perhaps what is most disturbing is Winston’s lack of remorse. He outright tells his lover that he wanted to “rape you and then murder you. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” What makes this so disturbing is that his lover, Julia, doesn’t take any offense to this but rather stays by his side. Later, Winston is talking to Julia about his long-lost wife, who may or may not be alive, and says that he wishes he had pushed his wife off a cliff when he had a chance, even though she hadn’t done anything to him. Even as a child, Winston showed a startling lack of remorse. Even though his young sister and mother were close to dying of starvation, he hoarded food for himself without a care in the world.
Overall, I found Winston to be incredibly disturbing. He displayed a combination of extreme, unnecessary violence towards innocent victims, an overactive imagination and a lack of remorse. While he was difficult to identify with as a character, he was interesting, albeit, confusing.