How is Orwell's attitude towards totalitarianism personified through the characters of Winston and O'Brian in this extract?

Authors Avatar

How is Orwell’s attitude towards to totalitarianism personified through the characters of Winston and O’Brian in this extract?

        George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a negative utopian picture, a society ruled by rigid totalitarianism. The government that Orwell creates in his novel is ruled by an entity known as ‘Big Brother’ and in contrast to this, Winston Smith represents a rebellion, one which doesn’t accept this ideology fed to him. Thus leading to his entrapment and confrontations with the complex character, O’Brian. Although the action deals in the future, there are a couple of elements and symbols, taken from the present and past. So for example Emanuel Goldstein, the main enemy of Oceania, is, as one can see in the name, a Jew. Orwell draws a link to other totalitarian systems of our century, like the Nazis and the Communists, who had anti-Semitic ideas, and who used Jews as so-called scapegoats, who were responsible for all bad and evil things in the country. Emanuel Goldstein somehow also stands for Trotsky, a leader of the Revolution, who was later, declared as an enemy “Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable”.

Another symbol that can be found in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the fact that Orwell divides the fictional super states in the book according to the division that can be found in the Cold War. So Oceania stands for the United States of America, Eurasia for Russia and Eastasia for China. The fact that the two socialistic countries Eastasia and Eurasia (in our case Russia and China) are at war with each other, corresponds to our history. A relevant symbolic instrument is the paperweight that Winston buys in the old junk-shop “The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal”. It stands for the fragile little world that Winston and Julia have made for each other. They are the coral inside of it. As Orwell wrote: “It is a little chunk of history, that they have forgotten to alter”. The "Golden Country" is another emblem. It stands for the old European pastoral landscape. The place where Winston and Julia meet for the first time to make love to each other is exactly like the "Golden Country" of Winston’s dreams.

In this extract, Winston is in an analogous situation. After being arrested by the ‘Thought Police’ Winston endures a process of  ‘re-integration’ this continues in this extract, passing from ‘learning’ through ‘understanding’ and ‘acceptance’. At this point acceptance is the incentive undertook by Winston Smith, he is intimidated into listening and agreeing with someone to whom he is morally opposed, O’Brian.  

Much of 1984 is based on the fundamental theme of conflict between the individual and the social state system. Orwell was strongly against totalitarianism, this system presented through O’Brian and Orwell personified in the character of Winston.

O’Brian, a member of the Inner Party interrogates Winston. From the start Winston longed to talk to him, feeling instinctively that such a man would not be bound by orthodox thinking and would therefore understand him. What’s ironic is O’Brian understands Winston to the extent that he can read his mind and Winston’s longing to speak with him led him to this entrapment. O’Brian’s telepathic powers demonstrate how powerful he is and also the power of the party. He is able to look in to Winston’s mind and respond to his very thoughts “the word you are trying to find is lipsism”. This conveys the mentality behind totalitarianism, as plainly and as forcefully as possible. Although an unrealistic quality, it can be understood as a method by which Orwell creates a sense of Winston’s vulnerability.

        The book makes it clear that the power of totalitarian dictatorship does not derive solely from the state, immensely though that may be, but also from the weakness of the citizens. O’Brian describes this as a “world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled on, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself,” illustrating a government that can control and have “power over men.” Orwell uses O’Brian to depict a frightful and painful world of totalitarian governing.

O’Brian’s language is a skilful piece, interspersed with rhetoric questions, “How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?” “How can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own.” A tone of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil, reassures the reader of O’Brian’s dominating quality over Winston, and parallel sentence structures are employed to intensify rhythm and a sense of inevitability.

Orwell conveys this totalitarian future through O’Brian’s vision of sexual modifications, “the sex act will be abolished”. Even the developments of Winston’s present, his wife had described the sex act as “something which had to be done that evening and which must not be forgotten. She had two names for it. One was 'making a baby,' and the other was 'our duty to the Party' (yes, she had actually used that phrase)”. The act of sex was regarded as an attack against the party “When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour”. There were many other unrealistic abolishing “no friends, no wives” creating a sense of eventual destruction of human nature through a state. Earlier in the novel Winston describes how "It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children", how families were not bonded to how they were the time the book was written “The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately”. O’Brian’s ranting such as removing the “distinction between beauty and ugliness” may arguably sound so preposterous that they totter on the boundary of horror and humour. O’Brian also repeats words such as “power” and “no” which also symbolise the ethics of the totalitarian ruling which Orwell was strongly opposed to.

Like a civilian in totalitarian state Winston is defenceless, dominated by O’Brian who pushes his views on to Winston in an attempt to make him absorb and adapt them to Winston’s own. Winston not only is intimidated physically after suffering barbaric bodily harm, but also mentally. O’Brian describes how “power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” This is how totalitarian governing succeeds, by destroying or dictating facts and re-writing history. Orwell boldly said “History is written for winners” describing World War Two’s distinct slants in accounts depending on whether you subscribe to one of the Nazi’s or that of their enemies. “For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless”, this quote explains the effects of rewriting history to create an order of citizens to comply and believe what the party depicts.

Join now!

         Orwell hated totalitarianism primarily because of its attack on unbiased truth; he explained how history is altered by whoever is in power. In Orwell’s essay “Revising History” he examines the credibility of history and finds it to be based on the person or group in control. “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened-that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death” stated Winston ironically before his torture and inevitable death, what was “terrifying” is Winston’s eventual acceptance of the party regime and the “truths” implemented. In 1984 O’Brian ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a star student thought of this essay


Sound grammar, spelling and sentence structure here. Equally, this candidate utilises a variety of relevant vocabulary to address the complexities of the given question. With a word count of 5,832, it must be noted that this is a lengthy essay and students should be aware that this will not be expected for an exam, and often coursework (WJEC A-Level word limit is less for example).

High. One is drawn to this candidates exploration of Winston's persona and the way he fits (or does not fit as the case may be) into Orwell's oligarchic and totalitarian society. With exploration of symbols, wider social context, and character, it is difficult to find fault. However, I would be inclined to suggest that more detailed analysis of language could improve this essay further.

Excellent. This candidate explores a variety of perspectives and interpretations, whilst avoiding a linear answer to the given question. For example, the structure of this essay was both organised and engaging; incorporating a general overview at the start, and a valid summary to conclude. Overall, this candidate does not lose focus on the question and has ultimately produced a thoroughly engaging response.