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In the fourth century B.C.E., Sophocles wrote, “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be/When there’s no help in truth.” If throughout time this has been proven, it has never been so evident as in George Orwell’s fantastical novel, 1984. In the novel, Winston Smith, the hero, discovers how much the truth can hurt. As much as Winston desires truth, in the end he cannot bear the price. Winston fails in his endeavor to retain knowledge and truth because despite his initial progression, he ends up as nothing.
Winston begins his quest for knowledge simply by thinking against the Party, and then progresses to the point where he holds the truth in his hands. Although he starts his pursuit by merely considering buying a diary, he commits to his search when he purchases and writes in it. Perhaps the hardest step when it comes to achieving something is the first, and Winston accomplishes as much. His advance towards enlightenment begins. As his mind opens to knowledge and truth, he can see the same in others. During the Two Minutes Hate, he feels for others who have gone against the Party and “at such moments, his heart went out to the lonely, derided heretic on the screen, sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies” (Orwell 16). Emmanuel Goldstein, the heretic, becomes, with the Brotherhood and the book, Winston’s beacon. With a goal in mind, it is easier for Winston to disobey the Party. Each time he defies the Party, he is one step closer to sanity. Through his sanity comes reason and through reason comes understanding. Only with understanding can Winston successfully uncover knowledge and truth. As he unearths ideas long forgotten he comes upon the realization that “if there was hope, it lay in the proles” (73). As Kathleen Fitzpatrick examines, “Just as Marx foresaw… that the Revolution would come from a spontaneous uprising of the proletariat as they shook off the chains of their oppressors, so Winston writes in his diary that if there is hope, it lies within… Oceania’s population that exists outside the confines of the Party” (245). Winston may only see a possible future, but in examining the potential betterment of his society, he betters himself. He finds desire with Julia. Desire is the one thing that the Party cannot control except by eliminating the opportunity for it to happen. Through his desire for Julia, he manages to learn more about himself and also about how well the Party can program people. Ironically enough, it was Vladimir Lenin who said, “A lie told often enough becomes truth.” Winston grasps that the younger generations remember nothing but what the Party tells them. Once he knows this, it becomes necessary in his continued search to work with others to find that which he is seeking. Upon befriending O’Brien, Winston joins the Brotherhood and almost has in his grasp all he needs for self-fulfillment. Once the book is given to him, Winston can complete his journey because he now holds the world in his hands.
Winston’s downfall and loss of knowledge begins with his arrest and moves throughout his captivity. With a certain sense of finality, the walls come tumbling down around Winston. “ ‘You are dead,’ said an iron voice behind them” (Orwell 182). Though he now possesses all the knowledge and truth about the world, it will mean nothing once he no longer lives because he has been unable to share what he has found. It is clear that his quest was not over at all, but that he had only completed one leg of the journey. Unfortunately, his arrest inhibits his ability to continue. Though he valiantly tries to remain unmoved by his captors in the Ministry of Love, he struggles, especially because O’Brien, the man he once believed to be his friend, says to him, “ ‘Don’t worry, Winston; you are in my keeping. Four seven years I have watched over you. Now the turning point has come. I shall save you, I shall make you perfect” (201). Winston once noted that “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four” (69). O’Brien now takes it upon himself to rid Winston of this freedom. Once Winston loses his freedom to
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Nineteen Eighty-Four, Mass surveillance, English-language films, Social science fiction, Julia, Winston Smith, Winston, Truth, 2 2 5, Big Brother, Epistemology, Ingsoc
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