[personal profile] wingedbeast
Last week, I made the case that Winston is his own Party. His conflict with the Party of Oceana isn't one of truth versus lies, but one preferred reality versus another. This week, I'm going to make the case that, in Winston's Party of One, the past is his version of Big Brother.

In the last interaction with the unnamed old man, who's name Winston never asks, the old man has this to say on the topic of the past.

'I know what you expect me to say,' he said. 'You expect me to say as I'd sooner be young again. Most people'd say they'd sooner be young, if you arst 'em. You got your 'ealth and strength when you're young. When you get to my time of life you ain't never well. I suffer something wicked from my feet, and my bladder's jest terrible. Six and seven times a night it 'as me out of bed. On the other 'and there's great advantages in being a old man. You ain't got the same worries. No truck with women, and that's a great thing. I ain't 'ad a woman for near on thirty year, if you'd credit it. Nor wanted to, what's more.


To repeat from last week, if Winston were interested in the past, truly curious, this could be readily mined for information. The old man isn't talking to Winston's interests, but he is talking about a measure of past versus present. And, as far as he can tell, the major difference in life experience, for himself, between then and now is that, now, the old man is old.

Yet, when the old man leaves for the restroom, Winston makes his escape and ruminates all wrong on this.

Within twenty years at most, he reflected, the simple question, 'Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?' would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a work mate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister's face-


I repeat, yet again, fuck you, Winston.

Okay, there's another level, one where I get what Winston is saying. People, in general, don't have the broader narrative of the entire world in mind throughout their lives. What they have is their own stories, their own battles, their own struggles and triumphs and their own lost love ones who's expressions mattered to them. This makes the task of putting together a history rather difficult. But, it's still a task, one that's possible for someone who's dedicated and makes an effort.

I get what Winston is saying. Winston is wrong. Winston's very concept of history is wrong.

Let's get more of a sense of Winston's view of history a bit further into the chapter. Winston's accidentally found the same shop where he bought his diary. It's an antique shop, a fading business in a world where the past is being rewritten and the distant past is being erased. But, there is something that catches his eye.

It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rain-water, in both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone.

'What is it?' Winston said, fascinated.

'That's coral, that is,' said the old man.


The beauty of the paperweight isn't to Winston's interest.

What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one.


This theme will go on for a while, in discussing rhymes and old churches, some demolished others repurposed, all to Winton's rapt attention. This is the kind of history that Winston likes, the kind that isn't corrupted with conversations with people who don't give him what he wants.

So far, in the book, one point has been repeated. The difference between what the Party tells you about Oceana, life within, the people within, the purpose within, and the reality. Big Brother, as the Party's face, would have you believe that the population is made up of broad-shouldered, mustachioed, revolutionary poet-warriors. The reality, is that you are a person, making your way to or from work, maybe getting a bite to eat, maybe hoping that your work is a part of something bigger than yourself.

Similarly, Winston would have himself believe that the world is a horrible place that can be overcome. The past, as the face of his idealized other-world, should, therefore, be a place of freedom and joy and not this sense that he has that things are bad. He finds his greatest expression of the past not in people sharing their stories, but in things, things that can be kept in glass and kept, in some metaphorical sense, pure.

In a sense, the Party has become Winston's own Emmanuel Goldstein. That's not to say that the Party is, in reality, a good thing. From what we can tell, it's not. But, Emanuel Goldstein's ability to survive and plot conspiracies within Oceana borders is exaggerated, if not completely fictional. So to, is the Party's ability to fully control the populace.

And, the result is the same. The Party wants you to see a potential enemy in everybody, everybody who doesn't give the exact right set of tribal signifiers in the terms of Newspeak and party slogans. For Winston, the effect is shown after he's left the antique dealer.

Note: During his time at the antique dealer, he found that the antique dealer has a room for rent, one without a telescreen. The dealer is a Prole, therefore not required to have one and never, personally, felt the need for one. He doesn't rent it yet, but its presence will come back into play.

And, when Winston is walking down the road, humming the rhyme to himself as a rhyme can be kept, in its way, under glass and not be a frustrating conversational partner. That's when...

Suddenly his heart turned to ice and his bowels turned to water. A figure in blue overalls was coming down the pavement, not ten metres away. It was the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her. She looked him straight in the face, then walked quickly on as though she had not seen him.


Again, Winston's lack of awareness that other people have internal lives, too, comes into play. He assumes that she must be spying on him, either working in official capacity or unofficially seeking out a thought-criminal. He tries to follow her, and fails. He even considers rushing after her in order to, quickly, kill her and end whatever threat she represents. He considers that possible, despite her relative youth, him being middle aged, and having some health impairments already. But, he doesn't try.

To close off on yet another repetition, there's a way of looking at Winston's rebellion (such as it is) and his writing a diary as an attempt at suicide by thought-police. One way or another, he just wants it over. But, with the feeling that it's, now, certain that it will be over soon, there's still the dread. It's the classic case of conflicting desires, the desire for all the troubles to be over and the desire to go on living.

And, that ends part 1 of the book. Next up is the first chapter of part 2.

Date: 2017-05-11 04:44 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mabus
I wonder...

I won't argue for Winston as a fully sympathetic protagonist. But, to put together a history from the vague remembrances of very old men surely is not an easy task. Winston is no historian; indeed, in some sense he is an anti-historian. He demolishes the evidence from which histories might be made. I doubt whether, in Oceania's culture, he can reasonably be expected to have the devotion to put together "An Oral History: Before Big Brother".

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