wingedbeast ([personal profile] wingedbeast) wrote2017-05-29 12:02 am
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1984 Deconstruction: Part 21 Why Winston?

Chapter 2 of Part 2 is a short one. We can get through it in one post. It starts out with Winston following his new lady-friend's instructions to the T. The narrator (which I take to be Winston referring to himself in third person) even points out that Winston would be more nervous if it weren't so obvious that she was so much more experienced than he.


There are some parallels between Winston and myself that I just hate. Then there are the ones I don't know what to feel about.

Winston and the woman stop at a grassy knoll ("No, it isn't dead, it's a Gazebo.") surrounded by tall saplings. Those saplings are important. Anywhere else, there could be microphones. They're not likely, but they're possible. Here, the woman knows that there isn't anything big enough to hide a microphone. So, by process of elimination, we have a safe spot.

And, here, we get the meat of the fantasy that this woman could represent.

'Would you believe,' he said, 'that till this moment I didn't know what colour your eyes were?' They were brown, he noted, a rather light shade of brown, with dark lashes. 'Now that you've seen what I'm really like, can you still bear to look at me?'

'Yes, easily.'

'I'm thirty-nine years old. I've got a wife that I can't get rid of. I've got varicose veins. I've got five false teeth.'

'I couldn't care less,' said the girl.'

This could almost be 1984 self-insert fan-fiction. And, save for the specific wording, I think Orwell was well aware of that. The fantasy is obvious. Here is a younger woman (some fifteen years younger) who is in love with an older man and doesn't care about any of the many, many ques to infertility and ill health that normally turn people off.

She could easily have said that none of these characteristics are as pronounced as he makes out. Orwell could have chosen characteristics that are more readily redefined as positives in a different light. (Mallory Ortberg has this list of "character flaws" that are just the type*.) Instead, she lets his self-insult go without challenge. "I couldn't care less," she says, carrying the message of "I agree with every single insult you have about yourself."

The message that carries is that there is at least one factor more important than all of the many, many deal-breaking characteristics of Winston, several of which he is completely unaware. What we have just seen, here, is that, in a way, this woman has been doing to Winston what Winston did to her, made him a thing, a part that is played in her life.

I find it difficult to blame her for this. In part, it might be that we don't spend time in her head. We've spent time in Winston's head. So, we get a better look at his flaws and more time to develop a distaste for them. There's also this important part, the part that comes after Winston can't *ahem* rise to serve at the moment.

'Never mind, dear. There's no hurry. We've got the whole afternoon. Isn't this a splendid hide-out? I found it when I got lost once on a community hike. If anyone was coming you could hear them a hundred metres away.'

'What is your name?' said Winston.

'Julia. I know yours. It's Winston-Winston Smith.'

'How did you find that out?'

'I expect I'm better at finding things out than you are, dear...'

I suspect that's because Julia (thank you, Orwell, for finally getting us to the point where I can use her name without spoiler), does what Winston doesn't, pay attention. And, I get the feeling that, regardless of Orwell's intent, is that she's under stricter rule.

Then again, that may have been Orwell's intent.

As a quick aside, there's a fantasy that, if you've read this book, you know about. I've referenced its existence twice and just don't feel comfortable stating it. That said, I will say that, despite what he might have done, Winston's up front about it. He offers no defense and at least the text doesn't say he tried to manipulate with remorse. This could be read as him putting another of his flaws up for judgment. In fact, the text calls it a love-offering.

After he explains that he thought that she might have been with the Thought Police or simply an enthusiastic "patriot" who could amount to much the same, she offers him up a rare bit of real chocolate. She laughs a bit at how he could think about her so devoted to (to use a phrase not in the book) the Party Line.

'Actually I am that sort of girl, to look at. I'm good at games. I was a troop-leader in the Spies. I do voluntary work three evenings a week for the Junior Anti-Sex League. Hours and hours I've spent pasting their bloody rot all over London. I always carry one end of a banner in the processions. I always look cheerful and I never shirk anything. Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It' sthe only way to be safe.

In the High School interpretation of 1984, Julia isn't just better at putting on the right face for the crowd. Julia wouldn't be any wealthier than Winston, not necessarily more privileged in any specific way. But, she might have stricter parentage or her parents might be more active in the community, thus needing to conform harder to expectations. Or it could simply be the case that Julia would be a girl in that community, and the consequences of deviation from expectation are all the harsher.

So, by either natural talent or necessity, Julia has developed more social and situational awareness. She has to. That's the only way that she can have a space wherein she can express not simply being the combination of expectations placed upon her.

Winston, on the other hand... Well, Orwell can tell us how the Party doesn't like fraternization with Proles. But, on the topic of prostitution? We've seen that's a risk that's taken and one that's likely more forgiven. There's only so much social change that happen in a mere four decades. In the real world, a steady effort of feminism still hasn't killed off the notion that men are lust-monsters and women the vessels of lust.

Next we get an answer to a question that bugs me.

'You are very young,' he said. 'you are ten or fifteen years younger than I am. What could you see to attract you in a man like me?'

'It was something in your face. I thought I'd take a chance. I'm good at spotting people who don't belong. As soon as I saw you I knew you were against them.'

I'm not sure I believe that answer. Rather, I don't believe that answer is complete.

We can talk a bit about why she does this. "Them" refers to the Party. It's generalized for us, but Julia hates the Party and discusses that hatred with a mouth full of vulgarities. I can just imagine a Party loyalist responding to Julia to say how angry she sounds and to shame her for her bad language, anything but actually taking issue with the content of her screed.

Now, I'll skip past a bit. Winston's readiness for the sexy time takes a while and takes the beauty of a bird's song in order to achieve. Putting it like that sounds different what the page would suggest. The page would suggest that the beauty of unconquered nature gave Winston the inner peace and allowed him the level of intimacy that he needed in order to perform. But, we can walk right past that. (Feel free to discuss that passage as you please in the notes.)

Here, just about ready, Winston asks a question.

'Have you done this before?'

'Of course. Hundreds of times-well, scores of times, anyway.'

'With Party members?'

'Yes, always with Party members.'

'With members of the Inner Party?'

'Not with those swine, no. But there's plenty that would if they got half a chance. They're not so holy as they make out.'

And, a bit later, one particular exchange says it to me.

'You like doing this? I don't mean simply mean: I mean the thing in itself?'

'I adore it.'

Winston, by the way, loves that. He loves that she's done this multiple times. He loves that she enjoys what they're doing for its own sake. I'll say this much for Winston, he doesn't slut-shame.

Okay, he shames every single human being, save himself and O'Brien, for their Orthodoxy. So, maybe he's met his shaming quota for a life-time, even if it's all in his own head. But, still, this one bad thing is something he doesn't do. Considering when this was written and all, it's faint praise, but I'm latching on.

At the end of the chapter, the narrator says that there can't be pure love or pure lust in this world. The illicit sex was a political act, a blow against the party.

That brings us back to the question of why Winston? According to Julia, the answer is that she could tell that Winston wasn't Orthodox. The next question becomes how? What lead her to that belief? Because, despite Winston's lack of understanding, we understand that people who aren't Winston or O'Brien or, now, Julia, have internal lives.

Parsons or Sime or Mrs. Parsons or the two children could, any of them, harbor subversive thoughts and intent. Sime frequents an establishment for intellectuals and Parsons is in position to coordinate with subversives without Big Brother being any the wiser. So, why Winston Smith?

I think that the answer is that Winston is a loser in this world. Parsons has a wife and children, a family that gives him reason to prefer stability and a reason to avoid risk. That's a family that can provide fulfillment. Sime is an intellectual with a high-minded job and, to all appearances, fulfillment with his career.

Winston is alone in his home life. Winston isn't fulfilled in his job. Winston isn't one of the popular kids or one of the Sime-like kids in the Chess club or one of the Parsons-like kids doing minor student-council business. Winston is that burnout kid who some people are nice to, but doesn't have much going on.

Winston makes a safe bet, in that he doesn't have much reason to find satisfaction with Oceana as it is. When the others appear to believe that the reduction in chocolate rations is actually an increase, it's not just for fear, but for an attachment to the way things are.

I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe I'm just feeling sorry for myse.... Winston, I mean Winston.

* Flaws only a protagonist could have