A Psychological Analysis of Winston Smith’s character in 1984
The power of one’s subconscious has the ability to strongly influence how they perceive society and act in their environment. Whether one is aware of their subconscious trail or not, it can severely impact the way they think and see the world. George Orwell explores Winston Smith’s subconscious in 1984, detailing how he eventually comes to terms with the total torment of his society. Outlined in Sigmund Freud’s theories of of the unconscious, Winton’s natural instincts and desires emerge from underneath the surface, forcing him to inevitably deal with the consequences. Freud’s psychological theories concerning the subconscious mind, as well as the Freudian Slip, give leeway to the thought process and actions of Winston who struggles to come to terms with his desires in a totalitarian society built on the fundamental principles of absolute mind control.
The idea of how the mind processes emotions and thoughts initially fascinated Freud, especially how the unconscious provides tremendous insight into how humans feel and process different emotions. He theorized that “the unconscious is the seat of all human impulses, instincts, wishes, and desires, of which people are usually unaware. It is irrational and yet it is just this part of human nature that controls most behavior” (Doorey). In other words, it is a natural process that explains why certain things trigger humans to exhibit peculiar behavior. Unconscious thoughts lead to processes that are automatic, even if there is not an immediate answer for why people do certain things. Freud even theorized that dreams provide understanding of one’s unconscious desires, referring to them as the “royal road to the unconscious” (Doorey). The idea of the Freudian Slip explains how certain symbols and languages cause these unconscious desires to become apparent, which can “lead to mental disturbances if they go unresolved” (“Sigmund Freud”). Freud’s research and theories, practiced for centuries, provide monumental insight into how and why people, especially characters of novels, think and act a specific way. Numerous symbols and pictures, as well as employed language, challenge Winston’s ability to think properly like the rest of the citizens of Oceania as his thought process naturally challenges the rigid conformity instilled in the people. As he moves through the monotonous rituals of everyday life, “his secret loathing of Big Brother” (Orwell 19) is what drives him to piece together his despair in wanting freedom from the oppressive totalitarian society.
Winston even asks himself “what were his his true feelings towards Big Brother?” (Orwell 355), indicating a change in his level of consciousness in processing his emotions. Telescreens and songs projecting the ideologies of the Party further bombard Winston’s consciousness as these textual and visual signs remain “represented in an obsessively triadic structure” (Carpentier). This portrayal of the Freudian Slip causes Winston to fear the government’s punishments, simultaneously sparking a rebellious streak within him. Depictions of the Party attempting to brainwash citizens are evident as the “control of language is a method of controlling consciousness that necessitates secrecy and the use of alternative sign systems to communicate” (Carpentier). As the Thought Police forbids the people of Oceania from speaking to one another freely, using constant psychological monitoring in the form of mind control, this forces Winston to confront his internal thoughts and question whether or not anyone has a similar thought process to his. While he may come to terms with his inner subconscious, Winston only “condemns himself to becoming its [the Party’s] victim” when he attempts to rebel against the system. Orwell precisely crafts his character to demonstrate his conspicuous flaw as a desperate man seeking immediate change. While he slowly recognized his repressed thoughts and emotions and they flourished with triggering signs and songs, Winston simply became a product of his environment due to his lack of control in a rigid society that does not tolerate straying from the norm.
As Orwell continues to explore “the darker regions of the psyche” (Carpentier) in Winston’s mind, he details how his subconscious thoughts about desire heavily dictate his actions and how he goes about making decisions. This unconscious thought was unspoken as the people of Oceania tremendously feared the Thought Police and punishments for having thoughts that strayed out of the ordinary were always looming nearby. The Party insisted that “desire was thoughtcrime” (Orwell 87), which would threaten the stability of the nation and “elevate the human, the individual, above the powers of the state to control him” (Fitzpatrick). When Winston begins a secret intimate relationship with his coworker Julia, it fuels the rebellious fire within him as his once subconscious thoughts now float to the surface. Despite knowing that this was “the one thing they could never do” (Orwell 276), both desire and excitement at rebelling against the government fueled Winston and Julia to continue their rendezvous. This intimate union makes Winston aware of his desires, not only to maintain an intimate relationship with Julia, but to rebel against the expected conformity of the society. As “this piece of repressed knowledge becomes conscious” (Fitzpatrick), Winston gains the confidence to want to defeat the Party. This “animal instinct” (Fitzpatrick) within him that he suppressed by years of conformity finally comes alive and becomes the driving force behind his motivation to defeat the oppressive system of Oceania. Despite the fact that it emphasizes his feeling of isolation from the majority of the citizens in Oceania, Winston’s individualist stance in society receives support from Julia and O’Brien as they offer moral support in defeating the Party.
Orwell details Winston’s stream of consciousness throughout the novel, portraying how his subconscious gradually became his conscious state of mind as his direct and indirect thoughts slowly unify. In doing so, Orwell “highlights the character as a source of experience and of thought” (Carpentier) to indicate how, not only is Winston altering how he is a product of his environment, but to also emphasize how Winston’s own thoughts touch the lives of others who are willing to rebel as well. Winston stands strongly by the concept that “until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (Orwell 90). He stresses that is crucial that one becomes conscious of their inner desire to rebel in order for uprisings against a dictatorship to be successful. Without him becoming conscious of his subconscious thoughts, Winston would still be the same ordinary man living a monotonous life without resistance. Winston refutes the slogans of the Party, including “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell 6) when he notes their contradictory nature.
Even though it is natural for the people of Oceania to not question the motives of the Party, Winston brings it to light and uses it as further fuel in his rebellion as he becomes conscious of his thoughts. Because Winston becomes conscious of his internal, suppressed thoughts, he is able to discern between reality and illusion in Oceania, questioning the integrity of the Party and Thought Police. The system’s flaws lead to his sudden awakening, ultimately sparking the doubt in his mind about the validity of their method of ruling. Freud’s theories about the subconscious mind tie directly to Winston’s thought processes as his natural instincts are to doubt the party, despite conforming to fit their norms for the majority of his life. Whether caused by the unique symbols and language associated with the Freudian Slip, or simply attributed to desire, Winston’s subconscious ultimately drives him to rebel against the Party and question authority. The subconscious awakening can often be an enlightening time for people, especially if they act upon their thoughts and desires to accomplish a complex goal. If executed properly, it has the ability to uncover a multitude of opportunities.