Winston Smith is the main character of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although the story is told by a third-person narrator, the point of view is limited to Winston and we get full access to his particular point of view.
Both his first and last names contain symbolic elements.
The last name Smith is one of the most common names in the English-speaking world, which shows that he is meant to represent an everyman, a representative of the average human being – and how such a person might react within a dystopian reality.
The first name Winston may be inspired by Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War and a key figure in the Allies’ struggle against Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers (which happened just a few years before Orwell wrote the book). This is meant to highlight the fact that Winston is a rebel who fights against an oppressive regime (which is in many ways comparable to Nazi Germany), even though his story ends in defeat rather than victory.
Winston is a developing character, as both his outer and inner characterisation change dramatically as the story progresses through its three parts. We have therefore split our characterisation of Winston into several different parts as well.
Winston’s outer characterisation reveals that he is a 39-year-old man at the beginning of the story. He is described as having a “smallish, frail figure”, and the description continues: “His hair was very fair, his face naturally sanguine, his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended” (p. 4).
He is also not physically fit, as we learn he has “a varicose ulcer above his right ankle” (p. 3) and a persistent, violent cough (pp. 33-34). It is also suggested that he has an alcohol problem, as he regularly uses gin as a tool to calm his emotions (p. 7).
Winston is a member of the Outer Party (p. 33), which forms a sort of ‘middle class’ in London. He therefore wears the “blue overalls which were the uniform of the Party” (p. 4). Despite this, we get plenty of indications that he is actually living in poverty to some extent, as he struggles to acquire razor blades and his apartment complex is in a poor state.
Winston works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which is in charge of making ‘corrections’ to published stories, images or videos so they fit the version of reality that the Party wants to create (pp. 41-45). Despite his rebellious tendencies (see below), Winston finds some enjoyment in his job, as it occasionally produces intellectual challenges:
Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was his work. Most of it was a tedious routine, but included in it were also jobs so difficult and intricate that you could lose yourself in them as in the depths of a mathematical problem. (p. 46)
Though Winston appears to be a devoted Party member on the outside, his inner characterisation reveals that he has a rebellious nature. Secretly, he is against Big Brother and the oppressive police state which he lives in, even though he knows these rebellious thoughts will probably cost him his life.
His first, simple act of rebellion is to purchase a diary, in which h...