In the novel 1984, George Orwell illustrates a dystopian future in which a communist party has taken over. Orwell names this party as “Big Brother” and this organization is in charge of monitoring and watching over every person in the community in order to ensure that everyone is following their rules. With this in mind, Orwell utilizes a character named Winston in order to demonstrate the different ways people suffer and change due to the treatment of the communist party. However, a topic that is not fully explored by Orwell is the possibility that Winston suffers from a severe brain trauma that provokes him to act differently. Not only does Winston acts more aggressively than other characters, but his actions make him seem like an unreliable narrator.
As a result of this, the way Winston explains some events makes us, the reader, feel somewhat skeptical towards his stories. Although the author did not explain that Winston suffered brain damage from an injury, it can be assumed that he suffers from brain damage due to the strong situations that he had to face as a child. To begin with, in Chapter 3, Winston explains that he has a vague memory of his mother and sister. He remembers, “in some way the lives of his mother and his sister had been sacrificed to his own”. It’s important to realize that Winston describes that this happened when he was around eleven years old. This means that he suffered from an extreme trauma before he was considered a teenager. According to the study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, there are many problems that children face after one of their parents dies. For instance, the study findings explain that some outcomes “[include] disruptions and continuity, the role of social networks and affiliations and communication” (Ellis 2013).
The study goes on and explains that the best way to confront this type of strong situation is with the help a family member; this is because children are more vulnerable and it can lead to serious problems such as depression and loneliness. With this in mind, Winston faced not only one but two losses of close family members, and it is not mentioned throughout the novel if he ever received professional help to deal with his lost. If anything, Winston carries guilt because he feels that he murdered both his sister and his mother. Moreover, Winston also displays signs of frontal lobe damage. Winston has a flashback in which he explains “there was a devastating explosion, or what seemed like an explosion, though it was not certain whether there was any noise. There was undoubtedly a blinding ash of light. Winston was not hurt, only prostrated. Although he had already been lying on his back when the thing happened, he had a curious feeling that he had been knocked into that position”. With this in mind, if Winston was knocked back due to an explosion he could be suffering from frontal lobe damage, which evidently can be shown throughout the narration.
According to the website Brainline, a person that suffers from a trauma and damages to their frontal lobe can affect “their emotions and impulses, language, memory and social and sexual behavior” (Gunther 2018). This is shown primarily when Winston meets Julia for the first time. Winston explains that the only two feelings that crossed his mind when he saw Julia were that he wanted to rape her and kill her. Winston says, “I hated the sight of you,’ he said. ‘I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” (120). Winston really demonstrates with his actions that he doesn’t act somewhat normal. His actions could be considered dangerously aggressive if he was living in our society.
Another reason why Winston demonstrates signal of brain damage is because he does not have a full sense of what reality is. As mentioned above, one of the effects of damaging your frontal lobe is damaging your memories and the ability to create new ones. Throughout the narration Winston demonstrates that his memories of the past are vague and most of them he does not fully remember. Winston explains, “When there were no external records that you could refer to, even the outline of your own life lost its sharpness. You remembered huge events which had quite probably not happened, you remembered the detail of incidents without being able to recapture their atmosphere, and there were long blank periods to which you could assign nothing to”. He goes on and explains that “he could not remember: nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.” (Orwell). With this in mind Winston can be classified as an unreliable narrator. Winston demonstrates throughout the narration that he does not know 100% if all of the information that is given is true or if the way he interprets the information is true which makes the reader feel skeptical about the events he explains.
For instance, he usually explains that he does not remember when major historical events happened. This is demonstrated when Winston illustrates that “[he] could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid which appeared to take everyone by surprise.”. This is a recurrent theme and it’s repeated several times that he does not remember of the past or even short periods of time. For example, when Winston first encounters Julia in the cafeteria he mentions “he could not remember whether she had already been at the table when he arrived, or had come there afterwards.”.
In other words, Winston could not remember something so simple that just happened. Therefore, Winston could arguably have problems remembering and creating short-term memories as well as remembering long-term memories. For this reason Winston could be considered an unreliable narrator. George Orwell illustrates Winston as a character that has lost hope due to the harsh situation he has to face everyday. However, Orwell did not explore fully the different traumas that Winston had to face and how this affected him psychologically. Winston could be considered a loner in the book; he could be considered an outsider and even a dangerous person.
Throughout the story he showcases different aggressive impulses that could classify him as a dangerous character. This is due to the different traumas he had to face when he was growing up and possibly damage not caused psychologically. Winston also becomes an unreliable narrator due to his confusion about reality and his struggle of remembering what happened in the past. All in all, Winston is definitely a strong character that could be analyzed psychologically to better interpret more of his actions.
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