Symbol in 1984

1 January 2017

Orwell truly demonstrates his literacy prowess and his mastery of rhetoric in his dystopian novel 1984 through his use of symbolism. There are numerous symbols present throughout the story which serve to expand the narrative. Some of the most effective implementations of symbolism in the novel directly relate to the story’s protagonist, Winston Smith. Orwell uses Winton’s varicose ulcer, the glass paperweight, songs and the rats as representations for Winton’s needs, wants, hopes and fears.

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Winston Smith lives in a world where individual thoughts and sexual instincts are forbidden. The varicose ulcer appears to symbolize Winston’s need to express his individualism as well as his need to fulfill his sexual desires. Both of these actions relate to Winston’s impulses and therefore it can be said that the varicose ulcer ultimately represents Winston’s needs. This symbol is introduced to us on the very first page of the book, moments prior to Winston’s first decisive act of rebellion: the creation of a diary.

After dating the first page however, Winston is struck with a sense of helplessness as he finds himself unable to express himself. At this moment, the varicose ulcer begins to itch unbearably and Winston is overcome by the impulse to express himself and starts scribbling in the diary. This is but one example of a scenario from the book where Winston’s varicose ulcer had begun to trouble him prior to him committing an irrational or impulsive act against the Party. Other examples include: Winston’s second diary entry and his trip to the proletariat bar and Mr.Charrington’s shop.

In all of these cases Winston was overcome by the need to act against the Party, whether it was directly or indirectly. The varicose ulcer also relates directly to Winston’s suppressed sexual desires and his need to fulfill them. After he started seeing Julia regularly his wound improved, yet became engorged once they were separated. During his reformation the Party all but eradicated Winston’s individuality as well as his sexual desires. Coincidentally, Winston’s varicose ulcer ceased to be a problem.

The varicose ulcer only became problematic when Winston suppressed his needs, regardless of whether it was the need to express his individuality or the need to fulfill his sexual desires. The most obvious symbol in the novel is the glass paperweight, which represents Winston’s desires. The reason for this is due to the fact that Winston considers this item to be a representation of the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop and frequently alludes to this analogy. In the novel he comments that “the paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal. This stems from Winston’s desire to live in a world without the Party with Julia. In accordance with this symbolism, when Winston and Julia are finally arrested by the Thought Police, the paperweight is shattered on the floor.

The paperweight also symbolizes Winston’s desire to reconnect with the past, or the “olden time” as he calls it. In the world of 1984, the Party falsifies the past in order to control its citizens. This tactic is summarized by the Party slogan: “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. For Winston, anything that contradicted or challenged the Party’s assertions was beautiful. In the book he comments to Julia that: “It’s a little chunk of history that they’ve forgotten to alter. It’s a message from a hundred years ago, if one knew how to read it. ” Thus the shattering of the paperweight ultimately represented Winston’s failure to defeat or escape the Party. Several songs are presented to the reader throughout the novel, yet only a few of these are considered to be harmonious and therefore musical.

For example, Winston found that the Party’s propaganda music resembled war cries and commented that the Hate Song “had a savage, barking rhythm which could not exactly be called music, but resembled the beating of a drum. ” But when Winston hears this same propaganda music sung by the red-armed prole, he finds the music enchanting and beautiful. Another instance where Winston shows appreciation for music is in the meadow, when listening to the thrush singing in the trees. In both of these cases, the music fills Winston with a sense of hope for the future.

This is because Winston associates both of these songs with vitality and resiliency, traits which he believes will ultimately lead the proles to overthrow the Party one day. When listening to the red-armed prole woman from above Mr. Charrington’s shop, Winston theorized that the proles would rebel against the Party one day, and that until then they would “like birds, [pass] on from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill. ” Thus it can be said that the songs ultimately represented Winston’s hopes for the future. One of the most important symbols presented to us in the novel are the rats.

This is because not only do they play an essential role in the climax of the story, but they are also used for the purpose of foreshadowing by the writer. In the novel, Winston made reference to a reoccurring nightmare he suffered from, where “something unendurable” waited on the other side of a wall of darkness. Winston acknowledges at this time, in a roundabout fashion, that the rats are what are waited for him on the other side. This is all a foreshadowing of the events that would eventually take place in Room 101, where Winston’s worst fear – the rats – are used to break him.

Therefore, the rats are clearly a symbol of Winston’s fears. George Orwell’s employment of literary devices in the novel adds to the narrative and to effectiveness of his underlying message. The world of 1984 is portrayed to us through the eyes of Winston Smith, making him an important character in the novel. The four aforementioned symbols all relate directly to Winston, describing his desires and hopes, as well as his needs and fears. Orwell’s use of symbols serves to further describe the protagonist, which in turn makes the story more appealing and thought-provoking.

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