Main Ideas

Point of view

Main Ideas Point of view

1984 uses a third-person limited, or close third-person, point of view to show the reader both the internal and external experience of living under a totalitarian government. In the novel, we have access to Winston Smith’s thoughts and memories, but not those of other characters. Because Orwell uses third-person (referring to Winston as “he”) rather than first-person (referring to Winston as “I”), the narrative simultaneously describes Winston’s thoughts and feelings while commenting on them. For example, Winston thinks about the proles and realizes that they have “stayed human,” then recalls, “without apparent relevance,” kicking a human hand into the gutter a few weeks earlier. The relevance is not apparent to Winston, but Orwell uses the third-person point of view to alert the reader that there is in fact a connection: unlike the proles, Winston has lost much of his humanity. Orwell gives the reader a sense of understanding Winston’s psychology better than he himself does. While Winston questions his memories and motivations, the reader clearly sees that his gradual dehumanization is the result of an ongoing, systemized program to rob citizens of their individuality and free will.

The third-person point of view also enables Orwell to switch between Winston’s limited perspective and devices that provide greater context for his experiences. The reader learns about the workings of the Ministry of Truth through Winston’s perspective, so we remain as much in the dark about the nature of the Party and the workings of the Inner Party as Winston is. This raises the possibility that his trust in individuals is mistaken, like with O’Brien and Mr. Charrington, or that he is being monitored in ways he’s unaware of. But at other times, Orwell steps outside of Winston’s perspective by offering the reader a glimpse of something Winston is reading or listening to. For example, Goldstein’s manifesto—which may or may not be authentic—contains political analysis of how Oceania’s society functions that Winston would not have been aware of. By presenting sections of the manifesto as Winston reads them aloud, Orwell borrows a third-person omniscient point of view to enlarge and deepen the political critique of 1984. This enables the reader to make up her own mind about what Winston’s experiences mean, and not just rely on his possibly inaccurate interpretations.