Winston Smith is the protagonist of 1984. He is the main character and narrator, and the reader sees the story almost entirely from his perspective. As a protagonist, Winston is not particularly skilled, charismatic, or powerful. He is, however, different from those around him because of his philosophical and intellectual perspective. His defining characteristic throughout the story is his growing resistance to the Party. His goal is to resist surrendering his interior life to the Party and maintain a sense of personal autonomy. What makes Winston unusual as a protagonist is that he recognizes, by his own admission, that his goals are doomed to failure from the start. His hope is not to transform society, or to overthrow the government, but rather to simply resist in whatever ways that he can for as long as he can without being caught. He’s successful in his goal for a portion of the novel, but the punishment for his decisions is extremely brutal, and in the end he succumbs to the Party’s manipulations and loses his sense of identity.
Winston begins the novel as a thought-criminal, which is what the Party calls people who have thoughts independent of Party ideology. Winston takes minor steps that would be punishable by the Thought Police, such as keeping a diary and believing that the Party lies to the populace about the events of history. As the book progresses, Winston’s acts of rebellion become more overt and serious, first with his forbidden sexual relationship with Julia, and second with his vow to O’Brien that he will actively and violently support the destruction of the Party. Book One shows the establishment of Winston as an individual and his place within the world. Book Two chronicles his escalation into more serious forms of resistance. Book Three tells the story of the price Winston pays for his resistance when the Thought Police torture him and break not just his spirit, but his very sense of self. At the end of the novel Winston no longer behaves like a thought-criminal, but like a devoted, loving follower of the Party.