When reading the novel 1984 by George Orwell, what is the most astounding moment to the readers? The answer is probably the ending—more specifically, the very last sentence. Throughout the novel, Winston seems to be one of the few who is “awake” and realizes the significance of rejecting totalitarianism. Readers have put all of their hopes in Winston. Yet, at the last moment, Winston abandons his defiance and begins to love Big Brother. This drastic turnaround is hard for readers to accept. Even though the conclusion of 1984 appears daunting to readers, Orwell uses such a bleak ending to effectively reveal the serious harm a totalitarian government could cause.
Though the reality is not as horrible as in the novel, Orwell seeks to depict extreme conditions under a totalitarian government from every aspect. For instance, “[o]n each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall” (Orwell, 1). “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran” (2). Even when the window pane is shut, “the world looked cold” (2). In these descriptions and with such a beginning to the novel, the author immediately depicts a cold April morning, when citizens are enduring extreme hardships. Also, within the society, there is no law— “[o]nly the Thought Police mattered” (2). The Thought Police’s monitoring forces people to live “in the assumption that every sound [they] made was overheard” (3). Other than exerting physical control over Party members, Big Brother manipulates the Party members psychologically as well. For instance, they use “doublethink” as a method of “reality control” (35), forcing Party members to believe two “contradictory facts” at the same time. Moreover, they “shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible” (52) by using Newspeak. As “[e]very year [there are] fewer and fewer words,” “the range of consciousness [is expected to be] always a little smaller” (52). These descriptions immerse the readers in a totalitarian political environment so that they are can visualize the tyranny and feel the intolerance of such a society.
Although Orwell spends a significant amount of time depicting the society through details about the setting, the most astounding occurrence is the sudden change in Winston. Throughout the novel, Winston is a beacon of hope. At the beginning, despite the suppressive nature of the totalitarian government, Winston shows persistent resistance to the Party ideals. For instance, when Winston starts the diary, he knows that he might be convicted for his action— “[b]ut he did so” (19). He insists on writing in it for the future and the unborn, and ignores the consequences of his small act of rebellion. Moreover, O’Brien becomes a strand of hope within Winston, as Winston believes that “[they] shall meet in the place where there is no darkness” (25). Winston appears to be performing as a normal Party member, whose job it is to “rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones” (39). Yet he clearly knows that “statistics are just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version” (41). Also, after Winston has met Julia and they share their hatred for the Party, he acknowledges that he “wanted [Mr. Charrington’s] room for the purpose of a love affair,” and “Mr. Charrington had made no difficulty letting the room” (137). In that room, when reading the book from O’Brien and seeing Julia by his side, Winston mistakenly believes that “he was safe, everything was all right” (218). Despite Winston’s awareness of the Party’s lies, his ability to act “freely” offers a sense of hope to the readers.
While Winston is momentarily hopeful, his life completely changes after that. He hears a voice saying, “We are the dead” (221) from the telescreen, and soon is confronted by “a member of the Thought Police” (224) and brought to the Ministry of Love. In prison, Winston discovers that “[t]he Party prisoners were always silent and terrified” (226). But even in this hopeless scene, Winston maintains his integrity after being convicted as a thoughtcrime criminal. After being told that Julia has betrayed him, he knows clearly that it is because “[O’Brien] tortured her” (259). As Winston enters the second stage “in [his] reintegration” (260), O’Brien tells him that “[the Party leaders] control matter because [they] control the mind” (264-265). Upon hearing this, Winston fights back immediately: “But you do not! You are not even masters of this planet” (265). Yet as he sees himself in the mirror, he loses confidence in his humanity and verbally “accepted everything” (277). However, Winston is simply hiding his innermost thoughts which he blurts out inadvertently when he yells out the name of Julia and admits his hatred toward Big Brother. As a result of Winston’s outburst, O’Brien finally sends him into Room 101. Inside, there is “the worst thing in the world”; and in Winston’s case, “the worst thing in the world happens to be rats” (283). As O’Brien is about to open the cage full of rats above Winston, Winston ultimately breaks: “Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia!” (286). After suffering from physical and mental torture, Winston becomes accustomed to doublethink like “2+2=5” (290); but in the end, he loses his ability to think independently and so “[h]e loved Big Brother” (298). With such a thought, Winston no longer has any freedom—he too, becomes a marionette of the government.
Such a drastic transformation in Winston is frightening for readers. And yet such a bleak ending perfectly serves Orwell’s intention, which is to warn the readers about the consequences of embracing a totalitarian government. Had Winston died with his integrity intact, the reader could take comfort in the fact that he died aware of and against the Party’s injustices. Yet, the ending is much more disheartening than expected. It is a warning for every civilized society: if they ever embrace totalitarianism, the citizens will have no individual rights and will be stripped of their privacy. They will eventually become puppets to a government that controls their every move. By writing the novel 1984, Orwell advocates for individuality and humanity by condemning non-representative and repressive governments.