1984 by George Orwell – Key Characters Summary | History Hit

1984 by George Orwell – Key Characters Summary

Analysis of the 6 key characters in George Orwell's dystopian novel about totalitarianism.

Image Credit: Teet Ottin

Published in 1949, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (also stylised as 1984) was Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. A dystopian science fiction novel and so-called ‘cautionary tale’, it explores themes of mass surveillance, totalitarianism, the repressive regimentation of people and their behaviours, torture, the manipulation of history and facts and the class system.

Here is an analysis of the 6 key characters of the book – Winston Smith, Julia, O’Brien, Big Brother and Emmanuel Goldstein – touching on their roles in the novel, and what they each represent.

Who is Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does he represent?

Protagonist Winston Smith is a 39-year-old minor member of the Outer Party from London. Thin, intellectual and fatalistic, he works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth rewriting news articles to conform with the Party’s current political angle. Winston realises that the Party ultimately wants to dominate them all by controlling access to the past and minds of its citizens, and by purposefully inciting hatred and war as a way of diffusing any rebellious behaviour. Winston hates the Party and harbours revolutionary dreams; but most importantly, he wants to maintain a feeling of humanity amongst a society that tries to strip away all humanity from its citizens.

Orwell uses Winston’s internal, human, emotional reality as a foil against the external, collective identity that the totalitarian government seeks to enforce. He takes considerable personal risks, such as writing a diary and pursuing a relationship with Julia in the room above the antique shop. Ultimately, though Winston thinks that he can resist Party power, even in the face of torture, he is brainwashed into loving Big Brother, and has few independent thoughts of his own.

Who is Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does she represent?

Initially known as the ‘dark-haired girl’, Julia is Winston’s 26-year-old, sexually rebellious lover who works in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. It is revealed that she has had a string of lovers from the Party, and has a place called the hideout where she takes them.

She believes that the Party is impossible to overthrow, and that personal rebellious behaviour and secret disobedience is the sole effective form of revolt. She enjoys breaking the rules, which in turn encourages Winston to take increasingly significant risks. However, like Winston, she ultimately bends under the weight of Party manipulation when she is tortured, and she and Winston discontinue their relationship.

Who is O’Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does he represent?

A member of the Inner Party, O’Brien is a figure of intrigue for Winston from the beginning, who believes that he might harbour similar anti-Party sentiments. Though Winston initially trusts O’Brien and believes that he is genuinely part of a resistance movement, O’Brien later reveals himself to be a corrupt bureaucrat and member of the Inner Party, a symbol of dehumanising and dehumanised desire for absolute power and control.

He also explains many of the Party’s methods to maintain this power. Through O’Brien, Winston and Julia incriminate themselves. However, so powerful are O’Brien’s methods of manipulation that Winston comes to admire his intelligence and even worship him as a kind of saviour, even when O’Brien is inflicting horrible torture upon him.

Who is Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does he represent?

As the leader of the Party, Big Brother is an all-knowing, all-powerful figure who is also intangible and shrouded in mystery. It is never fully addressed who precisely Big Brother is, even though his face appears on coins and posters throughout Oceania. Orwell purposefully shrouds Big Brother in mystery as a way of demonstrating the power of a figurehead – constructed or otherwise – in making individuals more loyal to a party, since it is easier to direct love towards an individual than an organisation.

Who is Mr. Charrington in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does he represent?

The elderly, seemingly harmless owner of the antique shop where Winston buys the diary and paperweight, he rents out a room above his shop to Winston and Julia so that they can conduct their affair in private. He lives in an area populated by proles, and with his mild-mannered exterior, discreet behaviour and apparent love and knowledge of the past, he appears trustworthy. However, he is actually a member of the Thought Police, and ensures that the lovers are arrested. His character demonstrates that even those who have links to the past can be manipulated into working for the Party; ultimately, nobody is trustworthy.

Who is Emmanuel Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four and what does he represent?

The Leader of the Brotherhood, Emmanuel Goldstein’s name is used as an insult or slur amongst those who worship the Party. He is a hated enemy of Oceania, who is supposedly plotting to overthrow the government. However, though Winston and Julia are taken in by the belief that the Brotherhood exists – they even read a long book that advocates for revolution that is supposedly written by Goldstein – Orwell heavily implies that he is entirely made up as a method of Party propaganda to keep the populace alert, hateful and willing to incriminate others around them for supposedly hosting revolutionary ideas.

Read more of 1984

1984 – Part 1, Chapter 1
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 2
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 3
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 4
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 5
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 6
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 7
1984 – Part 1, Chapter 8
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 1
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 2
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 3
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 4
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 5
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 6
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 7
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 8
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 9
1984 – Part 2, Chapter 10
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 1
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 2
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 3
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 4
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 5
1984 – Part 3, Chapter 6
1984 – Appendix

For a broad summary of the novel and its central themes, click here.

Tags: George Orwell

Lucy Davidson