There are many definitions of humanity different to each person, group, or belief that separate us accordingly. In George Orwell’s 1984, what it means to be human is brought to life in various scenarios through different personalities. The protagonist, Winston, seeks out humanity through individuality. On the other end, the antagonist, O’Brian defines his humanity in terms of the group. The focus of this novel is the discovery of humanity in a world where people are little more than animals to the powers in charge. Using this totalitarian society allows Orwell to examine humanity in its basest forms while crossing the group dynamic of the Party which serves as an antagonist throughout the story.
Winston Smith, the protagonist for this work, takes a strange, lonely journey to figure out what his humanity is worth, what humanity even means in the larger scheme of things. The society Orwell creates for this dystopia is oligarchical in nature, leaving little to the establishment of individuality. Because of this, Winston has to define himself as a human without knowing what it really means to be human. In the beginning of the book, he only understands humanity as its role in the collective, the Party, and not as an individual state of being. He struggles with his disdain of the Party and how it has, in his opinion, warped society beyond compassion, which can be argued as a root of humanity. Winston records his observations, experiences, and general horror regarding the totalitarian regime he’s stuck in illegally in a diary. While this practice does not necessarily span the entire novel, it does help the reader to understand who Winston Smith is within the context of the dystopia he’s forced to endure. “It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage,” Winston realizes after briefly coming to terms with his own mortality in terms of a legacy he’d leave after the Party inevitably killed him. Like most modern humans, Winston does not want to die and does all he can to avoid that fate, his very existence depending on his ability to hide his deepest thoughts. Winston notes on several occasions the control of the Party over the perception of the populace. By extreme censorship, the Party is able to control not only perceptions and observations, but the nature of truth and history itself.
““Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”” The Party has made history an alterable state, leaving nothing to contradict societal beliefs, in a sense destroying the legacy of humanity so that only slaves to the Party are left. Staying in third person limited, Orwell is able to focus wholly on Winston and his journey to understanding and his inevitable fall. With this technique, Orwell is able to express how Winston sees these orthodox Party followers, often debasing them to speaking in animal noises or behaving as something less than human. To that end, the proletariats, or proles, are seen as little better than animals by members of the Party, but to Winston they seem like hope. To him, the freedom of thought the proles seem to enjoy is the greatest luxury available in their society. From the point of view of a rebel inside the Party, the reader gets a true sense of how society really works, and in the observation of childhood within the Party, Orwell is able to drive home the point that humanity is a secondary or even tertiary role of the Party members. In this respect, the definite challenge of the protagonist is his struggle to define his humanity in terms of himself and not the Party. When Winston is captured and tortured by O’Brian, the reader gets a real sense of how his journey has come to a head. He is finally able to define his own humanity and in the end understands the necessity of dehumanization within the context of the oligarchy.