In the haunting novel 1984, George Orwell effectively warns his readers about the dangers of totalitarianism and the horrific measures governments are willing to take in order to sustain power over its people. In order to create the desired effect and instill terror among his readers, Orwell wove a powerful story that can be lauded as a literary masterpiece. His work abounds in literary devices that serve to enrich the text and give the storyline more depth. Of these devices, symbolism is perhaps the most effectively employed.
Orwell utilizes a variety of different symbols in order to carry out different functions such as the foreshadowing of different events, development of the setting, creation of the dreary mood, unveiling of the true natures of the characters, introduction to and reinforcement of themes, and so forth. He uses a vast array of symbols such as an old diary, a supposedly heretical book, an idyllic landscape known as the ‘Golden Country’, a painting of a church, the technologically advanced television and surveillance tool known as the ‘telescreen’, a singing thrush, and most importantly, a glass paperweight.
The paperweight is the single most significant symbol in the story because unlike the other symbols, it embodies all the literary aspects of the novel and combines the ideas and functions of all the other symbols. Every symbol mentioned in the text has its significance and plays some sort of literary role. The old diary Winston writes in introduces the conflict of the novel since it reflects Winston’s inner desire to search for truth and verify his sanity.
The diary also characterizes Winston’s rebellious nature and gives more depth to his character since it reflects on his inner most thoughts. Goldstein’s book represents false hope and the ideas expressed in it reinforce the theme of totalitarianism. The Golden Country represents Winston’s idea of a utopian setting where freedom exists and this serves as a contrast to the current setting, thus magnifying its dystopia. The painting of the church also represents freedom and the idyllic past and the nursery rhyme associated with it foreshadows the downfall of Winston and Julia.
On the other hand, the technologically advanced surveillance tools known as ‘telescreens’ represent the extent of power and influence the government has over its society and this reinforces the theme of totalitarianism. Moreover, the thrush depicts Winston’s inner desire to express himself and his longing to be free. Overall, all these different symbols have a literary function of some sort whether it is introducing the conflict, characterizing the characters, developing the setting, or reinforcing the themes.
Although all the symbols mentioned above may play a certain role in molding the novel, the paperweight is the most effective. In the novel, Winston buys the glass paperweight when he wanders through an antique shop. His attention is caught by its beauty and he pays $4. 00 for it. He describes it as: “a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the color and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone” (95).
The shop owner then informs Winston that the pink object at the heart of the glass is a coral and he comments on the rarity of such an object. What appeals to Winston the most about the paperweight is “the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one” (96). He finds it even more attractive because of its apparent uselessness and the fact that it could be beautiful for the sake of being beautiful. This paperweight represents the idyllic past where beauty existed and the fact that not everything had to be useful in order to be appreciated.
This sets the contrast between the current setting of the novel and the past, thus magnifying the current dreariness. In addition, the fact that Mr. Charrington remarks that not so many people would appreciate the beauty of the paperweight nowadays implies that the current society has a dismissive view on beautiful things, especially things that do not seem to serve a particular purpose. The people’s lack of appreciation for beauty depicts the importance the society places on utilitarianism. Since the coral represents the past, this lack of appreciation also portrays the society’s weakening association with the past.
Furthermore, the rarity of the coral and the fact that Winston views it as a symbol for his relationship with Julia imply that such a relationship in the Oceanic society is very rare and no longer appreciated. Unlike the ‘Golden Country’ and the painting of the church, not only does the paperweight represent the beauty of the past, but it also portrays the society’s weakening connection to the past and its dismissive view on both beauty and relationships. The paperweight also presents the conflict of the novel, which is Winston’s desperate struggle to discover the truth and his attempt to rebel against the government.
The coral in the center represents rarity and the fact that it is embedded in the glass and cannot be touched depicts Winston’s problem: he wants to know the past and reconnect to it, but too many obstacles surround it, preventing him access. Furthermore, when Winston sees Julia outside the antiques store and he visualizes crushing her with the paperweight, this portrays his desire to rebel against the government and destroy it with the past: “He could keep on her track till they were in some quiet place, and then smash her skull in with a cobblestone. The piece of glass in his pocket would be heavy enough for the job” (102).
Although the diary also represents the conflict of the novel, the paperweight presents the issue with more depth. The diary simply reveals Winston’s desire to search for truth and rebel against the government, but the paperweight presents the difficulty of his pursuit of truth and his attempt to rebel against the government through using the past. The paperweight plays a crucial role in developing Winston’s character and his relationship with Julia. Winston’s appreciation for the paperweight reflects his appreciation of beauty and his desperate desire to reconnect with the past.
When the glass paperweight provides the setting for one of his dreams about his mother, it indicates Winston’s association of love with the past, which explains his longing for past relationships and attitudes. Furthermore, the fact that Winston buys the paperweight despite the fact that such an act would arouse suspicion represents his rebellious nature. Moreover, when Winston views the coral inside the paperweight as a symbol for his relationship with Julia “fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal,” his quixotic nature is unveiled because the concept of ‘eternity’ does not exist in 1984.
This foolish idealistic nature is reinforced when he gazes into the heart of the paperweight “with the feeling that it would be possible to get inside that glassy world and that once inside it time could be arrested. Their luck would hold indefinitely, and they would carry on their intrigue, just like this, for the remainder of their natural lives” (151). This perception also depicts the marriage-like bond between Winston and Julia and how their relationship embodies past relationships that no longer exist.
However, the fact that the paperweight is made out of glass portrays the fragility of the relationship due to the fact that it exists in a society devoid of such relations. The paperweight foreshadows the couple’s downfall and the loss of their love towards one another. The downfall of the couple is foreshadowed in several different ways throughout the novel; however, the paperweight is the only symbol that foreshadows both their downfall and the destruction of their bond. This can be seen when the paperweight crashes and the coral is lost: “The garment of coral, a tiny crinkle of pink like a sugar rosebud from a cake, rolled across the mat.
How small, thought Winston, how small it always was! ” (223). The fact that the coral is much smaller than Winston had anticipated implies that his relationship with Julia is not as strong and powerful as he had imagined. Winston initially believes that his relationship with Julia is quite strong and he informs O’Brien that he would never betray Julia. The relationship fills him with hope and he believes that like the coral, the relationship is “fixed in a sort of eternity”(147). However, since Winston’s perceptions are usually ironic, this overly optimistic view foreshadows that the relationship will eventually end.
Moreover, the fact that the paperweight is made out of glass reflects on the fragility of the relationship and foreshadows its destruction. This is seen when both Julia and Winston betray each other once they are captured and their ties are thus forever lost just as the paperweight had foreshadowed. Among the numerous symbols mentioned in the novel, the glass paperweight is perhaps the most significant. Not only does it combine all the functions of the other symbols, but it also presents all the literary aspects of the novel and provides each one of these aspects with great depth.
It delineates the current setting of the novel and provides the reader with an insightful view on both Winston’s character and his relationship with Julia. The paperweight also serves to present the conflict of the novel and reinforces all the themes introduced by the other symbols. Thus, the paperweight is the most essential literary device utilized by Orwell and in the absence of such a device, 1984 would not have attained its current imminence and impact on its audience. Bibliography:1984 – George Orwell.
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