Seven Psychological Approaches Used To Desribe Society In George Orwell's Novel "1984"

Categories: 1984 George Orwell Novel

"1984": Outline of the Society

The book 1984, by George Orwell, provides a in-depth description of a society that rejects individualism and the acceptance of reality and history. Within this book, George Orwell uses the story of Winston Smith to create an effective outline of the society in which he lives in. There is a total of seven psychological approaches that can be used to observe Winston Smith, including the behavioral, biological, cognitive, evolutionary, humanistic, psychodynamic, and sociocultural approaches. Together, these approaches help to create a character profile of Winston Smith, analyzing how different factors determine how he behaves and thinks.

Winston Smith: Psychological Approaches to Observe

First, Winston Smith’s character can be analyzed through the behavioral approach, “an approach of psychology emphasizing the scientific study of observable behavioral responses and their environmental determinants.” (The Science of Psychology, page 9) This approach takes advantage of the society that Smith lives in and uses its features to determine how and why he acts in certain ways.

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Smith lives in a society that has a “Party” that forces the people of Oceania to believe everything that it tells them about. For example, Smith usually participates in an event called “the Hate,” which is the scolding of Emmanuel Goldstein, a traitor of the Party. (1984, page 11) Although he feels no hatred toward Goldstein, he automatically joins the rest of the Party members in scolding Goldstein for his rebellious ideas. Also, later in Smith’s story, he begs, to escape the torturing by O’Brien, to give the punishment to Julia, crying, “'Do it to Julia! I don’t care what you do to her! Not me!'”

Moreover, the biological approach is another aspect of psychology that can be used to analyze the character of Winston Smith.

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The biological approach is focused “on the body, especially the brain and nervous system.” (The Science of Psychology, page 8) It connects the influences of physical factors and genetics to the choice of actions by a person. For example, whenever Smith experiences anxiety or fear, he would feel pain or an aching feeling inside his stomach, in which is caused by the action of his brain and the neurotransmitters inside his body. Later on, when imprisoned in the Ministry of Love, he is constantly tortured and beaten for his crime. After experiencing many beatings, he attempts to move “his body this way and that in an endless, hopeless effort to dodge the kicks.” (1984, page 240) Towards the end of the story, Smith’s mind is affected by a physical factor or an action that was taken out towards him. He saw this “blinding flash of light” in which caused him to feel “as though a piece had been taken out of his brain.” (1984, page 257) Taking advantage of this time, O’Brien successfully “plugged in” the “correct” knowledge into the mind of Smith, telling him that two plus two equals five, that Oceania was at war with East Asia, etc.

Additionally, there is a cognitive approach, in which is “an approach to psychology emphasizing the mental processes involved in knowing; how we direct our attention, perceive, remember, think, and solve problems.” (The Science of Psychology, page 10) For example, during the beginning of Smith’s story, he recalls his dream of hearing “we shall meet in a place where there is no darkness.” He is certain that the voice that he hears in this dream is the voice of O’Brien. This is an example of how Smith uses his brain to remember things and to solve and answer questions. Also, Smith had dreams about his childhood, remembering his mother and his younger sister. Smith remembers his dreams and about his childhood causes him to constantly think of what had happened to his family and about what type of person he grew up to be like. Another aspect of the cognitive approach is the ability of a person to perceive. When Smith and Julia were caught by the Thought Police, he realized that there was a telescreen in the room. He also became aware that Mr. Charrington was really “a member of the Thought Police.”

Another psychological approach that can be used to analyze the character of Winston Smith is the evolutionary approach, in which is “centered on evolutionary ideas such as adaptation, reproduction and natural selection as the basis for explaining specific human behaviors.” (The Science of Psychology, page 10). In other words, this approach analyzes the environment in which Winston Smith lives in and uses the analysis to determine how and why he acts in certain ways. The most important aspect of Oceania that causes its people to act in certain ways is the Party, in which restricts the people from doing many things that would cause them to accept history, the past, individualism, etc. Smith was basically born in this type of society and was adapted to the ways in which the society functions. For example, he learns to be cautious about the things that he does because he understands that he is always monitored by a device called “the telescreen.” Furthermore, after he is imprisoned in the Ministry of Love for “thought crime,” Smith is forced, by O’Brien, to accept the ways of the Party, to love the Party, and to “love Big Brother.” (1984, page 282) The evolutionary approach shows how Winston Smith’s character was really shaped by the society in which he lived in and by the people that he was surrounded by, such as Big Brother and O’Brien.

A fifth psychological approach is the humanistic approach. The humanistic approach emphasizes “a person’s positive qualities, the capacity for positive growth, and the freedom to choose any destiny.” The humanistic approach is most effective when use to create a character profile of Winston Smith because George Orwell designed Winston Smith as a representation of freedom and democracy. Throughout the book, Smith demonstrates actions that are against the rejections of the Party, and that is for “the freedom to choose any destiny.” The most important example is Smith’s choice to buy and write in a journal that he bought at Mr. Charrington’s shop. Within the journal, he, through his inner conscious, wrote the phrase “down with Big Brother,” in which is a very rebellious thing to do in the city of Oceania. Just writing about his own thoughts in the journal is already an “illegal” thing to do with the existence of the Party. Another important example is Smith’s choice to be together with Julia and to meet with her secretly at different hideouts. Since Smith already has a wife, being together with Julia is definitely not allowed. Throughout the book, Smith also demonstrates the enforcing of freedom through his desire to join the “Brotherhood” and to believe valid facts, such as the fact that “two plus two equals four.”

Furthermore, the next approach, the psychodynamic approach, is “an approach to psychology emphasizing unconscious thought, the conflict between biological drives (such as the drive for sex) and society’s demands, and early childhood family experiences.” (The Science of Psychology, page 9) An important example is the biological drive of Winston Smith and Julia to be together and have sexual intercourse, during their secret meetings, despite the fact that the Party would not allow it at all. This situation is an example of a conflict between biological drives and society’s demands. When comparing biological drives and early childhood family experiences, Winston Smith also demonstrates this aspect of the psychodynamic approach. When he was a child, his family was not very rich and he often begged for more food, even though his mother and his younger sister were starving as well. During one time, he decided to steal his sister’s chocolate and to run away from his mother just because he “could not help it” and “felt that he had a right to do it.” (1984, page 162) Analyzing the character of Smith, using the psychodynamic approach, it can be seen that he grew to become a person that would do anything to satisfy his needs, even if it were against the opinions of others.

The last approach is the sociocultural approach, in which is “examines the ways in which social and cultural environments influence behavior.” This approach considers all the environmental factors that influence the behavior of Winston Smith, including the opinions of the people that surround him and the type of society in which he grew up in. Smith was born in a society with no individualism and freedom and has to be cautious about the things he does in case the Thought Police catch and kill him. Throughout the story, Smith has to be careful that he does not say or do anything that would be considered “thought crime,” such as writing in his journal or traveling alone to meet with Julia. One example of an event that he participates in to “blend in” with the rest of his society is “the Hate.” Although Smith does not feel hatred towards Emmanuel Goldstein and does not understand the purpose of the event, he continues to throw objects at the screen, in which shows Goldstein, and to scold Goldstein. Furthermore, he has also grown to be cautious of others who might be a member of the Thought Police or a member of the Brotherhood.

To Conclude

Using the seven psychological approaches to analyze the character of Winston Smith, in the society of Oceania, it can be seen that Winston Smith is a person that is very different from all others. Smith represents freedom; he is selfish and understands the relationship between the past, present, and future, etc. He stands out because he has a large capacity for positive growth, yet he is willing to surrender many things in order to protect himself from vanishing because of how different he is. He is clear of what his goals are, yet he is also uncertain of how he wants his life to turn out because of the society that he has lived in for all his life.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Seven Psychological Approaches Used To Desribe Society In George Orwell's Novel "1984". (2024, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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