Problems faced by characters in literature often repeat themselves, and when these characters decide to solve these standard problems, their actions are often more similar than they first appear. This idea is evident when comparing the actions taken by Winston Smith in George Orwell’s novel 1984 and V in James McTeigue’s film adaptation of V for Vendetta. On the surface, their actions are very different. Smith takes a mental, passive approach to his problem, while V takes a physical, direct approach. However, when you look at what the two men did in relation to the societies in which they lived, their actions are revealed as very similar. Both men are patient, tactical, and willing to push themselves just past the limit to the point of self-destruction. They do whatever they can to rebel in the circumstances they are given. Therefore, the contrasting actions taken by the two anti-heroes are not results of their different personalities, but are due to the subtle dissimilarities between the totalitarian oligarchies against which they are rebelling.
The governing body in 1984, the Party, does a better job of restraining the general population than Norsefire, the ruling political party, does in V for Vendetta. With the help of the Thought Police, Newspeak, telescreens, and the Ministry of Love, the Party seeks to control not only what people do, but what they think as well. This allows the Party to stop rebellion before it begins. The Party officials also implement the deception of continuous warfare to keep the proles below the poverty line and further remove any thoughts of rebellion.
Norsefire, however, was doomed from the start and is bound to be overthrown eventually, since Norsefire’s approach is unorganized and arrogant, and its force of fingermen is easily defeated by V. However, the main reason for this demise is constant internal struggle. There are three rivaling points of view, one from Creedy, one from Sutler, and one from the police force. This division in the upper ranks and state of not being able to share one ideology makes it impossible to have complete control over their population, a flaw which seriously weakens Norsefire. Also, the torture methods are primitive, the party officials do not meticulously control the distribution of goods, and they no longer strike fear into the hearts of the people with the same intensity as they once did, following the first outbreak of the St. Mary’s virus. Simply put, Norsefire allows itself to be easily exploited by fighting internally instead of controlling the people.
These subtle differences between the Party and Norsefire are the difference between control and anarchy. Each thing that Norsefire does to control its citizens, the Party does better. Norsefire monitors citizens with cameras while the Party uses telescreens. Norsefire uses fingermen to enforce curfew; the Party has the Thought Police. Norsefire causes a fake epidemic with a virus to which it possesses the cure; the Party propagates a fake war with another super-state. Near the end of the movie, when V is asked how he has not died from the numerous gunshot wounds he sustained, he replies, “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” (McTeigue, V for Vendetta). This quote is significant because it demonstrates that V’s human spirit has not been crushed, and cannot be crushed. V is saying that even when he dies, the idea that he personifies will live on in other like-minded people. It also alludes to the very beginning of the movie, when the original Guy Fawkes is executed for trying to bring about change in the same that way V is trying. This quote indicates one of the reasons Norsefire is not at the same level of control as the Party. The Party seeks to control both actions and thoughts, and until Norsefire does so just as effectively, it is doomed to a fate of failure at the hands of V, Eve, or another counterpart of Winston.
Winston’s case is interesting because, even though his rash actions in the latter part of the book can be blamed for his imprisonment, the Party monitors its citizens so precisely that those actions do not alter his final outcome. Winston spends his entire adult life trying to avoid attention from the Party: never partaking in suspicious activities, never expressing his hatred towards the Party, and even constantly monitoring his facial expressions so that his disloyalty is not observed by the telescreens. Although the reader is led to believe that Winston must not have just been careful enough while committing the thoughtcrimes alongside Julia, crimes that lead to his detainment, the Party actually already knew that Winston was a thought criminal. Because of its extensive surveillance, the Party knew of his thoughtcrime when he had a dream in which a mysterious voice spoke to him, seven years prior to the events in the book. The party loyalists were always going to arrest and torture him; they were just waiting for the right time.
V, on the other hand, gets away with both figurative and literal murder in his quest to defeat Norsefire. This is due to the shortcomings in the Norsefire system, as opposed to V’s being more brave or having a stronger will than Winston. He is more capable of violence than Winston, but it not his physically enhanced body that allows him to attempt a more direct solution. Norsefire is so concerned with its own affairs, mainly the struggle for power between Sutler and Creedy, that it did not even recognize V as a threat until it was too late.
There are far more similarities between Winston and V than there are differences. They both worked in secret for many years prior to their rebellions, both have helpers who support their causes, and both accept the fate of death long before they die. Accepting such a fate is key, because it means that since they are aware of the consequences of their actions they can act as if they have nothing to lose. At the beginning of the novel, when Winston writes in his journal for the first time, the text reads, “He was already dead, he reflected. It seemed to him that it was only now, when he had begun to be able to formulate his thoughts, that he had taken the decisive step” (Orwell 30). The significance of this quote is that it shows Winston’s feelings after he commits his first thoughtcrime. These thoughts demonstrate his fatalistic view of the world and foreshadow his eventual demise in the Ministry of Love. His mindset in this quote illustrates the type of world that the Party has created: one where when a man writes in a journal, his next step is accepting death. Just as the Party creates this attitude in its people, Norsefire curses V with the mentality that he will die, that he should die. Although we do not have the same insight into V’s thoughts as we do into Winston’s, at the end of the movie it is revealed to us that V knew he was going to die; in fact, dying was part of his plan. The two men are not so similar that if the roles were reversed their actions would have been identical, but their tactics would have been comparable. For example, when considering the type of violence that V uses, Winston admits to O’Brien that he is willing to do worse things than murder. Both anti-heroes are smart, think they know what they can get away with, and are fighting for a better future not only for themselves, but also for those they love.
1984 and V for Vendetta were both created for us as warnings. These works offer an obvious warning, not to blindly put your faith in powers whose true intentions you do not know, and a lesson from each protagonist. Winston warns us that people acting within their means, no matter how noble, are not able to succeed against an exorbitantly controlling government. His life reveals that the key to success for all humanity is freedom of thought and liberty in how one chooses to view the world. However, choices have consequences. V teaches us that although he was successful in freeing the people from Norsefire, when you fight fire with fire, the whole world burns.