A Comparison of 1984 and the Shipping News

By close examination of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and E. Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’ compare how Orwell and Proulx, develop their main characters iston Seat evening sells clos’1984′, as a science fictional dystopia, depicts a totalitarian regime that outlaws truth, love, thought, and the concept of the individual, controlling its populace with fear, brute force, and propaganda. Orwell presents Winston Smith as the protagonist of the story; his desperate attempt to preserve his identity initially leads to great development in character.

Ultimately, however, such development is brought to a brutal end as his growing self is replaced by a superficial conformist personality imposed from the outside. Similarly, ‘The Shipping News’ closely scrutinizes its lead character’s development in character; this internal growth, in contrast, is far more gradual and moments of great influence are much harder to ascertain. Despite this, the contrast between the Quoyle from the beginning of the novel and his eventual counterpart is significant.

From the outset, both authors make conscious attempts to allow the reader to grasp the essence of their characters simply by hearing their names.

This is achieved through identifying characters with names, which have obvious or explained connotations. In the prologue to the first chapter, the term ‘Quoyle’ is defined in ‘The Ashley Book of Knots’ as:

“A Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only…so that it may be walked on if necessary.”

Proulx introduces Quoyle as the human equivalent of a Flemish flake; isolated and confused, left behind by the hive-like, sprawling metropolis that surrounds him.

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Victim of a painful childhood and almost psychologically abused, Quoyle had to come to terms with his brother and father’s insistence he was inferior. Consequently, he suffers from low self-esteem, and like a coil of rope, he finds himself walked on by others. This pathetic image of Quoyle is emphasized by the fact that he accepts this treatment and believes it to justify his low opinion of himself.

Winston Smith is a name, which has obvious connotations but can also be subject to deeper, more complex interpretations. Winston’s surname establishes him as an everyman figure, but his first name is more open in its implications. The intended reference is clearly to Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during WWII. The most straightforward interpretation of this link is that, like his namesake, Winston Smith represents resistance to evil. However, his first name could also be interpreted as an ironic comment on his lack of fitness to resist evil, contrasting him with Churchill, or even as a satirical reflection on how, under Churchill’s leadership during WWII, government controls increased. This interpretation is supported by the fact Orwell was an enthusiastic advocate of the Labour Party of the 1940s.

1984 is narrated in the third person but focused entirely on one character, Winston, whose point of view we occupy through free direct discourse (technique of narrating the thoughts or speech of a character by incorporating their words or ideas into a third-person narrative) and also through his speech and diary entries. This style of narrative means the reader shares Winston’s ideas and perceptions so fully, that it seems we are always intended to sympathize and agree with him. However, as the novel progresses Orwell employs dramatic irony to make Winston’s views appear increasingly unreliable, for example, he fails to notice any of the sinister clues about Charrington or O’Brien. When such moments occur, they cause the reader to re-evaluate Winston’s reliability and are therefore important when considering his development in character. Free direct discourse is a particularly useful tool employed by Orwell, as it discourages the reader from completely identifying with Winston. At the same time, the narrative also helps Orwell to integrate actions, ideas, and characterization into a single story.

Proulx employs the same style of narrative in TSN with similar repercussions. Initially, Quoyle is intensely described as such a dismal person that distance is created between him and the reader. However, due to the narrative perspective, as he slowly grows in character the reader’s affection for Quoyle grows. This gradual change in opinion reflects Quoyle’s struggle to flourish as an individual.

Orwell’s 1984 is straightforwardly divided into three parts; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Part One shows us the world in which Winston is trapped and his reactions to it. Part Two contains the rebellion. Winston has an illegal affair with Julia and through O’Brien, the couple joins the Brotherhood, an underground organization attempting to overthrow the party. The pair are then taken, prisoner. Part Three recounts Winston’s defeat. As the novel is so clearly structured Orwell makes it easy to track Winston’s development, as the contrast between sections is so exaggerated. In addition, moments of great influence that have repercussions on the future path of the plot are often positioned at the end or beginning of a section.

TSN also uses a technique to allow the reader to trace Quoyle’s development. The preface to each chapter often emphasizes the changes that occur internally within Quoyle in the respective chapter or highlights the twists in the narrative, which resemble the metaphorical knots that accompany each preface. Quoyle’s growth in character is particularly relevant to the knot motif (i.e. The Ashley Book of Knots and Flemish flake described previously); as the novel progresses the knots become increasingly complex, representing Quoyle’s growth into a multi-layered presence with the capacity for constantly renewed purpose and connection.

In the novel 1984, Winston Smith is a direct personification of the author, George Orwell. Winston’s character reflects Orwell’s political perceptions, such as his skepticism toward mass media, his politically motivated writings, and his view of government figures. The characterization was also displayed in Orwell’s attraction to certain socio-economic classes and his basic aesthetic similarities. Orwell’s feelings about writing are also exhibited through Winston; his fears of failure and his basic yearning to be remembered. 1984 will forever be remembered for its prophetic warnings of a totalitarian society in which individuality is stripped away. In a desperate attempt to pierce through the invincible, omnipotent, omnipresent Big Brother, Winston fought to preserve his identity, an identity that was a true reflection of Orwell.

The opening of 1984 focuses on Winston’s opening of a diary. This is a method of creating a mental space outside the regulated world of Big Brother where Winston can start to explore and develop feelings and ideas. However, in describing an incident at a cinema the previous night when a lower-class woman (or ‘prole”) objected to the violent content of a war film, he still lapses back into the standard part attitude towards the proles, ‘…nobody cares what the proles say typical prole reaction they never. Winston has not yet had the chance to fully develop his point of view, as is further exemplified by the stereotypical view of women he expresses and the contempt he holds for the gender as a whole. The ulcer above his right ankle symbolizes his condition; mentally and physically malnourished, he aspires to health.

The opening two chapters introduce Winston to a decisive point in his development; where his thoughts turn from dissatisfaction to rebellion. The remainder of Part One contains little development of the plot but instead chooses to deepen our knowledge of Winston and the world in which he is trapped. From this barren part of the novel, only a few interesting moments occur. In particular, the ideas Orwell is trying to subtly raise when Winston wakes up from dreams of his childhood.

“Winston woke up with the word ‘Shakespeare’ on his lips.”

This reference was, perhaps, included to emphasize the contrast between the literary characters and worlds Shakespeare created and what Orwell has presented up to this point. Shakespeare’s work depicts a more natural world than the one Winston occupies, a world containing rounded characters capable of surprising us with their behavior and of experiencing tragedy. This suggests that Winston will never be able to fulfill his potential character, due to the world around him where the natural has systematically been replaced by the artificial. People have been limited in their ideas and actions through the values of Ingsoc, imposed upon them by the all-powerful state. Therefore Winston will never develop into a tragic hero like Othello or Hamlet, making powerful speeches full of insights into human nature. He is merely one victim amongst millions, struggling to understand the processes, which are destroying the residual sense of humanity he possesses. Although ironically, he shares with Othello his ultimate flaw and cause of his downfall; his trust, where he trusts, is absolute.

Towards the end of Part One, Winston is beginning to understand his feelings and prepare a philosophical viewpoint from which he can oppose the party. Winston proposes a key idea of the book:

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two is four” Winston is articulating ideas consistent with a philosophical position known as ’empiricism’; the idea that our surest knowledge of what is real comes from the evidence of our senses. This is a key point in Winston’s development as he had developed a logical viewpoint from which he can challenge the reality the party has created. Winston earlier speculated that any hope that the party will be overthrown, so individual viewpoints, such as his own could flourish, ‘lies in the proles’. However, towards the end of Part One, it becomes evident Winston still cannot accept the lower class as fellow human beings. This is displayed by the manner, in which he kicks aside a dead prole’s hand and his unsuccessful attempts to make contact with the proles. Unfortunately, it seems the gulf between ideas and beliefs is too great to bridge. Winston still hasn’t accepted his recently developed philosophy fully and is once again resorting back to standard party principles.

Part Two is concerned particularly with the action of Winston and Julia’s forming and continuation of a relationship, at the expense of entries to Winston’s diary. As this is purely a superficial relationship and only serves to provide physical pleasure, little development of character occurs.

Chapter 7, Part Two starts with the focus on Winston’s dreams about his childhood. He remembers a time when he would argue with his mother about how much of the family’s meager food supply he could have. This dream is a therapeutic reliving of repressed memory, released by the natural existence, that he has found with Julia. However, it is a dream of guilt and strengthens the link between Winston’s dreams and the reality he later faces.

“He knew that he was starving the other two… he even felt he had the right to do it.”

The greed evident in Winston’s childhood resembles the ethos the Party was based upon. These memories could be the origins of Winston’s later willingness to be cured. This also supports the idea that Winston is ‘living in a world that manifests his inner feelings, as on numerous occasions his dreams become reality; ‘the golden country’, Room 101, and O’Brien’s statement ‘we will meet in a place where there is no light’ to name but a few. This would coincide with the idea that Winston never can fully discard Party philosophy and wants to be punished for his childhood selfishness and acts of rebellion.

Part Two concludes with Winston finally developing a view of life distinct from the Parties. He awakes convinced of what matters in life, which he sees, exemplified by the prole woman in the yard. He observes that human nature remains unaltered in the vast majority of the human race, due to the freedom of the proles. Therefore, one day the Party must be overthrown and be succeeded by a ‘race of conscious beings’ combining the natural life of the proles and the intellectual awareness of the educated. Ironically, it is at this point that the Thought Police take him prisoner and take up the challenge of destroying it. Importantly, during their capture, the fragile glass paperweight, a symbol of privacy and subtle, personal feeling is destroyed in a hostile fashion.

Before his arrest, Winston has reached a peak in terms of his mental development; with conviction he has defined his outlook on life. However, this is eventually destroyed and replaced with a superficial, conformist personality by the Thought Police. Winston’s new viewpoint is systematically destroyed, firstly through demoralization, then drugs and torture reinforced by his ‘Godlike’ interrogator O’Brien. The process of continually inflicting pain almost brings Winston to believe he can see five fingers when O’Brien is only holding up four. Winston’s capitulation is perfectly envisaged by what O’Brien presents as a picture of the future:

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

This vivid metaphor represents the party’s victory over humanity; Winston is amongst the millions who will fall victim at the hands of totalitarianism. Under the pressure of O’Brien’s mental superiority, Winston is willing to accept the Party mentality. However, some of his old emotions resurface and his conversion is not complete until he faces his ultimate nightmare in Room 101.

The story of Quoyle’s transformation emanates a clear warning from Proulx that human potential should never be underestimated. His growth from a character beyond sympathy to someone who has a strong personal conviction of what is important in life demonstrates that any individual can flourish in the correct environment. By the conclusion of the novel, Quoyle’s character has much in common with the rugged beauty of the Newfoundland landscape.

Quolye’s childhood was harsh; as a result of his ‘failure of normal appearance’, he grew up isolated and misunderstood. Quoyle grew up believing that he is inferior to most men, and this has given him low self-esteem. There is an obvious link between the way people have treated him, and what his name is said to mean; it may be walked on if necessary.

Quoyle leads a lonely and isolated life in, Mockingburg, New York. He is described by the author as a man who “abstracted his life from the times”. He is not well educated and works for a small family newspaper writing columns. He is not successful as a writer or in his social life, nevertheless, Quoyle does have some good qualities; he is said to be a ‘conscientious and timid person.

Quoyle falls in love and ends up in a disastrous marriage with a woman called Petal. She does not care about Quoyle, committing adultery regularly, and degrading him through her actions and attitudes. Petal leaves Quoyle with the full responsibility for their two children and intends to divorce him. However, Quote still holds onto the belief they can work out their differences. Quoyle has no sense of what love is, and in many ways, he equates it with misery. “What he had was what he pretended”, is a concise description of the relationship; he lives in a dream of what his marriage could have been.

Petal dies in a car accident when she attempts to run away with a lover. After her death, Quoyle was devastated. He could not admit to himself, nor to the girls, the truth about Petal being gone forever. “For he had protected them from the funeral, had never said the word. Death”. By repressing the fact of Petal’s death Quoyle found it easier to go on living.

When Petal dies, Quoyle’s aunt, Agnis, arrives and immediately takes charge of his life. She decides that he needs a change and accompanies him and his daughters back to the family homestead in Newfoundland. Quote agrees reluctantly, fearful but intrigued by his family’s heritage.

“The aunt had made a good case. What was left for him in Mockingbird?”

He manages to get a job at the local newspaper; therefore he is immediately integrated into the everyday lives of the small community. Life in Newfoundland is too harsh to be concerned with other people’s idiosyncrasies. The locals have their strange quirks and secrets, and they accept Quoyle as matter-of-factly as they do each other. It’s in this environment that Quoyle is given the chance to slowly evolve into a man with dignity and self-respect and discover a quiet, gentle love.

For the first time in his life, Quoyle starts to enjoy various degrees of success, in both his professional and social life. From experience he has developed into a passable journalist by The Gammy Bird’s low standards. When he entered journalism he was a terrible writer, but in Killick-Claw he gains recognition for his work.

“… this was the first time anybody ever said he’d done it right”

Quoyle’s success in his professional life gives him more confidence when it comes to his social life. After a while Quoyle starts to develop relationships, the locals respect him for the man he is, and this gives him self-confidence. Being secure is important for Quoyle; his friends give him the reassurance he has been searching for.

Quoyle is now faced with a challenge he finds manageable. He rises to the occasion when his children need him the most, and he is always there for them. He recognizes himself in his daughters, and the problems they are faced with at school. Quote does everything possible to help them. He can empathize with them as he has experienced a similarly tough upbringing.

Through his work as a reporter at The Gammy Bird, which is said to look life in its shifty, bloodshot eye’, he learns to accept that death is a part of life. Writing about accidents is therapy for Quoyle; it helps him to put Petal’s death into perspective.

Through their friendship, Quoyle grows to love Wavey, who is also a single parent and a widower. She is everything Petal was not, offering Quolye love and affection. This affection provides Quoyle with the confidence he requires to grow, as a result, Quolye manages to disassociate love and suffering and instead appreciates the “comfort and a modest joy” of their relationship. This is something he has never experienced before, and it helps him to understand his first marriage was only an illusion.

Quote no longer feels inferior to other people. He senses he is a good journalist; ironically, much of his work is speculation lacking incisiveness and poignancy, which can hardly be described as quality journalism. Despite this, he is much appreciated for his work. It cannot be denied, however, that he becomes an admirable father to his two daughters, and functions well in an equal, affectionate relationship with Wavey. He has found friends who support him and stand by him when he needs them to. Newfoundland life has stimulated Quolye’s growth from a two-dimensional character, incorporating new aspects to his character, including the ability to connect emotionally with others, undertake in-depth solipsism, and the capacity for renewed purpose.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the fundamental differences between TSN and 1984; the reasoning behind their conception, their authors’ backgrounds, and underlying messages of the novels themselves come from opposing ideologies and schools of literary thinking. Despite this, the two protagonists, Quoyle and Winston provoke similar reactions from the reader. Both characters are, in one sense of the word, heroes, as they both struggle through adversity, Winston, in particular, remains courageous and noble up until his capture as he understands from the outset the consequences of his actions but still manages to successfully develop a sense of individuality.

In addition, TSN and 1984 offer similar messages on humanity. The tale of Quoyle offers a warning to the reader never to underestimate the potential of any individual in any circumstance, whereas Winston’s story clearly warns against any form of government, which oppresses human nature. Both Orwell and Proulx demonstrate in their characters, Quoyle and Winston Smith, the strength of human nature and the amazing ability humanity has to succeed in times of adversity. Although this idea may be undermined by Winston’s eventual capitulation and conformity, the fact that the appendix on Newspeak is presented in ‘Oldspeak’ suggests that the party was overthrown and therefore Winston’s rebellion was not in vain. This also supports the argument Winston is an unlikely hero, as millions of people adopting a similar philosophy to Winston is how the battle for the future of humanity was eventually won.

The differences between Quoyle and Winston’s development still greatly outnumber the similarities. Winston’s growth and then the destruction of character are far more dramatic and take place in a notably smaller timespan than Quoyle’s subtle, steady development. Winston’s changes are regularly called into question due to Orwell’s manipulation of dramatic irony and the different belief systems the society holds and manages to implement on the majority of its citizens. Whereas Quoyle’s growth is unambiguous and is only ever portrayed in a positive light by Proulx.

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A Comparison of 1984 and the Shipping News. (2022, Aug 16). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-comparison-of-1984-and-the-shipping-news/

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