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Essay: Comparison of Macbeth and Orwell’s 1984

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  • Comparison of Macbeth and Orwell's 1984
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Whether in a dystopian society ran by totalitarian rule, or in 11th century Scotland, getting what you want does not come easy, especially when you selfishly long for power, or simply want to be free. The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare tells the tale of a once honorable Macbeth, who would do anything that it takes on his ruthless quest to be king of medieval Scotland; the novel 1984 by George Orwell sheds light on a society plagued by a totalitarian government, which a feeble Winston Smith tries to navigate on his own agendas. Both of their desires and the actions lead to their distressing resolution in the denouncement of the novel and play: Winston becomes brainwashed after his firm resistance to the government, and Macbeth dies with pride for his wrongful crimes in the midst of his pursuit of securing his power. Although both meet their symbolic or literal demise, I believe Winston emerges more victorious, no longer held captive by his longing to be free.

Winston Smith is a fairly ordinary man who works at Ingsoc’s Ministry of Truth as a records keeper. At the start of the novel, it is clear that he— although acts like a normal member of the party—is in fact conflicted by the norms of the society, which he proceeds to defy. He is the Anti-hero in the novel; although, his heroism is truly empirical and not pursued by rebelling to gain power or glory. Winston’s clandestine stand against the Party is fuelled by past traumas and conflicting internal emotions. In the book, he appears as the voice of reason cutting through a distraught world of propaganda, control, and surveillance—but he is only talking to himself, and no one is listening. He is truly captive by his yearning to be free. Winston’s persistent defiance towards Party rule is not to attain some good for humanity or free others like him; he continually acts for and in his own best interest, trying to achieve sole liberation of himself. In his rebellion, he is alone; not even is love interest, Julia, is concerned about unlocking some personal freedom from the Party. Winston’s subversion is solitary, not shared with anyone else who believes the same, until he meets O’Brien. Winston forges an inclination towards O’Brien, who he perceives shares the same ideologies against Big Brother as he does. Although only through an exchange of glances and a dream about him, O’Brien becomes Winston’s manifestation of promise. This naive surrender to false hope is only part of Winton’s constant impetuous behaviour throughout the novel, because of his defiant impetus. As a result, Winston is gullible to O’Brien’s concealed motives, and eventually gets Julia and himself caught by the Thought Police. He is escorted to the Ministry of Love, where he finally sees O’Brien in broad light. Winston’s defiance is carried out for as long as he can hold, until he finally breaks, abandoning his old ideologies. At the end of the novel, Winston is a new man, who isn’t bound by his rebellious tendencies any more.

Macbeth is the Thane of Cawdor and Glamis; he is a distinguished nobleman in Scotland, who has been given an untimely look into his political future. Macbeth, the archetype of a tragic hero, also becomes distracted by his own desires. He encounters three witches who praise him and deliver a prognostication that he will soon be king. Macbeth had not yet been truly concerned with being king as he is still far from the line of King Duncan’s successors, yet the witches’ divination of Macbeth credulously resonated with him, causing him to trigger a line of atrocities to secure the throne. Macbeth’s candor towards the prophecy fostered his newfound ambition for power. He is untroubled by the witches’ prophecy which also states the conditions in which Macbeth is to end his rule as king, a devastating oversight that would become his impending downfall. Near the end of the play, Macbeth is confronted for his crimes and revisited by the witches’ words. He dies, still holding on to his pride.

Defiance is a trait similarly seen in these two characters, defining both of them as an anti-hero and a tragic hero. Macbeth defies King Duncan’s rightful rule in order to succeed his yearn to be king, while Winston defies party rule, to fulfill something within himself only; both of them take unnecessary lengths to accomplish personal gratification, that solely benefits themselves. But unlike Winston, Macbeth is obsessed with power and glory, to which Winston is not. Because of the visceral nature of Winston’s actions, he acts in an audacious manner. A notable example of this is his diary, in which he uses to record the events he experiences, despite the fact that it is very likely for him to get caught by the Thought Police. Equivalently, he rents a room to share with Julia as their place of assignation, in spite of the inherent risk. Furthermore, Winston is very trusting towards O’Brien, without suspecting that he is a loyal member of the Inner Party who is trying to deceive him. In this way, he is very similar to Macbeth, who acts rashly and foolishly, without hesitation. The witches’ prophecies convey that he will be king, if not for a series of unforeseeable circumstances; although, Macbeth overlooks their deceptive play on words, as he is greeted by the fortellings of the prophecy in his downfall. The naivety and impulsiveness in which he exhibits when he first encounters the augury would become his ruination, blindsided by his aspiration to be king, similar to how Winston confronts a bit of hope in O’Brien. Both of them are ultimately doomed. Macbeth cannot escape the witches’ prophecies and Winston cannot be free from the oppression of party rule.

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