Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Analysis of Minor Characters in 1984

                                                            Nineteen Eighty-Four (Virgin Films)


Having analysed a Major character (O’Brien) in George Orwell’s 1984, we will now examine how the writer creates Minor characters in the novel. 1984 is a futuristic novel about a totalitarian state. Minor characters include Syme, Parsons, Mrs Parsens, Mr Charrington, and the Old Man in the Pub.


Character type: simple

Dominant trait: repugnant, cold-hearted

Secondary traits: stiff, curious, thoughtful, intellectual, scholarly, hard working, snide

Individuality: large, dark eyes

Syme is a philologist, working on a new dictionary for the Party. His Dominant trait is repugnant, but he has a wide range of lesser, supportive traits. Syme’s repugnant trait is evident in his speech: ‘He would talk with a disagreeable gloating satisfaction of helicopter raids on enemy villages, and trials and confessions of thought-criminals, the executions in the cellars of the Ministry of Love.’

Also: ‘It was a good hanging,’ said Syme … ‘I like to see them kicking. And above all, at the end, the tongue sticking right out.’

In reference to his work on the dictionary, his speech alludes to his uncaring, cold trait, as well as his scholarly nature. ‘The Eleventh Edition is the definitive edition,’ he said … ‘We’re destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone.’

Next, physical appearance, hair and eyes show Syme as revulsive; but, at the same time, observant and curious:  ‘He was a tiny creature, smaller than Winston, with dark hair and large, protuberant eyes, at once mournful and derisive, which seemed to search your face closely while he was speaking to you.’ Moreover, ‘his mocking eyes’ allude to his snide nature.

On the other hand, action conveys Syme as thoughtful and studious: ‘Syme had fallen silent for a moment, and with the handle of his spoon was tracing patterns in the puddle of stew’; and ‘Syme had produced a strip of paper on which there was a long column of words, and was studying it with an ink-pencil between his fingers.’

Finally, individuality is expressed by his ‘large dark eyes’.


Character type: simple

Dominant trait: stupid

Secondary traits: active, sporty, enthusiastic, boyish, cheerful

Individuality: sweaty

First, Orwell tells us directly that Parsons is stupid: ‘He was a fattish but active man of paralysing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms.’

Physical appearance conveys his boyish nature: ‘His whole appearance was that of a little boy grown large.’

Parson’s gait alludes to his active trait: ‘his movements were brisk and boyish’

Clothes also convey his sporty nature; for example: he would ‘invariably revert to shorts when a community hike or any other physical activity gave him an excuse for doing so.’

Speech conveys his cheerfulness: ‘He greeted them both with a cheery “Hullo, hullo!”’

Parsons is individualized by being sweaty; for instance: ‘He gave ‘off an intense smell of sweat. Beads of moisture stood out all over his pink face. His powers of sweating were extraordinary.’ And he often creates a ‘powerful smell of cold sweat.’

Mrs Parsens

Character type: Flat

Dominant trait: fearful, apprehensive

Secondary traits: N/A

Individuality: the image of dust in the creases of her face

Mrs Parsens is a flat character; that is, she has only one personality trait: fearful and apprehensive (there were no others that I could find).

We can see this in her speech: ‘She had a habit of breaking off her sentences in the middle.’ This is happening when she is speaking to Winston in front of her children, so she is afraid of her children because they might report her to the thought police.

Action conveys her fear: She was ‘fiddling helplessly with a blocked waste-pipe.’

Next, there is facial expression. She cast ‘a half-apprehensive glance at the door’. And: ‘what most struck Winston was the look of helpless fright on the woman’s greyish face.’

Her eyes, or sight, also express fright: ‘Mrs Parsons’ eyes flitted nervously from Winston to the children, and back again.’

When Winsotn thinks of Mrs Parsens, he always has an image of ‘dust in the creases of her face’. This vivid image is her individuality because the author repeats it so it sticks in the mind of the reader, and it is what separates her from other characters. For example: '[Winston] noticed with interest that there actually was dust in the creases of her face.' Then, later: ‘For some reason Winston suddenly found himself thinking of Mrs Parsons, with her wispy hair and the dust in the creases of her face.’

Mr Charrington

Character type: complex

Dominant traits: simpleton, vague, intellectual

Secondary traits: old, frail, introverted, homebody, gentle, apologetic, frugal

Contrast: Mr Charrington’s personality changes to become more youthful, alert, and unemotional
Individuality: posture: ‘bent back’

Mr Charrington is the only Minor character who is complex; that is, he shares more than one Dominant trait, while all the other Minor characters have just the one Primary trait, supported by other less important, secondary traits. Basically, this means Mr Carrington is as deep as a Major character – complex enough, in fact, to carry the weight an entire novel.

Although artistically inclined and intellectual, evident by his love of antiques and paintings, Mr Charrington is also predominantly portrayed as somewhat vague or simple-minded. He often ‘looked into the middle distance and spoke in generalities, with … the impression that he had become partly invisible.’ Simile further conveys this vagueness: ‘To talk to him was like listening to the tinkling of a worn-out musicalbox.’

In narrating his backstory, Orwell portrays Mr Charrington as vague: he has needed to do work on his shop ‘but had never quite got to the point of doing it.’

To continue, he doesn’t walk but is described as ‘wandering’ about with ‘faded enthusiasm’ and even seems ‘to fade out of existence’.

Nonetheless, Mr Carrington has a predominantly intellectual trait; this is evident in his spectacles, mannerisms, and choice of clothes: ‘His spectacles, his gentle, fussy movements, and the fact that he was wearing an aged jacket of black velvet, gave him a vague air of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or perhaps a musician.’

Moreover, Mr Charrington is a homebody and, maybe, introverted. This is evident is his backstory: ‘He led a ghostlike existence between the tiny, dark shop, and an even tinier back kitchen’ and ‘the old man seemed seldom or never to go out of doors’.

In addition, he is portrayed as ugly ‘with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick spectacles’; and old and frail: ‘he was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and bowed’.

Gait also shows him as old and frail: ‘He lit another lamp, and, with bowed back, led the way slowly up the steep and worn stairs and along a tiny passage.’

He is gentle and apologetic; this is seen in his voice, mannerisms, and hand gestures: he moved ‘gentle’, ‘his voice was soft’, he spoke ‘apologetically’ and ‘delicately’, and ‘he made an apologetic gesture with his softpalmed hand’.

Mr Charrington could also be viewed as frugal; this is evident in his speech, for example: ‘Ah,’ said the old man, ‘I never had one of those [telescreens]. Too expensive.’

His awkward posture, or ‘bowed back’, highlights his individuality.

However, there is contrast in his character.

During the arrest scene, as a member of the Thought Police, Mr Charrington is now alert, no longer vague or absent-minded; instead he talks ‘sharply’ and ‘gave Winston a single sharp glance’.

Further, he is now unemotional, with a ‘cold face’ and, after arresting Winston, pays ‘no more attention to him.’

His old, frail appearance has changed: ‘His body had straightened, and seemed to have grown bigger.’ And ‘his hair, which had been almost white, had turned black.

Even his ‘cockney accent had disappeared’.

Face, as well as body, hair, and voice, also conveys his youthful, less frail appearance: ‘The black eyebrows were less bushy, the wrinkles were gone, the whole lines of the face seemed to have altered; even the nose seemed shorter. It was the alert, cold face of a man of about five-and-thirty.’
Finally, he is no longer ‘wearing his spectacles.’

Importantly, by the use of a rhyme, Mr Charrington forewarns danger in store for Winston later in the novel. This forewarning is an important literary device. For example: ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's … Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.’ 

Old Man in the Pub

Character type: simple

Dominant trait: pugnacious

Secondary traits: observant, thoughtful, philosophical

Individuality: posture: ‘straightening his shoulders’; speech (word choice)

First, we see the old man acting aggressively: ‘The old man whom [Winston] had followed was standing at the bar, having some kind of altercation with the barman.’ Also, the old man stands ‘pugnaciously’ at the bar.

His speech conveys his confrontational manner towards the barman: ‘’Calls ‘isself a barman and don’t know what a pint is! … ‘Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.’ And: ‘Pint!’ he added aggressively to the barman.’

However, the old man is also observant and philosophical. This is evident first by the use of eyes and sight, and then by speech: ‘The old man’s pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and from the bar to the door of the Gents’; ‘The old man looked meditatively at the darts board’; and 
‘When he spoke it was with a tolerant philosophical air.’

The Old Man’s posture, or the way he stands at the bar and straightens his shoulders, highlights his individuality; for example: ‘He took up his glass, and his shoulders straightened again.’ Also, his unusual word choice emphasises his individuality; for instance: ‘I arst you civil enough’, and ’Ark at ‘im! Calls ‘isself a barman’.

The old man in the pub serves to give the reader a glimpse into the past world before the totalitarian state, and also serves to hint at an important  theme of the novel, that we live in a world of lies and deception: 
‘"The beer was better [in the past]," he said finally. "And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer—wallop we used to call it—was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course." 
"Which war was that?” said Winston.
“It’s all wars,” said the old man vaguely.’


We have examined Minor characters in Orwell’s 1984. What is evident is that, with the exception of Mr Charrington, the Minor characters have one obvious, predominant trait and usually a range of lesser or secondary triats. Syme is dominantly callous and repulsive, but we also see him as scholarly and hard working; Parsons is a buffoon, but we also view him as cheerful and sporty; the Old Man in the Pub is aggressive, but at the same time curious and deep thinking. Mrs Parsens is frightful. Mr Charrington, on the other hand, has the most depth of these Minor characters, expressing more than one dominant trait: and he also transforms by the end of the novel – no longer old, simple minded and frail; but youthful, alert, and cold-hearted.

As a final word, Orwell uses a whole range of literary features to bring these characters to life, such as the eyes, voice and posture of the Old Man; the hunched body and spectacles of Mr Charrington; the clothes and physical appearance of Parsons; the large eyes, work ethic and voice of Syme; and the facial expressions, eyes and action of Mrs Parsens.