At the end of 1984, does Winston Smith die in the traditional sense of death, or just figuratively?


He does not literally die at the end of the novel.

The concluding paragraphs make it clear that his death is metaphorical. Winston is in the Chestnut Tree Café, listening to the news of the victory over Eurasia:

Ah, it was more than a Eurasian army that had perished! Much had changed in him since that first day in the Ministry of Love, but the final, indispensable, healing change had never happened, until this moment.

The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

As the text says, Winston is sitting in a blissful dream. A few minutes earlier, he had been considering the possibility that Oceania might be defeated in the war, but when he hears the news of Eurasia's defeat, he realizes that just as Oceania's control over Africa is complete, so also is Big Brother's control over him. The idea that he could ever go against Big Brother or imagine any alternative life is no longer viable. Just as he has confessed his prior mistakes to the Ministry, he is now confessing to himself that the idea that Oceania might be defeated was a thoughtcrime. Once he sees that as a thoughtcrime, the punishment is the death of his capacity for independent thinking: The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.

The last paragraph tells us that this is not a literal death, as he is still sitting in the café, gazing up at Big Brother on the telescreen. Whereas Winston had longed for literal death during his interrogation and torture at the Ministry of Love, when the death does come, it is actually the death of his capacity for any struggle against Big Brother. His rebelliousness now seems to him only a self-willed exile from the loving breast of Big Brother, and it is now over.

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