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-But Orwell obviously admired him. He wouldn’t have named his hero for him otherwise.

-No, no, no. It seemed to many of the first American readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four that Winston Smith’s name was a symbol of a noble free tradition lost for ever. But it was nothing of the kind

-1985 by Anthony Burgess

I have two questions:

1 - I want to understand which tradition the author talks about. Is giving the hero the name of a real person a tradition?

2 - What does "noble free tradition"? I don't understand the usage of the word "free" in this phrase.

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  • Bear in mind that Burgess is obviously being deliberately controversial in this interview. Which starts with Burgess claiming 1984 is a comedy - characterized right from the very first sentence by the clocks were striking thirteen. According to Burgess, his Italian copy of the book changes that to the clocks struck one, which does seem like an appalling translation error if it's true. But you may have to take anything Burgess says here with a large pinch of salt. Aug 24, 2023 at 11:30

2 Answers 2

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No, the 'tradition' is not naming a fictional hero after a real person.

Him obviously refers to Sir Winston Churchill. 1984 was famously written in 1948, soon after WW2 in which Churchill had led and inspired the British war effort against the Nazis. The reference is to a 'tradition' of standing up against totalitarianism.

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There never was any such "noble free tradition" with a universally-recognized character, period, or location.

The collocation is effectively a "placeholder" for whatever ideas any given individual might have about some idealized past. That past could be any time from the Garden of Eden through the Roman invasion of Britain to whatever any given person thinks was the most recent significant increase in the remit of governmental authority / state control.

The idea is that some of those first American readers saw Winston Smith as actively promoting the "peaceful anarchy" of a hypothetical past "Golden Age" with minimal state control (whereas imho he's more of a "powerless victim" than some kind of idealized "freedom fighter").

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