I have a homework task which is to write an interior monologue on the character of Syme. For those that have read 1984, I was just wondering if it would be plausible to make his character as someone who was actually against the party. I am setting the monologue about three years before the story begins and want to foreshadow how he dies.

A theory that i had was that he was pretending to be loyal but was actually plotting to overthrow the government. Would this be a plausible storyline considering what happens in the book?

I know that he is described as someone who is extremely orthodox but want to somehow make it out as if he was putting on a false show of love towards the party. From reading, he seems as if he is conniving and calculating.

Many Thanks



Although I would hesitate to say you can't do this or that, the character of Syme doesn't come across as a potential subversive, and find the idea he was plotting to overthrow the government to be fairly far fetched. While it's possible he was a subversive pretending to be loyal, his intelligence suggests that he would have been more successful in acting this out, and wouldn't have drawn as much attention to himself as he did.

As Mitha notes, he is portrayed as a party intellectual, not unlike modern day intellectuals who internalize the values of the state they serve, and invariably become defenders and apologists for its worst crimes. (I'll definitely second the suggestion on Chomsky's ample writings on such individuals.)

However, Winston notes about Syme: "He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly ... the Party does not like such people ... one day he will disappear", and this is likely the reason he disappears and becomes an unperson. While he may be in line with the party's ideals, talking openly about some matters would be frowned upon, particularly if it draws attention to some things that are not meant to be remembered. People are meant to know their place in this society, and speaking openly about everything is not a trait valued by the party. I would also suggest that he could have been viewed as a threat to those in power above him, who may have concluded that he wished to rise in ranks and take their place, and hence something else that worked against him.

Edit: It occurs to me that if you want to pursue the subversive element, you could use Syme's intelligence against him. Perhaps his arrogance over his own intelligence let him believe that he could fool everyone, and this arrogance led to him being a bit too overzealous in his portrayal of the loyal party member. I still think it a bit of a long shot, but that's one possibility you could consider.

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  • Hi, Craig, and Garfunkel. It occurs to me that this question (and discussion) would have felt more on topic at the now defunct Literature site. Yes, Winston is of the opinion that Syme is disappeared because he is too intelligent. "He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly..." However, it is unclear whether this is meant as Word of God (sorry, I read tvtropes :-)) since, after all Winston is wrong about his neighbor Parsons, who he thinks nothing will happen to, because he is a moron, but in fact later in the book ends up meeting in the cells of the MInistry of Love. – Faheem Mitha Aug 25 '15 at 15:48
  • So, I think having a different opinion from Winston is fair game, because he's an "unreliable narrator". :-) Incidentally, I apologise if I'm spoiling the book for anyone, but since we are talking about one of the most famous novels in the English language, now approaching its 70th anniversary, I hope I will be excused. In any case, there seems to be no way to hide spoilers in a comment. – Faheem Mitha Aug 25 '15 at 15:51
  • I think Craig makes a reasonable point in the last para. Maybe all the things Syme said in defense of the party was an elaborate act guided by his considerable intelligence. But I don't know if being very smart and being a good actor have much to do with each other - personally, I doubt it. I agree with Craig that it's a long shot, but I already said as much in my own answer. – Faheem Mitha Aug 25 '15 at 15:55

You wrote:

A theory that i had was that he was pretending to be loyal but was actually plotting to overthrow the government. Would this be a plausible storyline considering what happens in the book?

I suppose anything is possible, but that is not really at all how he is written. I think we are supposed to take the character at face value. In any case, he only appears in one scene (in the cafeteria, as I recall), so I don't know if one can read too much into it. Also, the kind of things that he says during that scene don't exactly suggest a secret conspirator. Then again, maybe he is the best actor in Airstrip One.

The scene starts with

'Just the man I was looking for,' said a voice at Winston's back.

And includes

In an intellectual way, Syme was venomously orthodox. 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. Talking to him was largely a matter of getting him away from such subjects and entangling him, if possible, in the technicalities of Newspeak, on which he was authoritative and interesting.

and also

'It was a good hanging,' said Syme reminiscently. 'I think it spoils it when they tie their feet together. I like to see them kicking. And above all, at the end, the tongue sticking right out, and blue--a quite bright blue. That's the detail that appeals to me.'

You wrote:

From reading, he seems as if he is conniving and calculating.

I must say, that is not how he comes across at all to me. Conniving with what aim in mind? I think Orwell put him in there as an example of an intellectual who was owned by the party. This is a fairly common phenomenon in real life, and Chomsky for example has some good things to say about it.

However, he does disappear in the course of the book, so I suppose you could read something into that if you so chose.

A handy reference is the AU Gutenberg version: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100021.txt

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While I largely agree with the interpretations in the other answers in regards to Syme's character in the novel, I think you may be able to tie it together with your plan for the internal monologue by portraying Syme as both a subversive and a genuine party supporter. Essentially, he would just be Winston, as seen from the outside.

Setting your portion of the story three years before the events of 1984, you could show that Syme is an intelligent and creative individual who has a genuine love of language and loathes the work that he does for the Party: he has frequent access to poems and plays which he knows can never be re-created in NewSpeak. In your monologue, you could foreshadow that he's about to meet with someone who he feels shares his hatred of the Party, similar to Winston's meeting with O'Brien, which the reader will know is a setup.

Then, he would be captured, tortured, and indoctrinated just as Winston was in the novel, before being returned to his job. Then, by the time Winston meets him, he's already a dogmatic supporter of the Party, just as Winston was at the end of the novel. When he vanishes, it's because the Party finally executed him, just as O'Brien said they'd do to Winston.

It's been a while since I read the novel, so you may need to tweak the timeline to make it work, but I hope this can give you some ideas on how to make your planned monologue work out.

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