Winston Smith is the protagonist of 1984. He is the character that the reader most identifies with, and the reader sees the world from his point of view. Winston is a kind of innocent in a world gone wrong, and it is through him that the reader is able to understand and feel the suffering that exists in the totalitarian society of Oceania.
Because Winston is so real, so common, it is easy for readers to identify with him and to imagine themselves in his place. Perhaps Winston carries even more weight for today's reader.
Even though Winston's life is replete with misery and pain, Orwell allows him a brief time of happiness and love. During this time, there is hope for Winston, and subsequently, hope for the future. But Orwell makes certain that there is no happy ending. Totalitarianism does not permit such an ending; Winston must be crushed. If Winston were to escape, Orwell's agenda of showing the true nature of totalitarianism would have been lost.
1984 places its action in a totalitarian state. As O'Brien explains, the cunning and mysterious member of the leadership of the ruling party, power is absolute and unique value: to conquer there is nothing in the world that should not be sacrificed and, once reached, nothing is important in life unless the will to preserve at any cost. The relentless surveillance of this superstate has come to seize the life and consciousness of his subjects, intervening even and especially in the most intimate spheres of human feelings. Everything is controlled by the shadowy and omnipresent figure of Big Brother, the boss who sees all, hears all and everything has. Winston Smith, the protagonist, initially appears as a symbol of rebellion against this monstrous power, but as the story progresses is increasingly caught by this gear, omnipresent and cruel.