"O'Brien sets out to methodically torture and break Winston,
(exactly as a conscientious senior member of the Thought Police should),
knowing that by securing his position in the Thought Police
he is making himself more useful to the Brotherhood
which has his true allegiance."


"Refusing to answer Winston's question whether the Brotherhood does exist
might be the most which O'Brien, as a genuine Brotherhood member, could give Winston.
It might be that Winston would dredge up the memory and exhult in the possibility
that the Brotherhood does exist and that it may still one day win."
~ Adam Keller

To Orwell Today,

Dear Jackie Jura,

I have only recently (and by accident) encountered your website, and did not yet look through all previous discussions. But as far as I could see nobody had put up the following possibility (which I actually thought of years ago, but until now had nobody else interested enough in the details of "1984" to discuss it with). So I would like to throw in this ball and hear reactions to it:

O'Brien - a sincere member of the Brotherhood?
by Adam Keller

Suppose that the Brotherhood really exists, that its aims and methods of operation are truly just as described by O'Brien in his meeting with Winston and Julia, that O'Brien (and his servant Martin) are bona fide members, and that Winston and Julia were really and truly recruited to the Brotherhood on that meeting, not just undergone a cynical trick by the Thought Police. Everything which O'Brien said at the meeting was the truth, and his drinking to the life of Emannuel Goldstein expressed his true feelings.

How can anyone suppose such things, considering what O'Brien does to Winston throughout the last third of the book?

Well, Winston and Julia undertook to give their lives in the Brotherhood's service, or to commit in its service such acts as killing hundreds of innocents, throwing acid in a child's face and various other unsavoury acts, if such acts would further the Brotherhood aims - and to obey blindly without asking any explanation about the sense of what they were required to do. Though not specifically named among the things they consented to, it can be asserted in giving themselves over so completely into the Brotherhood's hands they effectively also consented to let the Brotherhood betray them to the Thought Police should the Brotherhood consider that to be the best way they could serve its interests. Unfortunately for the two of them, the Brotherhood (or O'Brien as the senior operative acting in their case) did so consider its interests.

Why? For one thing, maintaining an agent deep within the Inner Party and also the Thought Police itself is obviously in the vital interest of the Brotherhood. To maintain his position the agent needs to show occasional successes. Catching and breaking such a stubborn "thought criminal" as Winston Smith would be a feather in O'Brien's cap (or whatever the equivalent jargon with the Inner Party's clothing). Using him as a pawn in this way, and Julia with him, may have outweighed any other use the Brotherhood could have made of him. The Brotherhood, to take at face value what O'Brien told of it, is certainly quite ruthless and cold-blooded enough to make such calculations and conduct such betrayals unflinchingly. And anyway, the assumption is that everybody will be caught sooner or later, tortured and broken, the only question being: will he or she accomplish something before that? And bolstering the position of a more important agent could come under that heading. (By the way, the books of John Le Carre, who knows from personal experience what he is writing about, show that intelligence services of democratic countries - which operate under incomparably more relaxed and secure conditions than the Brotherhood - also practiced this kind of betraying one agent in order to bolster the position of a more important one. And Winston Churchill - for whom by the way Winston Smith must be named, having been born in England in 1944 or 1945 - did sacrifice hundreds of Coventry inhabitants, not warning them of the impending German bombing in order not to compromise Britian's ability to read the encrypted German messages. I think this affair was not declassified during Orwell's lifetime, but somehow I feel Orwell would not have been surprised to hear of it).

Two slightly less cold-blooded variations: 1) O'Brien originally intended to let Winston have as long and fruitful a career as possible in the Brotherhood, perhaps even to train him as the successor to himself - but O'Brien's superiors in the Thought Police discover his interest in Winston. The only legitimate reason for such interest was an effort to uncover a Thought Criminal, and of course once it was revealed to his superiors he had no choice but to follow through with it, or be unmasked himself. 2) Winston and Julia made a fatal blunder by both coming to O'Brien's apartment when only Winston was invited, not realizing the amount of surveillance kept even on members of the Inner party would reveal this incriminating fact and leave O'Brien no choice but to report them and get them arrested. By this supposition, as soon as he saw them together in his apartment, O'Brien thought something like: "The bloody fools, I should have thought of this! Of course, now they will have to go, nothing to it" - with his face, of course, betraying nothing of this.

Anyway, whichever of these versions is chosen, obviously O'Brien already knows well what is to come. When Julia bursts out, refusing to be separated forever from Winston, O'Brien tells her that after separation she would see him again but that he would turn out to be a different person and so would she - which is precisely what does happen in the end of the book. (Of course, his knowing what is going to happen also fits in with the more "orthodox" reading that O'Brien is a Thought Police officer and agent provocateur pure and simple, and the entire scene in his apartment is nothing but a trap).

Anyway, once they are arrested and O'Brien sets out to methodically torture and break Winston, (and perhaps Julia too, or he might have entrusted that to an underling) exactly as a conscientious senior member of the Thought Police should, knowing that by securing his position in the Thought Police he is making himself more useful to the Brotherhood which has his true allegiance. (And one must not forget doublethink. Whatever his true allegiance, O'Brien is as manifestly a capable practitioner of that dark art).

This assumption would, by the way, explain the timing of Winston and Julia's arrest. According to O'Brien, once you have read Goldstein's book you become a full-fledged member of the Brotherhood. Therefore, by having the two arrested before they read and digested more than fragments of it, the Brotherhood is not losing full members but mere "candidates".

This theory, in my view, is not contradicted by anything in "1984" and it would go someway towards explaining what otherwise seems strange and exasperating - why does Winston continue to trust O'Brien and regard him as a kind of father-figure even while being tortured by him. And there is the fact that O'Brien answers in full all of Winston's questions, revealing all the inner workings of the regime - except for the question on whether the Brotherhood does or does not truly exist. Why shouldn't he answer that? If his purpose is truly to break Winston and leave him not the slightest ray of hope, wouldn't that be served better by saying "Poor deluded fool, of course the Party controls the Brotherhood like it controls everything else!". Refusing to answer and leaving open the possibility that the Brotherhood does exist might be the most which O'Brien as a genuine Brotherhood member could give Winston, and it might be that he was taking a considerable risk even so - and it might be that Winston, in the final mental rebellion in the last few seconds of his life, would dredge up the memory and exhult in the possibility that the Brotherhood does exist and that it may still one day win. ~ Adam Keller

Greetings Adam,

You say you have just recently encountered my website but you make no mention of your two previous emails where you surmised that there was no metaphorical ending in "1984". In my answers to you I proved that there were metaphorical and metaphysical aspects. I included definitions for the words "metaphor" and "metaphysics" at the end of my response so that there wouldn't be any misunderstanding of terms.


Now to your latest email. As I understand it you are saying that O'Brien was a good guy who really was a member of The Brotherhood that Winston was searching for and that O'Brien was only pretending to be a member of the Inner Party and only tortured Winston so as not to give himself away because he needed to get higher in Big Brother's favour so that he could do good once he got to the top. So the bad he was doing now was so that he could do good later. I think that's what you're saying. And you conclude by saying that the reason O'Brien didn't say "No" to Winston's question about the existence of The Brotherhood is because he was trying to secretly convey to Winston that there WAS a Brotherhood to give Winston hope and strength to carry on.

Your interpretation, as you say, has never been brought up on the website before because probably no one else has ever considered O'Brien a good guy working for a good cause doing evil for a good reason. But it makes for an interesting discussion and I've written my response in an essay entitlted O'BRIEN'S A BIG BROTHER HOOD.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

PS - I disagree with you that Orwell had Winston Churchill in mind when he chose the name "Winston" as the hero of "1984" (the spokesperson of the average man). Orwell didn't like Winston Churchill for reasons that are explained in my essay ORWELL ANTI-LEFT & RIGHT.

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com