Orwell’s novel 1984 contains many masterfully woven characters who all play integral roles in the story. O’Brien is probably Orwell’s most complex and puzzeling character, and he makes the novel more interesting and meaningful. “O’Brien is both [Winston’s] destroyer and his savior”; he reaches out to Winston and almost befriends him, only to torture and brainwash him in the end. It is puzzeling however, that Winston’s respect for O’Brien never seems to waver, even in spite of the long hours of pain and torture. Winston’s relationship with O’Brien is a useful tool in describing, and explains O’Brien’s complex duality. Winston’s connection with O’Brien is strong, and one might even go so far as to call it an intimacy.
O’Brien seems to have an irresistible pull on Winston, and he appears highly intelligent and very physically capable. Winston senses a “political unorthodoxy” about O’Brien, or “simply intelligence” (Orwell 13). Through the eyes of Winston, O’Brien appears “as a person that you could talk to” (Orwell 13). This is exactly the type of hand that O’Brien is trying to play.
He needs to befriend Winston in order to reform him and cure him of his “insanity.” O’Brien is the ideal party member; he is strong, and he has an aura of trustworthiness about him which is ideal for catching criminals of thought crime. His devout love for and the government of Ingsoc itself makes him dangerous. Winston catches himself writing in his diary “With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien,” O’Brien has become his savior, his only escape (Orwell 68). O’Brien uses his intelligence to befriend Winston and gain his trust, by making an allusion to an abolished Party member which .”.. must obviously have been intended as a signal, a code word. By sharing a small act of thought crime he had turned the two of them into accomplices” (Orwell 130).
In this way, O’Brien uses his charm to gain Winston’s utter trust, and he his now in the position of power. Winston agrees to go to O’Brien’s house under the pretense of picking up a new version fo the Newspeak dictionary, when in reality he and Julia are there to confess their thought crimes and seek guidance from O’Brien. O’Brien turns off the omnipresent tele screen, and he, Julia and Winston are alone. O’Brien’s cunning further gains Winston’s trust and Winston no longer fears confessing his ‘sins’ to O’Brien. O’Brien learns the degree of Winston’s thought crime by interrogation him under the false guise of being a member of the infamous ‘Brotherhood’; an underground movement bent on overthrowing Big Brother. O’Brien asks them: “You are prepared to give your lives…
to commit murder… to commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people”, and to all of these questions Winston replies “Yes” (Orwell 142). O’Brien is extremely Machiavellian in allowing Winston to implicate himself, and this shows not only the stratagem of O’Brien, but of Ingsoc as well. One very curious aspect of O’Brien’s relationship with Winston is that he can be apprehend Winston at any moment in time, yet he chooses to wait, and postpone the inevitable. Either O’Brien is very cautious with his judgements of thought criminals, or he has likewise grown attached to Winston. Whatever the case, Julia and Winston are arrested a few days later, but not before O’Brien gives Winston a book explaining the ideology of the Party and Big Brother, further complicating Winston’s relationship with him.
Winston is apprehended and brought to Oceania’s jailhouse, which is referred to as Ministry of Truth by the country’s natives. There he waits to die, either by his own hands, or a firing squad. Surprisingly enough, Winston’s cell door opens and he is confronted by the big black boots of O’Brien. “‘They ” ve got you too!” he cried.
‘They got me a long time ago,’ said O’Brien with a mild, almost regretful irony” (Orwell 197). This brief conversation reveals that O’Brein may have been in exactly the same shoes as Winston many years before. This explains the connection O’Brien seems to have with Winston. O’Brien knows what it is like to be an enemy of the state, and he may have been re-educated himself at one time. O’Brien takes Winston into a room where Winston is forced to lie on his back attached to a strange machine which causes horrible pain when he fails to answer O’Brien’s questions correctly. In this way O’Brien has become Winston’s destroyer: he breaks down everything Winston thinks is sacred such as reality and the past, and replaces it with government approved delusions meant to control Winston and reduce him to a weak and incoherent believer of Big Brother.
Despite all this, Winston still sees O’Brien as a reverent being: “He was the protector, he was the inquisitor, he was the friend” (Orwell 201). Furthermore, O’Brien explains in great detail the procedure of re-education. He takes unnecessary great pains to in from Winston on the procedure, and even the motives behind Winston’s cure. O’Brien tells Winston “I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me. It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.
Before we bring this session to an end you can ask me a few questions, if you choose” (Orwell 213). O’Brien is the admired villain; compassionate, but at the same time brutal. He finally forces Winston to believe, and subsequently love Big Brother and the Party. Winston is saved from his own “insanity.” O’Brien’s complex personality is explored through his relationship with Winston.
He seems to exhibit an intense intelligence that contrasts that of other party members. He appreciates Winston’s revolt in an odd sense, somehting like a teacher impressed with a clever insult from one of her students. He thinks, and does not just repeat Party slogans, which elicits an almost perverse respect from his readers. The ingenuity of the Party is appreciated through O’Brien, and he completes the picture of life in Oceania that Winston cannot..