1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

1984 book cover
Start Your Free Trial

In 1984, how does O'Brien exhibit doublethink throughout Winston's ordeal?

Expert Answers info

Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,868 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Winston's torture and "reintegration" at the hands of O'Brien in the depths of Miniluv is the most harrowing passage in 1984. This is not just because of the physical torment that Winston experiences, but also because of the chilling way in which O'Brien demonstrates the power of the Party, power which transcends ideology. He demonstrates the principle of doublethink by first getting Winston to say that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, though Winston previously believed that it had been at war with Eurasia. He tells Winston that he has "created a legend about three men [Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford] who had been condemned to death for treachery" (257). He tells him that these men never existed, and the piece of paper that Winston saw indicating their innocence was also a fabrication. He even gets Winston to say that he is holding up five fingers, although his thumb is clearly concealed. When Winston asks him if Big Brother exists in the same way he (Winston) exists, O'Brien curtly tells Winston that he does not exist. Later, he even asserts that the earth did not exist before the Party, because the Party invents reality:

When we navigate the ocean, or when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes round the sun and that the stars are millions upon millions of kilometers away. But what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink (266)?

Even before he is taken to Room 101, he has begun to embrace the self-contradictory ideas O'Brien has presented him with. He writes that two and two make five in a journal and that freedom is slavery. He comes to the conclusion that "[a]ll happenings are in the mind," the most important precondition for doublethink. Winston earlier wrote in his diary that freedom consisted of the ability to say that "two plus two equals four." The opposite of this freedom is doublethink, as O'Brien clearly demonstrates during Winston's ordeal.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write2,306 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Doublethink is the practice of accepting two opposing ideas at the same time. In 1984, we see this clearly during Winston's ordeal in the Ministry of Love. In Part Three, Chapter Two, O'Brien exhibits doublethink when he burns a photograph of Jones, Aaron, and Rutherford, three Party members accused and found guilty of treachery (among other crimes) but later pardoned. (Winston discusses these men in Part One, Chapter Seven, and the photograph is important because it proves that they could not have committed such crimes.) By possessing a copy of this photograph, then, O'Brien acknowledges the innocence of these men, but he then incinerates the photograph in a memory hole and tells Winston that it "does not exist." Winston wonders if O'Brien is lying but then realizes O'Brien may actually not remember the photograph ever existed:

If he could have been certain that O’Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter. But it was perfectly possible that O’Brien had really forgotten the photograph. 

O'Brien, therefore, becomes a living example of doublethink because he first accepts the existence of the photograph and then promptly forgets it. This also provides a stark reminder of the Party's power: it is so powerful that it can distort reality and make anyone, even O'Brien, believe its version of the truth.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial