1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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What kind of psychological degradation does O'Brien use on Winston in 1984?

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O’Brien’s psychological attacks on Winston Smith begin when he manipulates Winston into believing that he is a member of the Brotherhood rather than a committed member of the Inner Party. Luring Winston into revealing his secret hideout at the pawnshop, O’Brien sets up the surveillance that helps capture both Winston and Julia. Once Winston is imprisoned in the Ministry of Love, within Winston’s torture, O’Brien’s psychological abuse complement the physical attacks inflicted on him. O’Brien first undermines Winston’s self-confidence by insisting that Winston had actually known that O’Brien was a staunch loyalist. By having his taunts matched with the guard’s blows, he makes Winston associate O’Brien’s presence with fear of physical assault and the related pain.

As the torture progresses, between the beatings and the drugs, Winston is often fuzzy, so he strongly suspects but cannot be sure that O’Brien was directing the interrogation. When he gains enough consciousness to fully understand his situation, he finds himself strapped to a device that could break his back. O’Brien ruthlessly reminds him of his vulnerable position and plays mind games with his memory. He twists the facts one way and then the other so that Winston cannot be sure if any of his memories are of events that ever occurred. By making Winston question reality itself, he makes the man into his own worst enemy.

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