In George Orwell's novel 1984, why would Winston, a seemingly good man, be willing to do terrible things in the name of the Brotherhood?
For this question, consider the scene when Julia and Winston join the Brotherhood.
In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Winston and Julia decide to join The Brotherhood, an organization supposedly intended to overthrow the rule of The Party. The Party controls, with an iron fist, the society in which Winston and Julia live. Their hatred of the Party is so great that when they try to join the Brotherhood, they seem willing to promise to do almost anything the organization asks of them.
At one point, for instance, O’Brien asks Winston a series of questions and Winston replies. Part of the conversation goes as follows:
‘You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases — to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?’
‘If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face — are you prepared to do that?’
This is only a brief excerpt from the conversation, but it shows the lengths to which Winston is willing to go to show his loyalty to the Brotherhood and to oppose the Party. Winston’s willingness to commit himself to such behavior can be explained in a number of ways, including the following:
- His hatred of the Party is so great that he is willing to do almost anything (except to separate forever from Julia) to defeat the Party. His hatred of the Party is the result of years of intimidation and oppression, not only of himself but of almost everyone in his society.
- Winston may feel that it is only by overthrowing the Party that he can hope to achieve a society in which millions and millions are people are finally free. In other words, he may be thinking as a utilitarian. Utilitarians believe that moral behavior is the kind of behavior that produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
- Since it is difficult to believe that Winston actually would act as he here claims he would, he may be saying almost anything he thinks he needs to say to convince The Brotherhood of his commitment.
Winston’s professions of loyalty to his cause resemble those of many modern terrorists, who seem willing to do almost anything to promote the causes in which they believe. By terrorizing the citizens of powerful countries, terrorists often believe that they are promoting justice for the oppressed (clearly one of Winston’s own motives). However, many modern terrorists also believe that their behavior will be rewarded by God in the afterlife – a motivation Winston lacks. They also sometimes believe that any suffering inflicted on their enemies in this life will be compensated by heavenly rewards in the afterlife.