Friday, 7 November 2008

The Gift of O Brien

A subtext of the great book is that Winston, despite his love for Julia, and his endemic thoughtcrime, is in some way in love with O Brien. The brutal, fleshy monster seems to be a kind of father figure. In a way of course, he is. O Brien is a teacher, not just of facts, or even of modes of thought, but of life. Without O Brien's instruction, Winston can have no life at all. He is completely dependent on the Inner Party fuckhead for his entire worldview - with the emphasis on "view", for Winston, weakened by torture and the demonstration of the fallibility of reality, has nothing to cling on to at all, not sight, not thought, not Party - only the avuncular evil of the man who wishes to save through total control. Through this dependence - which is a dependence of living, an instinct like that of the warrior in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, faced with the chopping block - he comes to see O Brien as a more or less positive force, even as he decries and hates the aims of the Party ("pure power...what we mean by pure power you will understand presently").

O Brien's gift is the perversion of love. The manipulation of the most human of feelings for the ends of power. O Brien knows how to create love: you begin with some kind of admiration (built of fear, and intimidation, and mystery), then you leave little traces (glances and looks), then you strike, and you show your quarry that you are the desired object: unobtainable, mysterious, promising, caring of you, as an individual.

Of course, Winston should have spotted this straight away: that the indicators of love from an Inner Party member suggested his own death. Instead he sublimated them into dreams and fantasies ("We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness"), from where O Brien was only too happy to use his feelings. As Julia points out, it was obvious from his face: " soon as I saw you I knew you were against them").

O Brien needs Winston's love to make the emptying of his soul possible. Although he calls Winston "a difficult case", this is only true insofar as the ideology of Ingsoc is hateful to Winston. O Brien is not, could never be: so all it takes is a little torture, and the assurance of love, which O Brien knows Winston lost when his mother disappeared, never had with Katharine, and has only just found illegimately with Julia.

Winston, if the truth be told, is an easy case: he can love BB very easily, because he loves O Brien. His love for O Brien is what makes the final scene ("He loved Big Brother") possible: and indeed, it is not BB he loves, but O Brien. His mentor, his confidant, his torturer, his saviour.

We always love those who destroy us.

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