[personal profile] wingedbeast
Trigger Warning/Content Note: There will be discussion of torture. I won't go into detail and Orwell does more telling than showing, here (which actually works out well for readability sake). But, still, here it is.

The good news is that we're working our way to the end. After I finish off with 1984, I'll move onto Brave New World. To my recollection, there won't be torture, there. But, for the rest of 1984, the topic is going to be there and whatever you choose to do for your own sanity, including just waiting until the next book, is entirely the right choice for you.

One note from the previous chapter. Criminals don't get this treatment. Thieves, murderers, mobsters, etc., had friendly relations with the guards, a relaxed attitude, and the knowledge that they were likely slated for managerial position in the work-camps. They're not going to be tortured.

That says something about the intended purpose of what Winston's about to go through.

The torture starts out standard. There are beatings and there are confessions and it really doesn't matter if he confesses, he still gets beaten. There's a transition from beatings to the threat thereof, from brutality to Party intellectuals to, eventually, O'Brien.

'Don't worry, Winston; you are in my keeping. For seven years I have watched over you. Now the turning-point has come. I shall save you, I shall make you perfect.'


That's O'Brien verifying that this has been the fate set out for Winston since long before he ever took any action that could be criminal. O'Brien verifies that he did, in fact, say, to Winston, "We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness."

I'm going to skip over a bit, here. O'Brien uses some dials on a standard, sci-fi pain-machine to torture Winston and compel him to respond. One vital difference comes that, at first, O'Brien uses pain to compel honesty, but not necessarily the "correct" answer.

The important part is the rhetoric.

'I am taking trouble with you, Winston,' he said, 'because you are worth trouble. You know perfectly well what is the matter with you. You have known it for years, though you have fought against the knowledge. You are mentally deranged. You suffer from a defective memory. You are unable to remember real evens, and you persuade yourself that you remember other events which never happened. Fortunately it is cureable.


Said like that, it's almost imaginable that Winston really was delusional all this time. Of course, that eliminates a lot of context, such as that Oceana has not always been at war with Eastasia. But, you could believe that O'Brien believes it until he goes just far enough to make sure that you know that he's abandoning the concept of truth altogether.

An oblong slip of newspaper had appeared between O'Brien's fingers. For perhaps five seconds it was within the angle of Winston's vision. It was a photograph, and there was no question of its identity. It was the photograph. It was another copy of the photograph of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford at the Party function in New York, which he had chanced upon eleven years ago and promptly destroyed. For only an instant it was before his eyes, then it was out of sight again. But he had seen it, unquestionably he had seen it! He made a desperate, agonizing effort to wrench the top half of his body free. It was impossible to move so much as a centimetre in any direction. For the moment he had even forgotten the dial. All he wanted wad to hold the photograph in his fingers again, or at least to see it.

'It exists!' he cried.

'No,' said O'Brien.

he stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O'Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O'Brien turned away from the wall.

'Ashes,' he said. 'Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'

'But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.'

'I do not remember it,' said O'Brien.


This is an explicit example of doublethink in action. It's also an explicit example of mental torture. It's also an explicit example of why the Party can never accomplish what its stated goals.

We get another bit of torture, this time focused on whether or not O'Brien is holding up four fingers. O'Brien holds up four and insists there are five. Some among the readers (that I imagine I have so many of) may remember this for the influence it had on a... disturbingly affecting episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard, despite going through so much, finds himself freed and ready to give one final act of defiance. "There are four lights.

Later, he confesses to Troi, the ship's counselor, that in that moment, before he was rescued, he actually saw five lights.

Winston, for his efforts, reaches a point where he honestly doesn't know.

The point of this, and I think Orwell expects us to believe O'Brien when he says this is the point and that this is achievable, is to force Winston to not just comply, but believe and agree and love Big Brother.

Much like with The Book, O'Brien gives us a bit of a history lesson. The church burning heretics at the stake created martyrs. So, the Russians, rather than leaving anybody their dignity, set first to destroy the dignity of their victims, so as to leave no martyrs. (Orwell may not be fully aware of Christian history, here.) The Party (and their counterparts in the other three nations we must imagine) instead choose to compel Winston to love the Party, love Big Brother, obey of his own free will.

That this is an internal contradiction is only part of why this can't work. You can't compel someone's free will. If you do, it's compelled will at best.

But, there's another issue at hand.

Though the book will have Winston die the moment he finally achieves loving Big Brother, there's no way for The Party to know when that's achieved. In fact, The Party has ensured that it can't know that it's achieved success because nobody will admit when they haven't.

For the stated goal, all this torture is useless.

We also know, from the people who know this best, that torture is useless in getting actionable intelligence out of a subject. It can be useful in attaining false-confessions, but that's not why they're doing this.

There is one thing that torture is very good at accomplishing. It's the same thing that the death penalty accomplishes and why there's that bad question I referenced way back toward the beginning of this blog*.

It's really good at making you feel and look like you're doing something. Having been working for a while, I realize that, sometimes, you have to sacrifice actually accomplishing something accomplishable in order to look like you're working towards the impossible.

Still, I suppose there's perfect success and there's good enough. If you shoot for breaking a person so completely that they believe whatever you want them to believe and they merely act it out, there's that old phrase, "good enough for government work".

* http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/2791.html

Free will?

Date: 2017-08-08 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm not sure how free will applies with what the Party seeks from Winston. I had always read this section of the book as plain old brainwashing, and that the Party has some way of determining that this succeeds and that its victims do indeed love Big Brother. In fact, Winston at the end resembles someone who has just been through a religious conversion.

Re: Free will?

Date: 2017-08-08 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The sequence at the end was always a little confusing for me. Orwell appeared to condense events that might have been spread over months or perhaps years. I read it as Winston coming to love Big Brother and then making public confessions, and being shot some time after that. Some readers apparently see his death as metaphorical and not physical, but that seems like a stretch.

Do you mean that mental health experts say that true brainwashing isn't possible? I think it's still reasonable in a fictional context to postulate some leap in technology or technique that would make it possible - there's a hell of a lot about the brain that we don't know. While the Party does indeed want Winston's free will, the outcome of the torture appears to give him the illusion of free will.

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