George Orwell – 1984 – O’Brien and the intelligence to survive in the worst possible situation

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Some books are supposed to be read more than once. Multiple reading is like the wine. When drinking a glass of good wine or when reading a book for the second-third time you can better detect new colors and shades and complex ideas.

Almost invariably, when I get a good book I cannot help myself not to read it again (and again). In most cases the second-third reading is happening after two or three years after the initial one. Looked at from this new standpoint, the book reveals new details, new interesting aspects. Needless to say, a second-third reading always is more rewarding than the first one. Obviously, the second-third reading is a genuine proof that you are holding a valuable book in your hand. It means that the book has much more to offer you than you can get from one reading. That was the case with the George Orwell’s 1984.

I read George Orwell’s 1984 three times. And this time my attention was drawn to O’Brien. For a variety of reasons, this character is as important as Winston for expressing the author’s ideas on a political system which intends final and total control of human life. O’Brien is an intelligent person. He is even more intelligent than Winston. And Winston respects him for this. O’Brien is “a person who could be talk to”. And Winston desperately wants to have a conversation with him. He needs this dialogue in order to feel himself a person, an individual. And this is because it is vital for an individual to have contact with other people. Especially when you feel that you have something in common with such persons, and when you are deeply confident that there is always something valuable in talking to a person more intelligent than yourself.

O’Brien is intelligent. In spite of this, he is a lunatic. He is a survival expert. Living in a world in which freedom is impossible, in which living as an individual is impossible, in which thinking on your own is impossible, O’Brien simply understands that there are only two possible solutions: to revolt against the system (that is to commit suicide) or to be a lunatic. He succeeds in surviving in the worst possible situation. For O’Brien, the survival expert, to be lunatic means to imagine that you can live a normal life, not to give up your pride, to search for love and friendship, to believe in truth and reality. For O’Brien it is insane to think that 2 + 2 = 4 when the political system decided that 2 + 2 = 5. Living in an illogical world, it is illogical to think that something is illogical, this is how O’Brien thinks. For an intelligent person as O’Brien, the only logical thing is to search for power and to give up everything else.

O’Brien understands that freedom is impossible. And he uses all his intellectual powers to gain something in return for losing his freedom and individuality. He chooses power instead. I believe this is one of the most interesting parts of Orwell’s book (I come to this conclusion only now, when I am reading this novel for the third time). It is the paragraph about the relation between power and the dissolution of our identity and individuality.

It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated.

At the end of the day, we can only take pity on O’Brien for choosing power.