We dive into the pensieve, as Winston turns his mind back to a childhood defined by hunger.
INTERIOR: SAD ROOM
His father has disappeared, and with him the last puff of spirit left in Winston’s mother. His sister is a starved child whose face looks “simian” and who clings to her mother “with both hands, exactly like a baby monkey.”
> Look, I’ll drink the VICTORY™ gin if I it means I don’t have to become any sadder about the destitute fictional past of Winston’s family.
After the chocolate ration is again reduced, Winston’s mother offers him more than half of the sad little block, taking none for herself and leaving a third for his sister, but he whines and rages until he gets three-quarters. His starving sister receives a tiny nub, staring at it “perhaps not knowing what it was.” Feeling more Gollum than Smeagol right at that moment, Winston snatches the piece from her hands and flees the apartment in guilt, never to see his family again. When he returns, they have disappeared—whether to a labor camp or prison or a grave, he will never know.
Take a moment to conjure up something dickish you did as a child—I’ll play along: I once pushed my sister so high on the swing that the chain buckled and smacked her in the forehead, leaving behind a great, walloping, purple egg, and so I ran away, leaving her crying in the park. I don’t feel good about my performance in this episode, although in my defense the intent wasn’t to hurt her on purpose, and she *did* once throw a toy iron at my head. Anyway.
Now imagine that this terrible, stupid, selfish thing you did as a child is the last memory you hold of your family, who perished in the near-immediate aftermath. Do you see why Winston needs to get this off his chest?
He relates his devastating story to Julia, who can’t even be bothered to open her eyes to deliver her response:
“I expect you were a beastly little swine in those days,” she said indistinctly. “All children are swine.”
I’m giving Julia a sensitivity rating of “Ben Affleck.”
Winston and Julia then have a chat about the inevitable moment when they are caught and must confess, or be tortured, or both. Julia feels pretty nbd about it, and this gives Winston heart, for he realizes that inside the Ministry of Love (/s) they can torture him, they can strip him of his $160 beaded morse-code necklace, but he has a song in his heart and they can never take that away:
“But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings… the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.”
*hasty set change for mighty juxtaposition*
We are at O’Brien’s! The carpet is a dark blue that gives the impression of velvet, the walls are “cream-papered,” and O’Brien is at the far end of the room working by a green lamp at a desk, not bothering to look up, because he is super low-key. The aesthetic is: opulent bank-slash-Meet Joe Black; servants in white coats bustle about, including “a small, dark-haired man in a white jacket, with a diamond-shaped, completely expressionless face which might have been that of a Chinese.” Jesus, George.
Winston has brought Julia (way to be cool, man), and he’s nervous about being here, even without O’Brien’s inscrutability. There, standing like a dolt in this luxe Inner-Party room, wondering if he misunderstood O’Brien’s message, it’s very
Finally, O’Brien arises and walks soundlessly toward him, reaching out to snap a switch on the telescreen.
Winston: *high-pitched squeal of helium escaping from a balloon*
O’Brien: We can turn it off. We have that privilege.
Things are still a little awkward, if not as awkward as the time I turned up to America to find the guy I lost 20 pounds and bleached my hair for had acquired a girlfriend in the off-season. No one is entirely sure what to say, so Winston goes for it:
“We want to join the rebellion. We’ve been bunking about naked in an antiques shop for weeks, and also had sex in the bushes on a different occasion. We are generally criminal. I have latent guilt about stealing some chocolate as a child, and my body is a bit of a shambles, like a real hard 39, but Julia’s here is as gleaming as a piece of sea glass, even if I sometimes worry her neocortex could use a few more folds. I sing bits of old folk songs in my head, think often about pushing my ex-wife off a cliff, and once paid money to lie with a toothless prostitute in ProleTown. Please let us know how we can serve the Brotherhood.”
(For the purposes of your essays, this is the official text:
“We believe that there is some kind of conspiracy, some kind of secret organization working against the Party, and that you are involved in it. We want to join it and work for it. We are enemies of the Party. We disbelieve in the principles of Ingsoc. We are thought-criminals. We are also adulterers.” )
O’Brien, for all his inscrutability, is impressed, and has his servant, the elusively Mongolian “Martin,” pour them all a drink of wine.
Slowly, surely, O’Brien opens up about the Brotherhood, telling Winston and Julia that the Brotherhood certainly and definitely does exist, but that they will never know too much about it, for they surely and inevitably will be caught by the Thought Police and reduced to a synapse (metaphorically speaking). This being an agreeable state of affairs, he asks them to make a pledge:
‘You are prepared to give your lives?’
‘You are prepared to commit murder?’
‘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 likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?’
O’Brien is really leaning on the “lesser of two evils” argument here, in his pursuit of a zero-sum game in which everyone winds up with venereal disease, and Winston and Julia are generally “kk” about it. O’Brien continues:
‘You are prepared, the two of you, to separate and never see one another again?’
‘No!’ broke in Julia.
After a dramatic pause, Winston agrees. I think this basically constitutes a civil marriage. “You did well to tell me,” says O’Brien, who then scrawls down “no separate murder assignments” in his ledger. (I’m assuming.)
O’Brien gives everyone a cigarette and offers further tantalizing details about life as a dissident (“you may (a) be disappeared and/or (b) given plastic surgery to alter your appearance, (i) including but not limited to amputations if that’s what we’re into”) and then weaves some more smoke into the air: “You will have to get used to living without results and without hope. You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die. On the upside, I’m going to get you a copy of Goldstein’s book.”
They drink a toast before Julia is dispatched to the night, and O’Brien outlines the plan for getting Winston the book. There is a trifle more talk of the hopelessness of the venture, and then O’Brien asks Winston if he has any more questions. Winston, faced with a pockmarked lunarscape of information voids about the Brotherhood, asks, “Did you ever happen to hear an old rhyme that begins, ‘Oranges and lemons,’ say the bells of St Clement’s?”
Imagine that, faced with the opportunity to find out if Beyonce really faked her first pregnancy, or whether Justin Bieber is in fact a forty-year-old with terrible decision-making skills and incredible skin, you instead asked the one person in the world who might know, “Say, do you remember the lyrics of the second verse from Gaston?”
O’Brien knows the end of the rhyme, but that’s really beside the point. The big question is: come Armageddon, will Winston still have one good arm to hold Julia with?
I predict that Goldstein’s book will need its own SparkNote.
2. Working for the Brotherhood sounds 0.01% more appealing than just cranking out press releases for Big Brother.
3. Here is your actual, real taste of 1984 for the week: