In Orwell's 1984, O'Brien knows well that Julia and Winston are enemies of the Party when they come to his house to pledge their allegiance to the Brotherhood. Why doesn't he immediately arrest them then? In the novel itself, there's quite a gap between the actual arrest and the original meeting between Winston and O'Brien.

  • You have some reason to believe arresting Smith was an urgent matter? Like Smith was a mortal danger to the Party's rule and had to be stopped before it was too late? Or maybe O'Brien had so many dissidents to deal with that he had to deal with each one promptly so as not to get behind? My impression is that O'Brien had so little work to do that he milked each case all he could.
    – user14111
    Jul 30, 2022 at 22:32

3 Answers 3


Most likely he wanted to crush Winston's spirit. Look at it this way:

  • Winston has an affair with Julia.

  • He begins to think there's a chance of a successful rebellion.

  • He's finally feeling good about life.

And BOOM! all his dreams are crushed when he's arrested, especially knowing that he was observed. The Party doesn't just want to stop him, they want to crush his spirits also.

From the book:

Winston shrank back upon the bed. Whatever he said, the swift answer crushed him like a bludgeon.

He could also have been seeing if Winston and/or Julia would lead him (O'Brien) to more traitors, to stop them also.

  • 2
    He might also have been waiting to see if Winston could find any other traitors for them to catch, but given his focus on breaking Winston and Julia later, his primary objective probably was exactly this.
    – Gaurav
    Jan 19, 2017 at 1:22
  • @Gaurav true, I'll add that.
    – user72
    Jan 19, 2017 at 1:22
  • How does that quote support your answer? It's not even given in context, so it's a bit hard to tell.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:24
  • @Randal'Thor by the "swift answer crushed him" part.
    – user72
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:25
  • Yes, he was obviously crushed by being captured, tortured, etc. But how does that support your argument that crushing his spirit was a primary objective of the Party?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:27

As well as Riker's answer, which focuses on why O'Brien would wait so long from the point of view of crushing Winston specifically, there's also a different motivation which applies regardless of whether a personal victory over Winston is really seen as an important goal.

It's common practice, for an intelligence officer who's detected one or two possible targets to entrap, not to detain them immediately but to wait and observe them in case they lead him to more subversives. Why stop at a single rogue element if you might be able to catch a whole nest of them? Knowledge of a single person's rebelliousness is an asset, but only as long as that person doesn't know you know: as soon as you capture them, they become nothing but another imprisoned soul, and no use in helping you to find more.

(This answer is partly inspired by DVK's answer to the related question Why doesn't Mr. Charrington turn Winston in earlier? on another SE site.)


I think if Winston and Julia had not slept in, O'Brien would of watched Winston a lot longer. Winston was O'Brien's project. I think in a strange way O'Brien was totally fascinated by Winston.

  • 3
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    Jul 29, 2022 at 17:00

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