Given that O'Brien shows a high level of awareness of the Party's deceptiveness and malice (e.g. the fact that he admitted to being involved in creating and promoting the Goldstein myth), to what extent does he actually believe in the system himself? Why wasn't he considered a thought criminal? Or were Inner Party members not actually expected to conform to the party's beliefs to the same extent that Outer Party members were as long as everyone else was convinced that they did? Or is he practicing some form of doublethink?

By way of example, he said in chapter 3:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing.

I suppose that a closely related question is whether the telescreen in his house actually worked and whether he could actually turn it off. If it worked, who was monitoring him, and what were they actually monitoring?

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    Because all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Great question!
    – Gaurav
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 20:44
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    @Gaurav So maybe O'Brien is a lot more equal than Outer Party members? ;) Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


One of the primary ways that the Party differs from other dictatorships is that they know full well what they are doing (seeking power for its own sake), so it's perfectly natural that O'Brien would be aware of it. In a sense, the fact that he accepts that is evidence that he's not a thought criminal, and him refusing to accept that would be thoughtcrime.

So, the Party's actual philosophy was a lot different than what it projected to others (big surprise). That being said, O'Brien did, in fact, believe the Party's philosophy - it's just that agreeing with the system means that he agreed with the Party pursuing power for its own sake.

With regards to the telescreen issue, it's worth noting that conversations held while the telescreen was supposedly off were still recorded. (It's not known if that was because the telescreen was on the whole time or if O'Brien was simply using a different recording device).

The book tells us very little about other members of the Inner Party or the specifics of its internal governance structure, so it's a little unclear whether Inner Party members would still be watched by the Thought Police or by other Inner Party members. We do know that the Inner Party is structured as an oligarchy, and that it's very debatable whether Big Brother actually exists or not; these facts at least suggest a relatively flat power structure, but the point isn't directly provable from the books. So, again, it's not clear exactly what the actual mechanism would be to hold another Inner Party member accountable for thought crime would be (especially if there's not actually a central "leader," so to speak).

It's also worth noting that O'Brien insists that the Party declaring something to be true could quite literally make it true; given that he appeared to be truthful about the Party's philosophy in other places, it's safe to assume that he actually believed this himself. This belief is related to - but definitely different than - solipsism. The Party wants to rewrite the past? Well, the past only exists in peoples' memories and in written records, and the Party controls both. The Party says that 2 + 2 = 5? Well, it's true because they claimed it is.

Presumably that belief would entail some kind of doublethink on his part.

So, O'Brien's fully aware of the Party's malice and also believes that the Party can literally control truth. And yes, as @Gaurav pointed out in the comments, "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

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    "One of the primary ways that the Party differs from other dictatorships is that they know full well what they are doing (seeking power for its own sake)" - how is this a difference? Surely in most dictatorships at least someone at the top level is lucid enough to know exactly what they're doing.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 16:12
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    @Randal'Thor That's true - they generally at least pretend to be acting in the public good, though (e.g. Stalin, Mao, etc. who at least had an ideology they used to justify their government). Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:26
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    So do real-life dictatorships, in public. I'm sure Stalin and Mao had more lucid insight into what was really going on than they portrayed in their ideology.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:58
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    @Randal'Thor It's hard to say for sure, actually. I assumed that they would at least tell themselves that they were doing what they did for the purpose of promoting their ideology and/or for the public good, but I'm not sure about that now that you mention it. I suspect that they have to tell themselves something to rationalize what they're doing (unless they're sociopaths and don't care).Either way, I kind of doubt that they'd be nearly that candid even in private (even if they were fully aware of their true motivation). I think that the lack of any pretense at all really is unique to them. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:02

O'Brien is the party, he is the one who creates the reality for others. He is a member of the "Inner Party" and the one who creates the illusion; O'Brien is the one in charge of everything and controlling society, and he is the one that labels thought criminals so.

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    Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. You write "O'Brien is the party" and that he is a member of the Inner Party; these are two different statements. Also "O'Brien is the one in charge of everything" looks like an overstatement. You can significantly improve your answer by adding quotes that back up your statements.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 16:40

I had the theory that when O'Brien revealed he trolled Winston, he was a prisoner of the thought police who was used to attract thought criminals. He mentions he wrote the manifesto and that " “They got me long ago.” He seems to understand thought crime way too intimately for someone who is blindly loyal to the party.

What if the thought police convert people just like they did with Winston? It is strange that they never killed Winston but instead exhausted resources to convert him. I think the party prefers to convert as somebody who knows thoughtcrime can be used as a dangerous weapon. What if Obrien climbed through the ranks after his conversion as the party completely cured his insanity? He would no longer be a threat as his will was broken. So he was given all the rights of an inner party member.

Maybe that also explains how Winston trusted him based on intuition alone. Because at the time he was or had been a thought criminal.

I think it would have been cool to learn more about O'Brien but the majority of the fun comes from not knowing who he is.

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    There's an adverb attached to O'Brien's statement when he says "They got me long ago." He was never in contradiction with the Party; he was not one who committed thoughtcrimes. "They got me long ago" is sarcasm.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 19:58
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    @cmw There's various interpretations of that line, and a whole other question here devoted to it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 6:42
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    @Randal'Thor Yes, there are various interpretations that miss the word "irony" or else do not understand what the word actually means. But since nearly every American high schooler will read this book, it attracts a lot of sloppy analysis.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 13:05
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    You'll notice too that I commented on that thread back when it was last bumped.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 13:06
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    @Randal'Thor If you received a sudden +10 rep from that post last time it was bumped, that was also me. It's a basic analysis, and really it's a combination of your 2nd and 3rd option, but reading it straight with this glaring word right in the sentence is untenable.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 13:10

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