How was it that O'Brien could read Winston's mind so well in 1984? Is it possible the Party had a mind reading device?


3 Answers 3


No, there are no mind-reading devices in 1984. There are, however a few really good reasons why O'Brien can 'read' Winston so well.

O'Brien and the State have been observing Winston for years through the viewscreens;

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.' He was not sure whether it was O'Brien's voice; but it was the same voice that had said to him, 'We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness,' in that other dream, seven years ago.

O'Brien has enormous experience interrogating and intimidating people;

There was no idea that he had ever had, or could have, that O'Brien had not long ago known, examined, and rejected. His mind CONTAINED Winston's mind. But in that case how could it be true that O'Brien was mad? It must be he, Winston, who was mad. O'Brien halted and looked down at him. His voice had grown stern again.

Julia betrayed him and revealed all his secrets, including his fear of rats;

She betrayed you, Winston. Immediately--unreservedly. I have seldom seen anyone come over to us so promptly. You would hardly recognize her if you saw her. All her rebelliousness, her deceit, her folly, her dirty-mindedness--everything has been burned out of her. It was a perfect conversion, a textbook case.

O'Brien has read his diary

'Do you remember,' he went on, 'writing in your diary, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four"?' 'Yes,' said Winston. O'Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended. 'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?' 'Four.' 'And if the party says that it is not four but five--then how many?' 'Four.' The word ended in a gasp of pain.

Winston's rebellion is truly pathetic. He's been led by the nose at every stage;

You have read THE BOOK, Goldstein's book, or parts of it, at least. Did it tell you anything that you did not know already?' 'You have read it?' said Winston. 'I wrote it. That is to say, I collaborated in writing it. No book is produced individually, as you know.'

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    To be fair, O'Brien is quite possibly lying about Julia. It's not like he believes that honesty is the best policy. Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 0:23
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    It's been a long time since I read it, but I was under the impression that Winston wasn't consciously aware of the depth of his own fear of rats (and therefore couldn't have told Julia, who then couldn't have told her interrogators). He knew he loathed rats, but his mind shied away from any further thought on the subject-- a kind of natural crimestop. I assumed that the psychologists who had been watching him for years had picked up on the clues, the microexpressions and unconscious behaviors, and filled in the "101" section of his dossier accordingly.
    – Beta
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 0:25
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    @beta - It's not nearly as sophisticated as that. Julia and Winston are alone when they encounter a rat. Julia : "Dearest! You've gone quite pale. What's the matter? Do they make you feel sick? Winston : "Of all horrors in the world - a rat!" - She then reveals this to O'Brien when she's under interrogation.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 0:55
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    @Richard: I'd forgotten that line, but now that I look it up, I only half-agree with you. The paragraph that follows it supports my earlier comment, and hints at the fact that rats aren't his greatest fear, it's something rats do, which he can't even think about. And that conversation took place in their secret room, so O'Brien knew about the phobia before Julia's interrogation began (even assuming that she grasped the significance of Winston's reaction as well as those who were listening in).
    – Beta
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 1:23
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    @Richard: By that point in the book, Winston has betrayed Julia as well. It doesn't necessarily mean she has betrayed him when O'Brien states she has earlier in the book. Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:57

I can't remember the exact details but wasn't a machine used on Winston that isn't fully explained at some point? It makes a huge sound or flash and then Winston feels different after? I thought this could be part of a lobotomy mind reading procedure..

  • Could you provide a source to the extract, and possibly discuss a bit more why you thought so? It would really strengthen your answer!
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 20:49
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    Yes -- a "heavy piece of apparatus" which has "two soft pads, which felt slightly moist… against Winston's temples", and produces "a blinding flash of light" and "a terrific painless blow", mentioned right at the end of Chapter 2. Text implies electroconvulsive therapy, not "mind reading".
    – user41830
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 20:55

I have to disagree and say that yes without question some sort of active mind reading device had to have been employed. There is also a good reason to believe that the party also had the ability to affect the dreams of a person. All of the arguments made might have allowed O'brian to guess some of Wimstons thoughts but not all of them with perfect precision as Winston thought them. It is the ability to read his thoughts that ultimately breaks Winston. He no longer can hide in his own mind.

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    Do you have any sources for your above claims from the book?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 19:55
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    This is a society that, with the exception of the omnipresent viewscreens is technologically backwards. There's certainly no mention of the sort of high technology that would be required for mind control and dream control
    – Valorum
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 20:29

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