The interpretation that Wikipedia gives is that O'Brien was intentionally planted there to root out any thought-criminals.

In truth, O'Brien is an agent of the Thought Police, and is completely loyal to the Party and to Ingsoc. He is part of a false flag resistance movement whose goal is to find thought-criminals (citizens who think something that is deemed to be unacceptable by the party), lure them in by pretending to be on their side, then arrest and "cure" them.

However, I think you could argue for an interpretation that O'Brien was a genuine member of the Brotherhood, who happened to have the unfortunate job of torturing those who were caught.

He had to torture Winston and Julia, because that was his job. He would have blown his own cover otherwise.

Is this correct? What evidence is there to support either way?

Here is a webpage that discusses this question: http://www.orwelltoday.com/readerbrotherhood.shtml

  • 4
    Why would that even matter ? For members of the brotherhood to maim each other (putatively) in the name of the revolution would comply even more with the party line than having a traitor around. Aug 21, 2014 at 5:07

2 Answers 2


I do not believe so, based on the following pseudo-evidence:

  1. There's no overt suggestion in the text that that might be the case
  2. It's not a subtle book

I'm certainly open to seeing any cites that counter #1, however, as I read it with the reinforced preconception of #2.

  • The interpretation I proposed is how I saw it (or at least I saw it as it was mean to be ambiguous). I'll have to give it another read.
    – dwjohnston
    Jun 26, 2015 at 0:47

It's quite possible to take that line on O'Brien, however I don't think this was the case.

When O'Brien is questioning Smith in the Ministry of Love, at one point he plays back the conversation recorded at O'Brien's when the telescreen was turned off.

O'Brien, as a high level Inner Party member, was likely to have known the screen was still recording (he would be unlikely to be questioning Smith if both of them were criminals due to the recording), meaning he was aware the conversation was to incriminate Smith (so the whole meeting was entrapment), and indeed we find out later that the Thought Police have been monitoring Smith for over 7 years.

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