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O'Brien in 1984: Character Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Who is O'Brien in 1984?
  • 1:00 O'Brien the Liar
  • 2:11 O'Brien and the…
  • 3:50 O'Brien's Real Beliefs
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
The character O'Brien plays an important role in George Orwell's novel '1984'. In this lesson, find out who O'Brien is and explore some of his most important quotes from the novel.

Who Is O'Brien in 1984?

O'Brien is an ally-turned-enemy of the protagonist in George Orwell's novel 1984. Throughout the work, which was published in 1949, O'Brien is characterized as a very intelligent, thoughtful man - although he turns out to be something much different than he first appears.

One of the most important things to know about O'Brien is that he works for the government. In fact, he's a colleague of the novel's protagonist at the Ministry of Truth. The Ministry of Truth, is the part of the government in charge of propaganda. Ironic name, don't you think? There is a reason for that. That was Orwell's intention when he wrote the novel.

O'Brien is in the prestigious Inner Party, or the much smaller group of men at the top of the social pyramid in Ingsoc England in Oceania. The Inner Party pretty much runs the show and makes sure the country runs smoothly, so what does this say about O'Brien? Yep - he's a super important guy with a big time government position. His position is so high up that the nature of it is actually very vague.

O'Brien the Liar

One interesting aspect of O'Brien's character comes from the fact that he cultivates an air of intelligent rebellion about himself. He does this in order to gain the trust of rebels. But O'Brien, of course, isn't what he seems to be. O'Brien seemed to be saying to Winston, 'I know precisely what you are feeling. I know all about your contempt, your hatred, your disgust. But don't worry, I am on your side!' O'Brien carefully wears a mask that invites people to trust him, that seems to tell people, 'Hey, I'm your buddy. I, too, want to overthrow Big Brother in a fiery revolution,' although he never actually says this with words. He merely gives off a general air of trustworthiness.

Unfortunately, O'Brien never wanted to overthrow the government. Quite the opposite, O'Brien is just a very good liar. He works to convince suspicious people, those who he knows hate the government, that he's a friend, a kindred spirit. He even goes so far as to invite these people to his home and basically get them to confess to treason and all manner of other things they can be arrested for. 'In general terms, what are you prepared to do?' He asks all prospective rebels this, in order to get a verbal record of their intentions and have them arrested. What a sneaky, manipulative man, to say the least!

O'Brien and the Ministry of Love

Remember how O'Brien's job title is always really vague? That's because you typically don't want word to spread that you're a torturer for the government. Which is what O'Brien really does. He works in the Ministry of Love, which is the re-education center for all of those people who commit crimes against the state and against Big Brother. The ironic twist Orwell intended with this ministry's name is that it was the most horrifying, terrible place in all of Oceania and it is where the party compelled you to love what oppressed you. So if word of his real job got out, how on earth would O'Brien be able to worm his way into the hearts of each prospective rebel?

It's clear that O'Brien takes a great deal of pleasure from his job and that he truly believes he's doing something good. He even says things like, 'You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane' and 'Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane!' He thinks torture is the best way to get someone to love Big Brother and the government, and he genuinely believes this is the best way to maintain the populace. Only someone who truly believes he's helping people could say that about torturing someone.

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