“Sometimes, she said they threaten you with something- something you can’t stand up to- can’t even think about. And then you say, Don’t do it to me do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.
And perhaps you might pretend afterwards, that it was only a trick that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself”
George Orwell, 1984
Julia speaks these lines to Winston in Book Three, Chapter VI, while they are discussing what they were confronted with, in Room 101. She tells him how she wanted to betray him when she faced her worst fear in Room 101 and he responds that he felt exactly the same way. He also betrayed Julia when he was in Room 101, facing his worst fear – the rats. “Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones,” he shouted frantically while he was tortured in Room 101.
Neither Winston nor Julia loved each other enough to stay loyal in Room 101. Room 101 is the point where Winston and Julia underwent the final stage of accepting Big Brother and finally surrendered to torture. They no longer had free will and they were nothing more than pawns of the government. They no longer posed a threat to the Party and were set free.
In George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future, the government controls the individual by suppressing individual happiness and freedom through a combination of manipulation and fear. The Thought Police are always present and able to watch everybody all the time and see into their minds. With cameras and microphones placed everywhere, the Thought Police watch every move of the citizens of Oceania 24/7. In Oceania, children are encouraged to report their parents to the authorities for the slightest crime. As Winston Smith says, “the only thing that can keep you human is to not allow the government to get inside you.”
In the climax of the novel, Orwell introduces Room 101, which contains a person’s ultimate breaking point, worst nightmare, fear or phobia. Every citizen of Oceania who betrayed Big Brother finds himself in Room 101, which is the final stage of accepting Big Brother.
O’Brien, a mysterious, powerful, and sophisticated member of the Inner Party describes Room 101:
“You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.“
“The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.”
Winston had been tortured, starved, bashed, and threatened, but he didn’t betray Julia, so he was sent to Room 101 for the final stage of re-education, where he would face his greatest fear – rats. In Room 101 Winston is forced to confront his irrational fear.
A wire cage that contains two large rats is fitted onto his face and if certain doors on the wire cage open the rats would devour Winston’s face. He wasn’t able to confront his irrational fear and apparently his fear of rats was greater than his love for Julia, so he betrayed Julia by asking them to “give” the rats to her. Winston finally capitulated and accepted Big Brother.
As Orwell wrote, “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother“
Orwell – the pen name of Eric Blair – worked at Broadcasting House in London during the 1940s and it is said that he named the infamous Room 101 after a conference room at BBC Broadcasting House. During World War II, he was forced to sit through boring meetings in this room.
George Orwell’s 1984 is one of the most influential books ever written. Upon its publication, the novel may have seemed extreme, but it seems that the world we live today is not so far from the world in Orwell’s 1984 and even in our world “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”