In the novel 1984 written by George Orwell betrayal is a recurring theme that is highlighted throughout the novel. Betrayal is the act of using treachery or disloyalty to expose someone’s true feelings. Betrayal is prevalent in the society of Oceania through government manipulation and through the acts of the characters, O’Brien and Julia, who betray Winston. Through the features of the society and O’Brien and Julia’s choices, Winston is faced with an ultimate act of self- betrayal in declaring his new found loyalty towards Big Brother.
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In Oceania the society is manipulated by the government through destroying trust between people, the creation of the thought police and the fear that lies in Room 101. This government manipulation either causes one to betray another which is approved by Big Brother or it allows the discovery of any type of betrayal towards Big Brother. In the society where Winston lives the government has abolished the trust between family and friends, “It was my little girl, said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit anyway” (Orwell 245). There is no trust whatsoever in Oceania considering that even children betray their own parents. In reality most families place their deepest trust in each other with no fear of betrayal. The role of the thought police in Oceania is to unearth any thoughts that are disloyal to Big Brother, “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide” (Orwell 65). The thought police ensure that betrayal towards Big Brother is not a problem as they are constantly watching out for any symptoms of rebellious thinking. Some citizens however do betray Big Brother and are immediately dealt with. Winston Smith is one such citizen and he finds himself in Room 101 where he undergoes the final stage of accepting Big Brother. Room 101 is engineered to cause the deepest betrayal towards someone, “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 it yourself” (Orwell 305). Room 101 is able to manipulate one to the point that no amount of loyalty can endure the torture that occurs there. Neither Winston nor Julia loved each other enough to stay loyal in Room 101. Betrayal is a dominant theme in this society whether it is betraying Big Brother or the forced betrayal of someone or something that you love and believe in.
The novel 1984 is dominated by the betrayal of characters such as O’Brien’s betrayal to Winston and Julia’s betrayal to Big Brother and Winston. For most of this novel O’Brien is a trusted friend, “I am with you, O’Brien seemed to be saying to him. 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” (Orwell 19). Towards the end of the novel, however, O`Brien violates the trust that Winston instilled in him. O`Brien soon becomes Winston`s interrogator and torturer rather than the friend that he once pretended to be. Julia uses the cover that she is a member of the Junior Anti- Sex League however she betrays the Party by having sex with Winston. Julia does not rebel against the Party as drastically as Winston does and he often feels and says to her, “You’re only a rebel from the waist downward” (Orwell 163). Julia does not show much interest in rebelling against the Party in any way other than through sexual encounters. Not only does Julia betray the Party but she also betrays Winston by not loving him. Julia once said, “I don’t mean confessing. Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter: only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you- that would be the real betrayal” (Orwell 173). She says that betrayal would be not loving him, however, through the manipulation and torture from the government Julia does stop loving Winston. Towards the end of the novel the betrayal of Julia is evident because she looks at Winston with a face of dislike. These situations were a main focus in this novel and progressed to Winston`s final act of self- betrayal.
Winston`s ultimate betrayal to himself was constantly developing as the plot advanced. With the purchase of the diary and the decision to write in it Winston set himself up for disaster. He should have known that his actions were too risky to be left uncovered. However, Winston’s betrayal to Julia is the event that caused his own self-betrayal. In Room 101 Winston is faced with a difficult decision, however, he knew that he must betray Julia to save himself, “There was only one and only one way to save himself. He must interpose another human being, the body of another human, between himself and the rats” (Orwell 299). Like Julia, Winston saw no solution to the torture in Room 101 to the point that he felt it was necessary to betray Julia, something that he never planned to do. After Winston’s betrayal to Julia he accepted Big Brother and alienated his once very powerful views on Big Brother and the Party, “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. 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 311). Winston was once very committed to his views and the decision to die for freedom of choice. Winston, however, completed his “reintegration”, betrayed himself by betraying his views and becoming a loyal, loving follower of Big Brother. Winston’s struggle with his thoughts to betray the party proved to be unnecessary considering Winston betrayed himself in the end.
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In 1984 betrayal is a fundamental feature of the society and the lives of the main characters, O’Brien and Julia. Through various acts of betrayal the protagonist, Winston Smith, deals with his final act of betrayal which is to himself. The government encourages the society to betray one another by destroying the concept of trust and by ensuring that any act of betrayal towards Big Brother will be dealt with. O’Brien’s character demonstrates that you can never trust anyone. The betrayals of Julia and Winston are evidence that in Oceania no amount of love or loyalty to something or someone can ever succeed in overcoming Big Brothers government.