Smith

At the telescreen conclusion he momentarily caught O’Brien’s eye. O’Brien had stood up. He had taken off his spectacles and was in the act of resettling them on his nose with his characteristic gesture. But there was a fraction of a second when their eyes met, and for as long as it took to happen Smith knew – yes, he knew – that O’Brien was thinking the same thing as himself. An unmistakable message had passed. It was as though their two minds had opened and the thoughts were flowing from one into the other through their eyes. ‘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!’ and then the flash of intelligence was gone, and O’Brien’s face was inscrutable as everybody else’s.

To dissemble your feelings, to control your voice, to do what everyone else was doing, was an instinctive reaction. But there was a space of a couple of seconds during which the expression of his eyes might conceivably have betrayed him. And it was exactly at that moment that the significant thing happened – if, indeed, it did happen.

That was all, and he was already uncertain whether it had happened. Such incidents never had any sequel. All that they did was to keep alive in him the belief, or hope, that others beside him were the opponents of the Leadership. How widespread was it in the face of dismissals and banishments? It was difficult to say. Some days he believed there were others, some days not. There was no evidence, only fleeting glimpses that might mean anything or nothing: snatches of overheard conversation. It was all guess work: very likely he had imagined everything. He had gone back to his cubicle without looking at O’Brien. The idea of following up their momentary contact hardly crossed his mind. It would have been inconceivably dangerous even if he had known how to set about doing it. For a second, two seconds, they had exchanged an equivocal glance, and that was the end of the story. But even that was a memorable event, in the locked in loneliness which one had to live.

Was O’Brien part of the Brotherhood? Was there a Brotherhood? What was the Brotherhood if it did exist?

 

He began to write in the diary. Writing in a diary was not illegal because there were no laws to make illegality a reality – there was just blind obedience. That was obedience of thought; disobedience of thought meant the end – the merest variation, which placed the writing of a diary, a book of thoughts in terrible perspective.

The Leadership, he wrote, said that what existed in the past was utterly wrong. He knew that not to be true. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case would soon be wiped out. And if all the others accepted the lie which the Leadership insisted on – if all the records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became the truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Leadership slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

Then there was Doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Leadership was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce consciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘Doublethink’ involved the use of Doublethink.

 

His job at the Ministry of Truth was to ‘correct’ the actual figures to the ones forecast – they could be figures ranging from test results to house constructions. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, also books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs – to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the leadership could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct. Things became a frenzy when the figures for a New Two-Year Plan were being corrected, or the nature of a New Model was being concocted according to the latest Leadership ideas.

But actually, he thought, as he re-adjusted national test figures, it was not even forgery. It was the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their corrected version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. The Test Division, for instance, had forecast 97%. Smith, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to 94%, so as to allow the usual claim that the quota had been over-fulfilled.

Nonsense piled on nonsense piled on nonsense.

 

Smith had never been able to feel sure – even after the flash of eyes it was still impossible to feel sure – whether O’Brien was friend or enemy. Nor did it even seem to matter greatly. There was a link of understanding between them, more important than affection or partisanship.

 

How will things ever change he thought? A momentary variance to discontent led nowhere, because without general ideas, the focus could only be on petty specific grievances. He wondered, as he had many times before, whether he himself was a madman. Perhaps a madman was simply a minority of one. At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun: today it is to believe that the past is unalterable.

Thought in itself was made doubly difficult. There was Newspeak. This was constructed partly by new words such as ‘ungood’ or ‘untruth’ but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping words that remained of unorthodox and associated meanings. ‘Free’ still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as ‘The dog is free from lice’ never in the sense of intellectually or politically free. Such concepts were nameless thus diminishing the range of thought. The whole aim of Newspeak was to narrow the range of thought. In the end Thoughtcrime will be literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. The use of Newspeak exerted a powerful means of control in that those who used certain words and words with freer associations were accused of using Oldspeak, immediately placing themselves under suspicion which invariably led to their arrest. The Revolution to be completed when the language was ‘perfect’.

 

The first step for him had been a secret involuntary thought; the second had been the opening of the diary. He had moved from thoughts to words, and now from words to actions. The last step was something that would happen in the Ministry of Love. He had accepted it. The end was contained in the beginning.

Whether he wrote in the diary or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him all the same. He had committed – would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper – the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.

 

It had happened at last. The expected message had come. All his life, it seemed to him, he had been waiting for this to happen.

O’Brien was walking down the long ministry corridor. He produced a small leather-covered notebook and a gold ink-pencil, scribbled an address, tore out the page, and handed it to Smith.

 

Smith’s heart was thumping so hard that he doubted whether he would be able to speak. He had done it, he had done it at last, was all he could think.

 

O’Brien rose deliberately from his chair and came towards him across the soundless carpet. The terror that Smith felt was shot through by a streak of ordinary embarrassment. It seemed to him quite possible that he had simply made a stupid excuse. For what evidence had he in reality that O’Brien was any kind of political conspirator? Nothing but a flash of the eyes: beyond that, only his own secret imaginings, founded on a dream.

As O’Brien passed the telescreen, he stopped, turned aside and pressed a switch on the wall.

‘You can turn it off!’ Smith said.

‘Yes’, said O’Brien, ‘we can turn it off, we have that privilege.’

After the stopping of the telescreen the room seemed deadly silent.

‘Shall I say it, or will you?’ O’Brien said.

‘I will say it’, said Smith promptly. ‘That thing really turned off?’

‘Yes, everything is turned off. We are alone.’

‘I have come here because …’

He paused. ‘We believe there is a Brotherhood, some kind of secret organisation working against the Leadership. Does it exist? Will it continue?’

‘The Brotherhood,’ he said, ‘does continue, it cannot be wiped out because it is not an organisation in the ordinary sense. Nothing holds it together except an idea which is indestructible. You will never have anything to sustain you, except the idea. You will have to get used to living without results and without hope. You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will be nothing. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity a little. We cannot act collectively. We can only spread knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation.’

‘To the past,’ said Smith.

‘The past is more important,’ agreed O’Brien.

‘You have broken through,’ said O’Brien, ‘to understanding how Crimestop works; the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to the Leadership, and of being bored and repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Applied to the Leadership it means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed to the contrary; to believe that failure is success, and more, to know that failure is success – and to continue with the same policy of failure as being the policy of success. Your understanding of Crimestop has freed you.’

‘It links with Doublethink which lies at the very heart of the Leadership. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with the sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence guilt. The essential act of the Leadership is to use conscious deception while retaining firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed – all this is indispensably necessary.

And then he shook Smith’s hand, turned, and let Smith find his own way out.

 

‘Smith!’ screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. ‘6079 W. Yes, you! Bend lower please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the whole squad watch me.’

A sudden hot sweat had broken out all over Smith’s body. His face remained inscrutable. Never show dismay! Never show resentment! A single flicker of the eyes could give you away.

If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind is controllable – what then? But no! His courage seemed suddenly to stiffen of its own accord. The face of O’Brien, not called up by any obvious association, had floated into his mind. He knew, with more certainty than before, that O’Brien was on his side. He was writing the diary for O’Brien – to O’Brien: it was like an interminable letter which no one would ever read, but which was addressed to a particular person and took colour from that fact.

 

‘What are you in for?’ asked Smith of his cellmate.

‘Thoughtcrime!said Parsons almost blubbering.

‘Are you guilty?’ said Smith.

‘Of course I’m guilty!’ cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. ‘You don’t think the Leadership would arrest an innocent man.’

 

‘It was my little daughter,’ said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. ‘She listened in at the keyhole.’

 

Parsons was removed. More prisoners came and went mysteriously.

 

The boots were approaching again. The door opened. O’Brien came in.

Smith started to his feet. The shock of the sight had driven all caution out of him. For the first time in many years he forgot the presence of the telescreen.

‘They’ve got you too!’ Smith cried.

‘They got me a long time ago,’ said O’Brien with a mild, almost regretful irony. From behind him there emerged a broad-chested guard.

‘ You knew this, Smith,’ said O’Brien. ‘Don’t deceive yourself. You did know it – you have always known it.’

O’Brien smiled slightly. ‘You are a flaw in the pattern, Smith. You are a stain that must be wiped out. We will not be content even with the most abject submission. When you finally surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists: so long as he resists we never destroy him.’

‘It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.’

 

Two plus to two make five.

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