The dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, was written in 1949, and is considered one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century. But the ending tends to leave the reader with a sense of unfinished business. (Spoiler alert: the good guys lost). I wrote the following piece as part of a political science assignment in 1997. The professor challenged the class to be creative, but I’m the only one who chose to write a piece of fiction. You’ll have a better understanding of this ending if you’ve recently read the book, but it’s based on the idea that the government maintained total control over its people and demanded complete devotion. “The last man” refers to the last person who still holds on to original thought. Any original thought must be eradicated for fear of the people rising up and taking over the government. In these pages we ask ourselves, is Winston Smith the last man? Or is O’Brien?
Nineteen Eighty-Four Alternate Ending:
The Last Man
Deep within the Ministry of Truth the cold white walls seemed to exude the sanguineous fluid from its pores. The long swipes made by the disinfection workers formed a kind of abstract painting on the concrete blocks. O’Brien slowly walked down the narrow corridor, carefully pacing his step as though he were crossing uncertain waters. He paused to clean the tiny reddish spots from his spectacles and in his smooth characteristic gesture, resettled them on his nose. With the same ease of movement, he returned the handkerchief to his pocket and retrieved a package of Victory Matches. He lit a cigarette and inhaled the smoke with a sigh. The heavy wall pushed against the weight of his body, while he watched the attendants efficiently sanitize all that remained of Winston Smith.
The execution had been routine enough, one bullet, carefully placed at the base of the brain was usually sufficient to bring about death within a few seconds. Occasionally a prisoner would live long enough to eke out a few words, but generally death was swift, painless and expected.
O’Brien entered his office and turned off the chattering telescreen. His body sank into his chair as he dragged out the last few puffs from his cigarette. He leaned back, closed his eyes and remembered the final look on Winston’s face as his body hit the floor. It was hatred. Or was it love? It was almost like the faces of the outer party members during the Two Minutes Hate. There should be a Newspeak word for it, “lovehate” or “hatelove.” But what did it matter now? Winston Smith was history, or better yet, he never existed. What did it matter if Winston hated him? Or if he hated Big Brother? No one would know. No one would care.
But O’Brien cared. If Winston held on to even the slightest grain of hate toward the party, then, “I have failed,” O’Brien said aloud. It was unthinkable. O’Brien possessed the power of the Party and could wield it with a simple nod of the head. What did it matter what one lone prisoner thought? Most prisoners were merely cattle to him, sheep to be guided and pushed around. He understood them, but their minds were no challenge or threat. But Winston Smith was different. Not only did O’Brien understand him, but Winston understood O’Brien. Winston was the last man. My power should be complete, O’Brien thought, but the summit lacked the satisfaction he had expected, all because of a momentary look.
O’Brien stood abruptly and paced the floor. “There can be no martyrs! There can be no individual thought!” He remembered telling Winston, “Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation.” But Winston betrayed the party anyway and in the worst way possible – through his unrepentant death. The Party had failed. The system had failed.
He paced the floor shouting, “They give us power through their ambivalence and we take care of them. And what do we get? A herd of proles,drones who aren’t worth the effort, and a generation of Julias with no mind for important matters,simply hedonistic passions that undermine our very existence!”
But there was something different about Winston. O’Brien knew this. He had an inner character, he had intelligence. He was essentially—
What’s the old saying? He thought. It’s lonely at the top.
O’Brien sat in his windowless office at the peak of the pyramid. “The foundation is crumbling,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. There will be no revolt of the masses. There will be no conquerors from without.” He looked down at his aged hands. The older party members will die off little by little and the youth of the country simply won’t care. He longed to have Winston with him, to speak of philosophical things, to have someone who understood him.
What was Winston trying to tell me? He thought. I told him he was wrong, that he was insane, but there was an element of truth in his words. Winston had said “A society built on hatred and cruelty would never endure, it would commit suicide.”
O’Brien had always felt power was end in and of itself. But he now wondered if there wasmore. Human beings need simply…he paused and folded his arms around his body as a chill slithered down his back. Each individual needs to feel valued. The essence of self-actualization is not reaching the pinnacle of the pyramid. It is not power. It is having purpose, being loved, to have one’s opinions matter.
“The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual,” he remembered saying to Winston. “This is my room 101,” he whispered to himself. “Failure.” He knew it was not just failure to succeed, but eliminating the only hope to ever succeed.
When Winston died, he took it all with him,the quest for power and the only intelligent opposition O’Brien had ever known. There will be no more challenges, he thought. Only text book cases. With that one dying look Winston did more than he realized. Not only had O’Brien failed, but he doubted his own philosophy.
O’Brien walked calmly to the door and summoned the guard.
“Room 101,” he said.