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Just when Winston begins to think that Julia isn't a fit intellectual companion, O'Brien gets in touch. Winston thinks this is what he's been waiting for all his life.
Meeting O'Brien in the halls of the Ministry, Winston is speechless. His heart pounds. Is he merely excited at being in the presence of an important political figure, or is his attraction more personal and profound? Defining the nature of this attraction is going to help us decide what Winston's feelings for O'Brien really are.
At the moment he is thrilled because O'Brien praises his work and alludes to the missing Syme-a hint that O'Brien may be a Party enemy, too. O'Brien offers to show him a Newspeak dictionary if he'll drop by one evening after work. He gives Winston his address. Winston is sure he's reached the outer edges of the Brotherhood.
Winston sees this as the next step in a process that, for him, began years ago. The first step was a secret thought. The second was the diary. The third, we can assume, was his affair with Julia. The next will be his relationship with O'Brien, and after that?
"The last step was something that would happen in the Ministry of Love.... The end was contained in the beginning.... He had always known that the grave was there and waiting for him." These sound like the thoughts of a man who is in love not with Julia, not with O'Brien, but with death.
One critic has raised the possibility that 1984 is not a political novel at all, but an existential one. If we remember that Winston is "The Last (thinking) Man in Europe," we can recognize the truth in this. The Party and the unwashed proles alike underscore Winston's isolation both in thought and body; and the fact that he never really finds a kindred soul guarantees his despair. His girlfriend doesn't understand him and his mentor, O'Brien, seeks to destroy him. If we accept this interpretation, then 1984 is the story of one man's intellectual and actual loneliness, and his "rebellion" is, rather, a planned suicide. In this interpretation O'Brien is quite simply, the means to death, which Winston embraces as he would a lover.
This is an unorthodox interpretation, but one you may have fun playing with since Winston marches straight into the clutches of O'Brien and the power he represents.