Winston is confined in Room101, strapped to a chair in a way which rendered him completely immobile. In front of him were two tables on which stood two covered wire cages. O’Brien was holding a lever which would operate the cages. Impassively, O’Brien explains that what Room 101 contains is quite simply, “the worst thing in the world.” This varies from individual to individual. For some it may be torture, fire for some one else, drowning for yet others. For each individual, Room 101 held his greatest fear. When confronted with that, courage and cowardice lose their meaning, one will do whatever one has to do to avoid the horror in Room 101 as naturally and automatically as one will grab at a rope to keep from falling.
In Winston’s case, his greatest fear, his worst nightmare was rats and it was rats there were there in the cages in front of him. O’Brien informs him that he is going to open the cages and set the rats onto him. The rats are starving, they will sense Winston’s helplessness and devour him inch by inch. Winston cries out in terror asking O’Brien to only tell him what he has to do to avoid this. O’Brien vouchsafes no answer and lays his hand on the lever which would open the cages. In a total frenzy Winston sees the rats behind the bar and with a sudden flash of intuition realizes what he has to do to save himself. He has to take the final step of degradation, he has to betray Julia. It is no longer a matter of choice, before this threat, he is helpless. He cries out “Do it to Julia! Not me!” Repeating that cry he is aware that the lever has clicked back into place, the cage is closed. His degradation is finally completed in Room 101.