Notes on 1984 Themes

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1984 Topic Tracking: The Proletariat

The Proletariat 1: In his first diary entry, Winston describes spending the evening at the cinema watching war films. One of the films showed a ship full of refugees being bombed, including a mother in a lifeboat trying to shelter a child with her arms. There was a huge explosion as a 20-kilogram bomb was planted into the lifeboat, then a shot of a child's arm going up into the air. Everyone in the Party seats applauded, but a woman in the prole section of the house was upset and started shouting that it was wrong to show that kind of thing, especially in front of children. The police threw her out. As is mentioned throughout the novel, we see that the proletariat is much less politically orthodox and much more concerned with human emotions than Party members.

The Proletariat 2: Only prole women use make-up and perfume; only prole women are prostitutes, hence, Winston says he associates a painted face with fornication.

The Proletariat 3: Winston believes that only among the proles (85% of the population) can the force to overthrow the Party be generated. No one knows very much about them, and although the Party claims to have "liberated" the proles from the miserable lives they led under the capitalists, the Party also teaches that the proles are inferior and must be kept that way. They have a certain pattern of life:

"They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds." Part 1, Chapter 7, pg. 71

A few Thought Police agents keep a vague eye on them. Crime and sexual promiscuity are allowed to continue.

The Proletariat 4: The proles live in the slums of the city. On his walk, Winston sees many of them swarming in alleyways, male and female, old and young. As he passes, some of them pay no attention to him and some of them watch him cautiously. It is odd to see a blue-overalled Party member in this type of neighborhood.

The Proletariat 5: The proles spend a lot of their spare time in pubs drinking beer. One of their main preoccupations is the Lottery, and they all live in constant hope of winning huge prizes. Winston, like all Party members, knows that most of the prizes are imaginary and only small sums of money are paid out from time to time.

The Proletariat 6: The proles live much less complicated, less observed lives. The train Winston takes is full of proles; they are cheerful because of the sunny weather, something unimaginable among Party members. They are more family-oriented, often traveling in a group with everyone from the great-grandmother to the month-old baby. They are also less guarded. The family traveling in Winston's carriage openly admits to him that they are going to the country to see in-laws and to buy butter on the black market.

The Proletariat 7: Another example of the concessions made to proles is "Pornosec," the sub-section of the Fiction Department in which Julia once worked. Its nickname is "Muck House." The department produces pornographic booklets in sealed packets with suggestive titles, "to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal." Part 2, Chater 3, pg. 132

The Proletariat 8: A subsection of the Music Department composes popular songs especially for the proles, using a special machine, rather than human artistic talent. An especially popular number at this time is "It was only a hopeless fancy," sung by the woman who hangs her washing outside Wilson and Julia's room.

The Proletariat 9: The proles treat Hate Week very much as a festival. They are less aware of its sinister aspect. This is exemplified by the fact that they "take a fancy" to the terrifying Hate Song and go around singing it on the street, along with the mindlessly sentimental "It was only a hopeless fancy."

The Proletariat 10: The proles and their emotions are treated as malleable and insignificant.

"The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism." Part 3, Chapter 5, pg. 150

They can be manipulated to become vicious. For example, when a rumor is circulated that spies are directing the rocket bombs, a mob sets an old couple's house on fire because they suspect them of being "of foreign extraction." The old couple die of suffocation.

The Proletariat 11: One of Julia and Winston's dreams of escape involves them becoming proles, changing themselves so that they cannot be recognized, learning to speak with proletarian accents, and getting jobs in a factory somewhere, so that they can live together undetected.

The Proletariat 12: When Winston thinks about emotions and how the Party has removed them from life, he realizes for the first time he does not despise the proles, nor does he think of them as an inert mass that will one day rise against the Party. The proles still feel emotion, emotions that Winston must relearn how to feel. They are human beings. Party members are not.

The Proletariat 13: Goldstein's book suggests that technology is a great threat to the established social hierarchy and it could have removed the existence of the prole class, creating a society where everyone was equal.

"If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations." Part 1, Chapter 9, pg. 190

The Proletariat 14: The woman hanging out washing is still singing "It was only a hopeless fancy." The tune has outlasted the popularity of the Hate Song.

Looking out at her, Winston realizes that her huge fifty-year old body is beautiful. He feels again that hope must lie in the proles. In the end, even if it takes a thousand years, they must awake and spread the human vitality they have not lost throughout the world. Everywhere, in London, Europe, Asia and America, women like this exist:

"[E]verywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing." Part 2, Section 10, pg. 222

The Proletariat 15: The proles in the prison where Winston is first taken, behave completely differently from the silent, terrified Party prisoners. They are rowdy and don't seem to care about any attempts to restrain their behavior. They insult the guards, fight attempts to impound their belongings, write dirty words on the floor, smuggle in food, and shout down the telescreen when it chastises them. Some of them even seem to be on good terms with the guards and know them. They talk about the forced-labor camps where most of them expect to be sent, and reveal that in the camps the common criminals are treated very differently from the Party political prisoners, who have to do all the dirty jobs. One woman comes in drunk. Like Winston, her name is Smith and after their meeting, she says sentimentally, "I might be your mother." Winston reflects that she might be. She is about the right age and build. Presumably, people change after 20 years in a forced-labor camp.

The Proletariat 16: O'Brien informs Winston that his old dream of the proles rising to overthrow the Party is ridiculous. The proles, O'Brien maintains, are not human--humanity is the Party. The proles are helpless, like animals.

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