Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell ''If There is Hope,…it Lies in the Proles'' How Much Hope do You as a Reader Place in the Proles?

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Winston’s statement is vague and must be properly addressed before we can access its validity. The word ‘hope’ in itself is deliberately ambiguous as Winston fails to mention what this hope is for. Winston may be talking about hope of revolution and the overthrow of government as a ‘horse shaking flies.’ For this there is ultimately almost no hope in the proles due to the futility expressed in the novel’s ending as even our socially aware narrator succumbs to the guile of Big Brother. However, much more than this Winston may be talking about hope for the future, hope for freedom from social oppression and the dictatorial regime of the Party, hope for the end goal of this revolution. Winston writes this statement having just described the way in which the Party has manipulated sex, one of the basest human instincts according to Freud, into a joyless act and attempts to ‘eliminate the orgasm.’The

freedom from this sort of tyranny is far more within the reach, and to some extent is already available, to the proles. The proles, superficially, have far more tangible freedom than the party members since they are able to indulge in their own activities during free time which party members are not permitted. The proles are less vigorously monitored by the Thought Police or party officials and in theory are allowed to live as they please. However, in theory, the party members are too allowed to live as they please though the reality is very different as will be discussed later.

It is questionable whether or not Winston himself holds any hope in the proles. Whilst traversing the prole districts of London he re-states and corrects his prior quote, this time saying ‘if there was hope it lay in the proles.’ This suggests that he has come to the conclusion that there is actually no hope other than a theoretical one. The use of ‘if’ and ‘was’ shows that Winston is not so much expressing a hope but rather philosophising on abstract concepts, ‘a palpable absurdity’ which he knows are out of reach in reality. These theoretical truths are expressed as important to Winston’s psyche as he depends on them to stay sane, he writes the ‘axiom’ ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’ His hope in the proles is part of the same concept. Winston needs to make sense of his world no matter how futile it might be, he needs to cling on to the prospect of hope despite its impossibility.

The way in which the proles are portrayed shows how they are able to function within the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four and kept under control despite having certain levels of freedom. At the start of chapter seven we are presented with the power of the proles to such an extent that we are even given the statistics that it contains 85% of the population of Oceania. Though Winston constantly expresses their huge potential their futility is quickly made clear as their drive is siphoned into irrelevant directions. Winston confuses a squabble over saucepans for the start of a revolution. The juxtaposition of these two ideas serves to emphasise the anticlimactic outlets of the proles as the two are social polars, one a fundamental change in the very workings of society, the other a pointless feud over kitchen utensils.

Another outlet for the proles is a large amount of focus centred around the lottery to such an extent that it becomes ‘the principle if not the only reason for remaining alive.’ The fact that this lottery is largely imaginary shows the level of control that the party is still able to impose upon the proles, despite appearing to be a choice. The party is misdirecting their hope whilst apparently giving it in a controlled system.

On the face of it, the way the proles live does not appear to be very different from real life in 1940’s London. When Orwell provides us with a list of their activities ‘the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, fill dup the horizons of their minds’ it seems to be a bleak portrayal of London rather than a distant dystopian future. We are able to identify with Winston’s thoughts and feelings but we are able to identify with the proles’ lifestyles. Considering Orwell’s bleak view and lack of faith in social systems and British life in general he is likely to attach a certain stigma and lack of faith in a lifestyle which mimics it. Winston talks extensively of the bland, ‘neutral’ life which fails to live up to its own expectations ‘the reality was decaying dingy cities where underfed people shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes.’ This again seems more like a general social commentary of the London of Orwell’s time rather than a warning of the future which pervades the rest of the novel. Orwell is clearly disillusioned both in the real world and the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The proles, it seems, though possessing more evidential freedom are actually as enslaved by the party as the rest of Oceania. They are regarded as ‘beneath suspicion’ showing them to be mentally inept and enslaved, perhaps making them greater casualties of Big Brother’s regime. The proles are the ultimate party product, exhibiting no threat despite a lack of supervision via Thought Police or telescreens. They show no ambition, are able to employ doublethink and do not question the status quo unlike Winston and Julia, both party members. As Syme says ‘the proles are not people’, they have lost all concept of freedom or anything outside of the party without the need of newspeak to diminish these concepts for them.

Winston states he knows ‘HOW but I do not know WHY.’ His contrast with the proles demonstrates the ‘Why.’ The very fact he thinks this statement and questions the party shows why the party has need of thought police to keep him under control. There is no need for this amongst the proles since they are not intelligent enough to rebel, but intelligent members of the party who can philosophise on concepts of freedom are far more dangerous to the party. It is necessary for them to be force-fed orthodoxy to keep them under control and weed out those who cannot be. Winston contains the fundamental ‘mute protestation in the bones’ which simply is not present in the proles. There is no hope in the proles uprising since orthodox or not, they will never take the initiative to do so and all those who can invoke them are sought out by Thought Police.

The proles are presented as, fundamentally, equally as oppressed as party member but just through different means. The party members are encouraged and required to use Newspeak so as to diminish the English language and the unorthodox concepts that go alongside it. Though proles, on the other hand, not only use Oldspeak but their own dialect of it and actively reduce the words themselves by omitting letters. The format via which Orwell presents this emphasises this point since he does not simply omit the letters but places a dash in their stead “ ‘Ark at ‘im! Calls ‘isself a barman and don’t know what a pint is.” The proles erode letters and grammar of their own accord, demonstrating the fact that they too will naturally move in the direction of the party.

Similarly, the conversation of the proles, though they are permitted to argue without raising suspicion is ultimately as futile as those members of the party. The conversations are still not exchanges of views or ideas but the ‘duckspeak’ of the Ministry of Truth cafeteria. The proles argue amongst one another whilst never actually stopping to hear each others input. We can see this both in the occasion when the men have a debate over the lottery and Winston’s conversation with the old man in the pub. Conversations run in parallel with each other rather than meet and the sense of personal isolation of views remains. Since, as readers we know that there is no hope for Winston or the other party members, by seeing the similarities we are shown that there too is no hope for the proles.

Ultimately the proles are no more capable of bringing about the revolutionary changes that Winston hopes for than the party members. They have a greater potential since, as the party slogan states, ‘proles and animals are free.’ However, they are only free in the same way an animal is free. They are not truly free, as Winston would see it, to claim that ‘two plus two equals four’ since they have no mental inclination to do so. The proles contain the hope of social freedom which Winston desires but are unable to utilise it since they are mentally enslaved without the need for Thought Police, ambitionless and ultimately hopeless.

Bibliography:George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty-Four