Proles (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

In George Orwell's dystopian 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the proles are the working class of Oceania.[1] The word prole is a shortened variant of proletarian, which is a Marxist term for a working-class citizen. In the novel, the proles are generally depicted as being uneducated and living in a state of blissful ignorance.[2]

Social structure of Oceania

In 1984, Orwell describes Oceania's society as divided into three distinct classes: the Inner Party, the Outer Party (the lower bureaucracy),[3] and the proles[4] (with their own upper, middle and lower classes). The proles made up almost 85% of the population in Oceania;[5] they receive little education, work at manual labor, live in poverty (although in having privacy and anonymity, qualitatively better off than Outer Party members), and usually die by the age of sixty.

As the Party slogan put it: 'Proles and animals are free.'[6]

Part 1, Chapter 7

Party members (the Inner Party and Outer Party)[7] are under surveillance via telescreens in both private and public; by contrast, proles' quarters are generally free of telescreens as the Party does not care to observe them, and the proles who do have telescreens do not use them for surveillance purposes as they are not required to do so. Their functions are simple: work and breed. Proles are described as "caring little about anything but home and family, neighbor quarrels, films, football, beer, lottery tickets, and other such bread and circuses."

They are not required to express support for the Party beyond occasional, mild patriotic fervor; the Party creates (largely meaningless) entertainment, such as shows, songs, books, and even pornography for the proles—all written by machines. Julia is a mechanic tending the novel-writing machines in Pornosec, the government's pornography department. Proles are not required to wear uniforms, may use cosmetics, have a relatively free internal market economy, and would be even permitted religion for those that had interest in it. Proles also have liberal sex lives, uninterrupted by the Party; with divorce and sexual activity outside reproduction (oral sex, prostitution, and other acts which would be considered sexcrimes under Newspeak and by the Party members) being permitted. Despite these personal freedoms, the Thought Police do plant agents to spread false rumors among the proles and attempt to identify and eliminate any individual showing too much intelligence and the capacity for independent thought. Prole quarters typically consist of rundown Victorian houses, shops, and pubs. Though trade between Outer Party members and proles is supposed to be prohibited, all Party members participate anyway, as proles' shops are often the only reliable source for certain necessities (the novel mentions shoelaces and razor blades as examples).

From a certain viewpoint, Proles are regarded as the "truly free" individuals of the State, as they are uninterrupted by the Party's propaganda or surveillance, kept in check by certain pleasures to maintain docile behavior with minimal fear of elimination. They also maintain Oldspeak (standard English) unlike the Party members who use Newspeak; the Party have never bothered to require the proles to speak Newspeak as they have rarely been caught using words prohibited under Newspeak.

The hope of revolution

The protagonist Winston Smith's internal conflicts form a recurring theme in the novel: his hope for an eventual uprising by the proles; and his understanding that they would, or could, not. In Winston's words, "proles remained human", i.e., they preserved the essence of life: human emotions, which Party members must avoid; as well as the English language (Oldspeak). Winston writes in his diary "If there is hope, it lies in the proles." This view is challenged by O'Brien, who claims the proles would never revolt because they have no need to do so, so long as they are kept well-fed and distracted. The novel alludes to the unwillingness or inability of the proles to organize politically, noting that the Thought Police will attempt to mark down any prole suspected of independent thought to be killed, further decreasing the possibility of revolution. None of the characters suggest the Party could collapse internally; the chance of internal collapse is already very small, despite being non-zero, due to the absolute control it exerts over the lives and emotions of its members.


  • The dictionary definition of prole at Wiktionary
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