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Winston is beginning to wonder what life was like before the revolution. He is curious because his job is to re-write history. He thinks that the old man will be able to answer his questions about what life was like before.
The prole (an abbreviation for "proletariat") was a neighbor of Winston's and has a fairly good memory of life in the past. Winston hopes that if he talks with him the prole might be able to tell him about how individual people lived and experienced life in the past. He is disappointed in his talk though because the prole has only fleeting memories of his own life, nothing that can shed light on what a individual's life might really have been like.
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