How is a person's class determined in the 1984 world?

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The class of a person in the 1984 world is determined according to the class one is born into and by ability as defined by the Party, according to the discussion in Part II Chapter IX. There are three classes, the proles, the Outer Party, and the Inner Party. The proles make up about 85% of the total population, the Outer Party about 13%, and the Inner Party about 2%.

If a person is born as a prole, they cannot enter any other class. Extremely intelligent proles who appear to have the potential to make trouble are eliminated by the Thought Police as a routine matter, to ensure social stability. The rest are simply left alone.

Party membership is open to and relatively equallly distributed among persons of all races and regional origins. Persons born into the Outer or Inner Parties usually remain in the class they were born into. In principle, admission to either branch of the Party is governed by examinations taken at the age of 16. In practice, the only function of these examinations is to allow especially stupid members of the Inner Party to be demoted to the Outer Party, and especially clever and ambitious members of the Outer Party to rise to the Inner Party, again to guarantee social stability. The number of those who move in either direction is, however, quite small.

The result is an oligarchy whose membership is extremely stable and relatively unchanging. Nevertheless, if it were pragmatically desirable to change recruitment patterns -- to take in talent from the proles, for instance -- this could also be allowed. The overwhelming concern of the system is to produce a stable and enduring ruling class that shares a common ideology and allegiance. All else is secondary.

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It is clear that in the world of this novel class is something that is determined by birth alone. It is well worth tracing the Proles through the novel and comparing and contrasting them to party members, such as Winston Smith. The Party teaches that the Proles are inherently inferior, something that O'Brien confirms by calling them "animals", and that they must be kept away from Party members and Party life.

They have a very definite pattern of life that is encouraged and promoted by the Party. For example, "Pornosec" and the lottery, which are deliberately propogated by the Party, even though we are told that the prizes that Proles are said to win on the lottery are mostly imaginary. Their pattern of life is described as:

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.

However, despite the shallow nature of their lives Smith comes to realise that they are much freer than he will ever be, both in terms of the lack of surveilance they undergo from the Thought Police and also from their ability to express emotions. The Proles can feel emotions, and Smith realises that this is something he has to relearn from them. It is also perhaps telling that Julia and Winston fantasise about changing their identities and living as Proles so they can live together undetected.

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