How are the Proles treated under Big Brother in 1984?

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The society in 1984 is unusual in the way that it is set up. Orwell has a three-class structure that mirrors the typical culture of his time. The inner party is a tiny minority of the ruling class, owning the luxuries and making the rules. The outer party, Winston’s party in the novel, are seen as the middle class—abiding by the directives of the inner party, but having no say in how society is run. The proles, short for proletariate, are the lowest and largest class—working menial jobs, receiving no education, and breeding.

While it might seem like being a prole would be terrible, in 1984, it's the closest to normal life that we see in the novel. Being a prole is arguably better than being a member of the outer party because you are mostly left alone. Big Brother doesn’t care about proles, seeing them as basically animals. Proles are allowed to have shops, attend sporting events, have sex, and even be religious if they choose. They speak traditional English and engage in pretty normal behaviors.

Proles, despite the party trying to stop the interaction, do come into contact with members of the outer and inner party when the upper classes need particular things. An example of this is when the novel explains that specific small necessities can only be found in prole owned shops,

Party members were supposed not to go into ordinary shops (’dealing on the free market’, it was called), but the rule was not strictly kept, because there were various things, such as shoelaces and razor blades, which it was impossible to get hold of in any other way. (Chapter 1)

The interesting part of this section is that it shows not only the freedom that proles possess in Big Brother’s society but also the lack of care that Big Brother shows for them. Winston buys a journal in the shop, something that a prole could conceivably do very easily. Winston would face death or 25 years in a labor camp for writing in the journal, but a prole—who isn’t monitored by Big Brother—could do the same thing without any consequence.

In 1984, Big Brother and the inner party think that the proles are stupid and harmless—that is why they are granted freedom to do what they want. They are not monitored because Big Brother doesn’t think there is any value in monitoring them—and they are given a diet of pleasurable distractions to keep them from revolting—ultimately making their lives more entertaining and less deadly than Winston’s.

As a side-note, Big Brother does care if the proles start to show signs of intelligence. Proles who do that are taken and killed. However, proles can question the values of the party without much consequence—in fact, they are the only ones who might do so based on a secondary set of values. In a scene from the movies based on the novel, a prole woman is upset at the video of children being blown up in a boat, and she is simply removed from the theater. The party members clap at the bloodshed, but she is distraught by it, showing that she and the other proles are not fed the same morals or values that the party is fed. The proles might be the last place where morality as we would consider it may be. Winston, at the very least, believes that if any change were to happen in society, that “it would come from the proles.”

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The proles of Oceania are generally completely disregarded and ignored by Big Brother and the Party itself. In terms of the authoritarian implications of the novel, it could be argued that the proles have it better than the Outer Party: they are spared the constant telescreen monitoring that the Outer Party must suffer, and they are not required to express support for the Party in the same way that members of the Party are.

The Party does not care to observe the proles because they know that they are too uneducated to ever unite. Machines create entertainment for them in the form of music and television, and they have little concern outside of their primary function, which is simply to work and create more proles.

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