In George Orwell’s 1984, the totalitarian superstate of Oceania is divided into three social classes: the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the proles. Big Brother, the enigmatic leader, is at the top of these classes. The social discourse of 1984 explores the ways through which social forces create conflict and polarize society, particularly in the areas of politics, economics, religion, gender, and race. By dividing society into three classes with differing roles and privileges, Orwell provides commentary on class disparity in a modern society.
The elite class is known as the Inner Party, which has the most “unsupervised” privileges. For example, the Inner Party is permitted to turn off their telescreens, have privacy in their homes, access more food and drink options, and have personal servants. The Inner Party is also the class that creates the social policies and government decisions. As stated by Orwell, “Below Big Brother comes the Inner Party. Its numbers limited to six million, or something less than 2 percent of the population of Oceania” (Orwell 208). This quote quantifies the size of the Inner Party, and an alliteration begins the statement. Quotes that describe the Inner Party are as follows:
In the opening pages, Winston contemplates the role of O’Brien, his torturer, who is a member of the Inner Party.
A member of the Inner Party and holder of some post so important and remote that Winston had only a dim idea of its nature. A momentary hush passed over the group of people round the chairs as they saw the black overalls of an Inner Party member approaching. O’Brien was a large, burly man with a thick neck and a coarse, humorous brutal face. In spite of his formidable appearance he had a certain charm of manner. (Orwell 10)
The characterization of O’Brien in this section shows that the Inner Party is intimidating—O’Brien incites fear with his physical presence. In addition, the imagery and diction of “large, burly man with a thick neck and a coarse, humorous brutal face” presents members of the Inner Party as imposing, strong, and authoritative. Yet, the juxtaposition of “certain charm of manner” suggests the Inner Party is deceitful—they falsely appear friendly and caring, but often harbor different intentions.
“Them, it appeared, meant the Party, and above all the Inner Party, about whom she talked with an open jeering hatred which made Winston feel uneasy” (Orwell 122). In this quote, “she” refers to Julia and her blatant hatred towards the Inner Party. The phrase “open jeering hatred” portrays the critical stance that she takes toward the Inner Party. Further, the fact that Winston feels “uneasy” serves to show the fear that the lower social classes have of criticizing or crossing the Inner Party.
When Winston asks Julia if she has had sex with any of the Inner Party members, she states, “Not with those swine, no. But there’s plenty that would if they got half a chance” (125). Julia uses the metaphor of “swine” to refer to the Inner Party, portraying them as dirty and vulgar people. Also, the metaphor suggests the Inner Party members are animalistic and aggressive, which is supported by her comment that many of them would sleep with her if given the opportunity.
“It’s coffee,” he murmured, “real coffee.”
“How did you manage to get hold of all these things?”
“It’s all Inner Party stuff. There’s nothing those swine don’t have, nothing. But of course waiters and servants and people pinch things, and—look, I got a little packet of tea as well.” (Orwell 141)
This is an exchange between Winston and Julia where Julia brings real coffee for the two to enjoy. Julia refers to the Inner Party as “swine,” a metaphor that carries a negative connotation, to illustrate the irritation “lower parties” feel with the elite Inner Party.
The Outer Party is a step below the Inner Party and primarily holds the administrative jobs that enforce the policies. The Outer Party has more restrictions placed on their freedoms. For example, they are allowed only to indulge in cigarettes, Victory Gin, and sex for procreative purposes only. Winston is a member of the Outer Party, and as a result, he is spied on in his home through his telescreen, which cannot be turned off.
“Below the Inner Party comes the Outer Party, which if the Inner Party is described as the brain of the State, may be justly likened to the hands” (Orwell 208). This is an excellent example of a simile figuratively comparing the Inner Party to the “brains” of the operation and the Outer Party to the “hands.” It presents the Outer Party as the industrious class who carries out the orders that come from above. This simile is also significant because it shows that the Outer Party is not permitted to think for themselves, as they are not the “brains.”
The telescreen was giving forth an ear-splitting whistle which continued on the same note for thirty seconds. It was nought seven fifteen, getting-up time for office workers. Winston wrenched his body out of bed—naked, for a member of the Outer Party received only 3,000 clothing coupons annually, and a suit of pajamas was 600. (Orwell 31)
This quote portrays the rigidity of a life in the Outer Party—everything is calculated and regimented. Also, the diction (and alliteration) of “Winston wrenched” conveys the resentment which an Outer Party member feels toward this lifestyle. Further, the fact that Winston wakes up naked every day to an ear-splitting whistle symbolizes his defenseless state in this pyramid of social power.
“It is called wine,” said O’Brien with a faint smile. You will have to read about it in books, no doubt. Not much of it gets to the Outer Party” (Orwell 171). This quote illustrates the restrictions placed on the Outer Party. The Outer Party is not permitted to indulge in wine and must exist on preconditioned rations of food and drink. However, a significant component of this quote is found in O’Brien’s comment that Winston will have to read about it in books. The Outer Party is the most educated of the parties because they do read. This serves as an ironic commentary on social struggle because knowledge often leads to power and the Outer Party is the most supervised class.
The proles are the lower class of Oceania and comprise the largest percentage of the population. These individuals are placed in charge of manual labor and live in the poorest conditions. Ironically, the proles are the freest of the Party members. They are not watched and are encouraged to drink, gamble, and engage in sexual acts. However, they are kept uneducated so they remain in this lower state. Quotes that describe the proles are as follows:
In reality, very little was known about the proles. It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their own activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern. (Orwell 71)
In this quote, a simile is used to compare the proles to cattle that mindlessly graze the countryside and are self-sufficient. This shows that the proles are treated as animals as opposed to people in Oceania.
“There was a vast amount of criminality in London, a whole world-within-a-world of thieves, bandits, prostitutes, drug-peddlers, and racketeers of every description” (Orwell 72). The alliteration of “whole world-within-a-world” emphasizes the isolation of the proles from the rest of the state. They were left alone because they were not deemed a threat.
“They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelves, 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” (Orwell 72). The parallelism of this quote emphasizes the futility of being a prole—there is no room for change or upward mobility. Each phase of their life is as insignificant as the others, and each prole lives out the same life.