1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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Why are the common criminals and political prisoners treated differently in the temporary lock-up?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The common criminals seem to be proles, as evidenced by the "enormous wreck" of an older woman who comes in struggling and is dumped on Winston's thighs. Because they are proles and not Party members, as the political prisoners are, they are of far less interest to the state. They are prostitutes, racketeers, homosexuals: people engaged in petty crime. There appears to be no need to reprogram them, and the guards treat them with "a certain forbearance, even when they . . . handle them roughly," which is far differently from how Party members are treated.

People like Winston and Ampleforth, who are Party members, have to be restored to orthodoxy, which calls for far different and more terrifying treatment. The view screen "barks" at them to remain silent, and they seem to be singled out for systematic torture, including the frightening but at this point mysterious room 101.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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 There are two closely aligned answers to this. The first is that this is often the case in totalitarian regimes, and Orwell knew this. (He was being accurate to history). However, the prisoners were also treated differently because of the appraisal of their infractions. A criminal is a minor threat; it is someone who isn't following the rules. The crimes can be used against him or her. In a way, the state is almost glad for this sort of criminal. The crimes are tools to promote social control. Political prisoners, though, are active and conscious threats to the overall order of the state. They are trying to change things, and so are very dangerous.

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