More than that, they seem to have little going for them. How much does the Party discourage any level of active thought amongst them? How much does it need to?
The proles are held back not least by their own apathy. On witnessing a fight over some saucepans, Winston asks 'Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?' They are preoccupied only by football, beer, the Lottery (which nobody ever actually ever wins), and occasionally stirred up into a basic patriotic fervour by mass- produced songs and 'enemy' Steamer rocket bombs that are no doubt actually launched by the Party itself.
When Orwell attempts to ask an old prole about the past, all he remembers is that beer was cheaper and tasted better. There is an implicit idea here that life was actually not much better for the working class under the previous system of capitalism. Proletarian force may have been harnessed by the middle classes to effect the Western revolution (see Goldstein's examination of High, Middle, and Lower strata), but this was in the interest of the emergent Party, not the masses seeking equality. Think of some real world examples of this phenomenon.
'Until they become conscious they will never rebel,' writes Winston in his diary. 'and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.' Is this true? Do Oceana's proles need to know why they are rebelling to rise up against the conditions imposed upon them? To what extent are Oceana's working a more subjugated breed than their real world counterparts? Does Orwell's apparently patronising vision of the proletariat betray him out as an old- fashioned sort of socialist who believed that the educated middle classes were needed to lead the revolution? Or are the proles allegorical rather than representative of the real world working classes?
Given that, according to O'Brien, within the Party system, the proles will never rebel, is there another form of hope left to them? Perhaps the only hope there is in the proles is the very limited freedom that they already posses. They may be 'middle-aged at thirty and dead at sixty, and despite the Party's attempt to paint them as animals, their world seems much more human than Winston's existence. Like the old woman singing as she hangs out the washing, they are still able to feel in a way denied to Party members. But theirs is still a life of drudgery and suffering, and Orwell himself knew there was no romanticism in a life of poverty.
Winston's final declaration before he his arrested is that there must be hope: 'Sooner or later it would happen, strength would change into consciousness... in the end their awakening would come.' But O'Brien maintains the opposite: 'The proletarians will never revolt, not in a thousand years or a million. They cannot.' Who do we believe? Who do we want to believe?
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