In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, the majority of society is made up of a group of people known as proles. Proles, short for proletariats, are the working-class citizens of the oppressive state of Oceania, and their presence and purpose in the novel has a great deal of meaning for us today. 

The Definitive Glossary for 1984

The proles are a lower-class group of men, women, and children who live slightly outside the main Party infrastructure. These people have a degree of freedom and oppression that is different from that which Party members like Winston Smith experience.

Definition of Proles in 1984

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the term “proles” is used to refer to the working-class or lower-class citizens of Oceania. They are the poorest members of society and live in poverty, with little access to the luxuries enjoyed by the other classes. 

The proles make up the majority of the population, yet they are largely ignored and not granted any real rights or power. They are kept in a state of subjugation and ignorance by the government and the Inner Party, and their only hope for meaningful change is rebellion. 

Although the proles do not wield the same power as the other classes, they have the potential to become a powerful force if they choose to unite and rebel against their oppressors.

The Party claims that the proles are “natural inferiors who must be kept in subjugation,” Orwell writes. They put out propaganda, saying that they had liberated the “proles from bondage” and that they have a better life now than they had when they were:

 hideously oppressed by the capitalists, they had been starved and flogged, women had been forced to work in the coal mines (women still did work in the coal mines, as a matter of fact), children had been sold into the factories at the age of six.

Examples of Proles in 1984

One of the first references to proles in 1984 is when Winston Smith, the novel’s main character, is having a conversation with Syme, a Party member who is responsible for working on the new version of the Newspeak dictionary. 

As Syme is describing the power of Newspeak and how it’s going to cut down on topics of conversation in the future, Winston tries to interject, saying that the Proles (who are not as linguistically confined as the proper Party members) won’t be using Newspeak in the same way. Syme, though, responds by saying that: 

“The proles are not human beings,” he said carelessly. ‘By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions […]

Later in the novel, Winston is writing in his diary, describing an encounter he had with a prostitute, something that was illegal in Oceania. Orwell wrote: 

He seemed to breathe again the warm stuffy odour of the basement kitchen, an odour compounded of bugs and dirty clothes and villainous cheap scent, but nevertheless alluring, because no woman of the Party ever used scent, or could be imagined as doing so. Only the proles used scent. In his mind the smell of it was inextricably mixed up with fornication.

Here, readers feel Winston’s judgmental opinion of Proles, judging them, to some extent, in the say way that the entirely devoted Party members do. He sees them, consciously or not, as lesser members of society. In the same section, Orwell also mentions that the proles were “not supposed to drink,” but prostitutes could be bought with “a bottle of gin.” 

What Do the Proles Represent?

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the proles are the bottom tier of a three-class system. They are the working class of society, people who do not hold a great deal of power or influence. They are often portrayed as having low levels of education and little to no opportunity for upward mobility. The proles represent the struggles of the working class and their lack of political freedom and basic rights. 

In the world of 1984, the proles are treated like second-class citizens and are subjected to constant surveillance and propaganda by the government.

The proles represent the working class that is subjugated and exploited by those in power. They are a reminder of the powerlessness of the masses and how easily people can be manipulated into accepting their current state of existence.

Orwell suggests that the proles can be easily influenced and therefore need to be monitored by the government in order to maintain the current status quo. The proles represent the idea that people can be conditioned into accepting oppressive regimes if they are given no other choice.

How Do the Proles Differ from the Other Classes in 1984?

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the proles are the working class of society. They are viewed as being completely separate from the other classes: the Outer Party and the Inner Party. The proles have far fewer rights than the other classes and are largely ignored by the government. 

They have limited access to information, food, and clothing and do not have the freedom to travel outside of their own districts. In contrast, the members of the Inner and Outer Parties have access to luxuries, privileged information, and a greater degree of freedom. The proles in 1984 serve as a reminder of the power of a totalitarian regime and its ability to manipulate and oppress an entire class of people.


What does Orwell suggest about the role of the proles in society?

Orwell suggests that the proles are essential for the survival of the oppressive regime in 1984, as they make up the majority of society and have the potential to overthrow it. He portrays them as a kind of safety valve, allowing the upper classes to maintain control over the rest of the population.

What can we learn from the proles?

We can learn the power of solidarity and resilience from the proles, who are able to survive and thrive despite oppressive conditions. Their spirit and strength remind us of the importance of standing together in the face of oppression.

Are the proles Party members in 1984

No, the proles are not members of the Party. They are the lowest class in society and lack any influence on political decision-making. The Party uses them as a means of control, keeping them content with false promises of a better future.

Related Terms in 1984

  • Thoughtcrime: a term used throughout Orwell’s 1984. It is defined as thoughts that go against the political ideology of the Party. 
  • Hate Week: a week of events that are designed to make the citizens of Oceania feel as much hate as possible towards certain enemies in George Orwell’s 1984.
  • Doublethink: used to describe one’s capacity to hold two contradictory beliefs at one time.
  • Room 101: the designation of a particularly awful torture chamber within the Ministry of Love in 1984.
  • Speakwrite: a device that was invented by George Orwell for his novel 1984. It is used instead of physical writing. 

Other Resources 

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap