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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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SECTION VII

Winston writes: "If there is hope it is in the proles." The proles, Winston thinks, could shake off the Party as a horse shakes off flies-if they could be roused. But his example of their potential for rebellion is a few hundred prole women stampeding for a bunch of tin saucepans. Two bloated women tug over a pan; their quarreling disgusts him:

Left to themselves, like cattle... they had reverted to... a sort of ancestral pattern. They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, 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.

This seems to be the best they can do. It isn't much! Their minds are so simple that the Thought Police can keep them in line. Being without general ideas, they can only focus their discontent on petty grievances. They watch football or have sex at will because, as a Party slogan sums it up: "Proles and animals are free."

Is this really what Winston thinks about the common people? Is it what Orwell thinks? If it is-and we never know for certain- both character and author are dreadful pessimists, and Winston's later reflection that the proles are the hope for the future is an empty one.

Remember that in describing the Ministry of Truth Orwell exaggerates to get our attention. He may be exaggerating here in order to underscore his warning to his fellow Englishmen, and to make them so mad at him that they will wake up and take action. Perhaps his response to the proles is so conditioned by his years at St. Cyprian's, Eton and Burma that he has let his ingrained sense of the British class system and his snobbery get the better of him. See what you think.


NOTE:

Some readers think the fact that Orwell was dying while he finished this novel accounts for the pessimistic view of society and its future, while others think he was using every weapon in his arsenal to wake up his readers. Remember, only a few years earlier Hitler tried to create a world similar to 1984 in Germany, and Russia was in the grip of a strong centralized government at the time that Orwell was writing.

Picking up a revised children's history, Winston tries to sort out the truths from the lies. Was London really worse off before the Revolution? The Party claims to build ideal cities, but Winston's London is a shambles. He has trouble remembering the past because "Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth."

Just once in his life, Winston possessed concrete evidence of a Party lie. It happened this way: In the Middle Sixties, the original leaders of the Revolution were wiped out. Among the last arrested were Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford, who disappeared and then came back to make public confessions. They were pardoned and reinstated. Winston once saw them in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, a questionable hangout for discredited Party members, where a song played: "Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me...." As Winston watched, Rutherford heard the song and began to weep. We'll see the cafe and hear the song again in Part Three. Several years later Winston comes upon a photograph that proved the "traitors" were really in New York when they were supposed to be in Eurasia, committing crimes against the state. (This paralleled a similar case in the Soviet Union during Orwell's lifetime.) Winston held in his hand physical proof-the photograph-that the Party had lied. Frightened, he destroyed it, but he still remembers. "The past not only changed, but changed continuously." He writes in his diary: I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.

Winston may very well be the only man alive who remembers or cares about the truth.

In the last section Orwell prepared us for Winston's encounter with Julia. In this section he prepares us for Winston's confrontation with the Party. Note that Winston looks to a woman to express his rebellion. In his loneliness, he also turns to O'Brien. He is writing the diary for-or to-O'Brien. Pay close attention to the last thing Winston writes: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows." Orwell is setting him up for his destruction, as we see in Part Three.

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