The Problem of Hope: Orwell’s Workers

Taylor, E. 2020. The Problem of Hope: Orwell’s Workers. in: Waddell, N. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Nineteen Eighty-Four Cambridge Cambridge University Press. pp. 155-167

Chapter titleThe Problem of Hope: Orwell’s Workers
AuthorsTaylor, E.
EditorsWaddell, N.
Abstract

‘If there is hope, […] it lies in the proles.’ Thus writes Winston Smith in his secret diary, in one of the most famous formulations from Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). This chapter takes a historical and historicist view of this remark, situating Winston’s and the novel’s account of the Oceanian proletariat in relation to Orwell’s understanding of the economico-political predicament of the working class in the 1930s and 1940s. The chapter considers the highly contentious bind into which Nineteen Eighty-Four puts the so-called ‘proles’, a group it constructs from a largely exterior point of view: caught between Winston’s belief in that group’s inevitable, albeit temporally distant, victory, and O’Brien’s insistence that the alleged ‘animalism’ of the proletariat will prevent it from gaining any kind of purchase on the future. I first outline how Orwell’s thinking on the relationship between socialism and the working class developed through the 1930s and 1940s, from The Road to Wigan Pier to the welfare state. I then discuss the moral and reproductive functions ascribed to the proles in the novel in light of Orwell’s political commitments, before addressing the question of whether the novel despairs of class politics, as thinkers such as Raymond Williams have argued.

KeywordsGeorge Orwell
social class
working class
socialism
dystopia
welfare state
Book titleThe Cambridge Companion to Nineteen Eighty-Four
Page range155-167
Year2020
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication dates
PublishedSep 2020
Place of publicationCambridge
ISBN 9781108814713
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108887090.011
Web address (URL)https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-companion-to-nineteen-eightyfour/CFD54A0D25C926E90D12DAA6F1F708CF#fndtn-contents

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