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Oceania's society is divided into three distinct classes: Inner Party, Outer Party and proles (with their own upper, middle and lower classes). The proles constitute 85% of the population; they receive little education, work at manual labor, live in poverty (although in having privacy and anonymity, qualitatively better off than Outer Party members), and usually die by the age of sixty.
As the Party slogan put it: 'Proles and animals are free.'—Part 1, Chapter 7
Inner and Outer Party members are under constant telescreen surveillance in both private and public; by contrast, proles' quarters are generally free of telescreens, since they are not expected to understand their exploitation as cheap labour by the Party, and thereby unable or unwilling to organize resistance. Their functions are simple: work and breed. They care little about anything but home and family, neighbour quarrels, films, football, beer, lottery tickets, and other such bread and circuses. They are not required to express support for the Party beyond mild patriotism; the Party creates meaningless entertainment, songs, novels and even pornography for the proles — all written by machines except for pornography, which is compiled by members of the Outer Party and accessible only by workers in Pornosec. Proles do not wear uniforms, may use cosmetics, and have a relatively free internal market economy. Proles also have liberal sex lives, uninterrupted by the Party, and divorce and prostitution are permitted. Despite these personal freedoms, the Thought Police plant agents among the proles to spread false rumours and mark down and/or eliminate any individuals deemed capable of causing trouble. Prole quarters consist of rundown apartment buildings, shops and pubs. Though trade between Outer Party members and proles is nominally prohibited, all Party members participate, as proles are the only source for certain minor necessities (the novel mentions shoelaces and razor blades as examples).
The protagonist Winston Smith's internal conflicts form a recurring theme in the novel: his hope for an eventual uprising by the proles; and his understanding that they would, or could, not. In Winston's words, “proles remained human”, i.e., they preserved the essence of life: human emotions, which Party members must avoid; as well as the English (Oldspeak). This view, however, is challenged by O'Brien, who claims the proles would never revolt because they have no need to do so, so long as they are kept well-fed and distracted. The novel alludes to the unwillingness or inability of the proles to organize politically, noting that any prole suspected of independent thought is simply marked down by the Thought Police to be killed, further decreasing the possibility of revolution. None of the characters suggest the Party could collapse internally, due to the absolute control it exerts over the lives and emotions of its members.