He says this in the letter to Francis A. Henson shortly after the release of his book. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasise that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere else. 10 Orwells fable is however rather more refined than Zamyatins by which he was inspired, so changes to the genre are inevitable.
Where Zamyatin sets his work 600 years from the date it was written, Orwell was quick to realise that doing this isolated his reader from the story, it was hard for someone to become involved in a world that bared so little resemblance to our own. Consequently when deciding a time setting for his novel Orwell chose a time around 40 years after the time he finished writing it, this enabled him to make any changes to the world he liked, and still allow his audience to identify with the life of his protagonist. 11 Another vital part of the setting of the novel is the society in which the plot takes place.
In most novels this is important; however in Nineteen Eighty-four it is vital to the successful operation of the book as a political fiction. The society that Orwell constructs is a clear hierarchical pyramid, beginning with the omnipotent semi-divine leader Big Brother, and ending with the driven slaves of this world: The proles. Orwells ideas on totalitarianism are better portrayed the more segregated he can make the society appear, so he writes of a world that has class separation in the most extreme sense conceivable.
He enhances the distinction through contrasts between the living conditions of the Inner Party and the rest of the world, we can see this in everything that Orwell describes about OBriens existence, and he has servants, plush carpet and the right to switch of his telescreen. The distinction can possibly be most clearly seen in the cigarettes, Winston smokes from a crumpled packet dried out, poorly packed cigarettes that dispel their contents onto the floor should one be so incautious as to hold them upright, in contrast to OBrien who smokes tightly packed cigarettes with a silky air about them, taken from a shining silver case.
It should be noted that Orwell when making this gap between classes to further illustrate the unfairness of such a political model, makes almost no distinction between the proles and the outer party, except on matters of education and intelligence. His reason for this is obvious; Orwell could not possibly put the protagonist in a superior class, as it would undermine his efforts to gain sympathy from the reader, and placing the main character in the proletariat sector would not fit with the plot element of having the proles as a great immovable force, that is frustrating in its inability to act.
The proles of Nineteen Eighty-four are in fact as much a character as Winston or Julia. They embody the majority of the people of Oceania, and for Orwell they symbolise the majority of people everywhere. It is consistently mentioned throughout the text that the proles are Winstons frustration, he hopes always that if they could be incited to rebel it would be the end of the reign of terror, but yet they lie dormant, and it is this idea that Orwell is trying to explore.
Throughout various essays on the novel many interpretations of the proles can be found, they are seen as a metaphor for hope for hopelessness and for the inevitability of human suffering but the fact remains that Orwells ideas in this are not nearly so complex. They are Orwells way of showing the reader the consequences of inaction. The proles sit inactive, concerned only with their daily lives, and the pettiness of living: The lottery, football. He states explicitly The proles didnt care about the party. 12 Orwell is trying to show the reader the consequences of inaction.
The proles, thereby the majority of people in Britain (or other European countries, and maybe the most of Oceania that includes, The Americas, Australia, etc. ) are inactive in politics, they are content to sit back and let the world happen around them, and so they are doomed to live forever under the oppression of a tyrannical authoritarianism. It is exactly this that Orwells novel intended to serve as a warning against, when he wrote the book he intended to show people that if they were content to let politics happen around them then the world would change for the worse.
In Nineteen Eighty-four the only hope for the world is if the proles choose to stand up for themselves, so in real life the only hope to prevent a centralised government that will punish and rule with terror is for the political vegetables to stand up for themselves. Orwell does not use the proletariat to illustrate a point; the proletariat are Orwells point. I think, that in some way, he acknowledges the truth of the Communist Manifestos main message, which is: Let the ruling classes tremble at a -Communistic- (replace the Communistic which your political view) revolution.
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite. 13 The characters of Nineteen Eighty-four are many things, but at least partially Orwell uses them as representative of groups within the populous. In the same way as the proles represent the politically apathic, Winston represents those that care. Winston is described in a way that would make him akin to a typical British man of any time; indeed most interpretations of Orwells novel assume him to be the much-lauded Everyman14, however this idea is an oversimplification of the truth.
Winston Smith is not representative of all mankind, only of the politicly active, those who care about the world and work for something better. Orwells point through Winston is that those who care are insufficient on their own, a singly party state of the tyrannical nature of Ingsoc can only be overcome by a combined effort of the people: an uprising of the proles, Winston stands alone and is so crushed beneath the boot of Big Brother.
Winstons shares Orwells frustration over the matter of the proletariat, Orwell felt that he could see the world letting its freedom slide into the hands of a select few, he knew that it could be stopped if only people could be convinced that they were losing their liberty. However he also felt that this decent into totalitarian control was inevitable and that the people of the world could never be persuaded to take a stand, we can see this through the words of OBrien when he is torturing Winston: The programme it sets forth is nonsense.
The secret accumulation of knowledge a gradual spread of enlightenment- ultimately a proletarian rebellion- the overthrow of the Party¦ It is all nonsense; the proletarians will never revolt, not in thousand years of a million. They cannot¦ The rule of the party is forever, make that the starting-point for your thoughts. 15 Julia is of a similar caste to Winston, in that she represents the politicly active, however she is representative not of those who are benevolently crusading for justice and freedom, instead she represents those who rebel selfishly.
She fights for her own good, for physical pleasure, not intellectual freedom as Winston does. Orwell uses her to illustrate another point: she does not require nearly so much reindoctrinating at the conclusion of the novel; this is because she is not as true a political activist in Orwells mind. The point he is trying to show the reader through her existence is that those whose dissent is selfish are merely superficially seditious, and their political convictions are irrelevant. Again he shows us that those who stand alone cannot succeed against a totalitarian state.