A Socioeconomic Critic of Human Nature in 1984
In George Orwell’s 1984, the differences and relationships between the proles, the Outer Party, and the Inner Party reflect different aspects of human nature and the various levels of the human psyche. The most base, savage level of humanity is portrayed through the proles, as they are controlled by nothing more than animalistic instincts. By demonstrating their subjugation in the society of 1984, Orwell maintains that the personality will try to suppress these instinctual forces despite the immense power they wield. The Outer Party represents the malleability of human nature, the idea that social and familial forces ultimately shape a large part of every individual’s character. As in the novel, this level is, in a sense, stuck between the higher planes of personality and those of the untamed human spirit. These higher planes of personality are exemplified by the Inner Party and its absolute control over matter, reality, and even over other human minds and the minds of its own members. With this group, Orwell intends to characterize the immense power of the human mind over all the other levels of personality. Through each of these three groups, Orwell depicts certain aspects of human nature, and he uses the interrelations of the groups to demonstrate the ultimate makeup and influential factors of human life.
The largest and arguably the most powerful of all the influential factors is that of innate human instincts, just as the proles were the largest and potentially most powerful class in the novel. The proles are Freud’s Id, the most rudimentary, most unrefined type of consciousness, humanity in its raw, forceful form. They are humanity stripped to the core, and Winston describes them as having “held onto the primitive emotions which he himself had to relearn by conscious effort” (136). Winston’s mantra, “If there is hope, it lies in the proles,” illustrates just how much power this lowest level of the human psyche really possesses. Unfortunately, it is difficult to direct this power towards anything useful outside of oneself, as it is difficult to awaken the proles to the fact that they have so much power. This is due to the fact that, just as each individual prole is only concerned with his own well being, each person’s Id is completely self centered. Therefore, the mind tends to push this crudely emotional component of nature back, just as the Party subdues the proles.
If the proles represent the emotional aspect of human nature, then the Outer Party represents the reactionary aspect. In the same sense that the Party members live in a higher plane of consciousness than the proles, this reactionary part of the psyche is concerned with something outside of the individual self. In this level of human nature, the influences of culture and society change the outcome of personality. Therefore, it is at this level that the personality is moldable, able to adjust to outside forces. O’Brien says, “Men are infinitely malleable,” and in a sense, they are (222). This aspect of human nature takes on all the effects of the outside world, and can conform to them with varying degrees of intensity, depending on the strength of the mind. There will always be instincts at the center of personality, but this section makes up the real substance of personality, and if this section is malleable, human nature is, in essence, malleable. It is as if the proles represent nature, the Outer Party represents nurture, and the Inner Party represents each individual’s conscious balance between nature and nurture. Since the Inner Party is constantly bombarding the Outer Party with appeals to their emotions, they are able to shift this balance towards the nurture side and control the meat of human nature.
The Inner Party, indeed, represents the control center of human nature, which is the human mind. Just as the proles are emotional and the Outer Party is reactionary, the Inner Party is cognitive. It delineates the highest level of consciousness, the highest level of personality and human nature, with the ability to make decisions that will ultimately affect the actions of the other levels of personality. It is the only aspect of human nature that has this power; the body cannot make decisions that will affect the mind, and similarly, the proles or the Outer Party could not make decisions that would affect the Inner Party. In this respect the mind has ultimate power, just as the Inner Party had the greatest power in the novel–that is, the power to make reality whatever it wanted. As O’Brien tells Winston, “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull” (218). Although it is quite likely that reality actually does exist outside the skull, the fact still remains that human nature allows for the room to perceive reality in any way. Orwell portrays this concept through the Inner Party’s dominance over every aspect of life in 1984’s society, implying that the ultimate power lays in the mind.
Orwell parallels features and relations of the three social classes in 1984 to a larger view of human nature and the way in which personality is shaped. The different planes of humanity, instincts, upbringing, and the mind, are represented by the proles, the Outer Party, and the Inner Party, respectively. The interactions of these classes in the novel demonstrate that it is human nature for the mind to rise to control the societal effects and the innate, raw emotions that are present beneath it, although these other two aspects wield considerable power. The conclusion of the novel suggests even that human nature in itself can be defied or changed by the mind and the way it perceives different experiences, such as the torture Winston must go through so that he will love Big Brother. This reflects Orwell’s cynical view of humans and the path down which he believed human nature would lead. Fortunately, this view seems to be inaccurate, and the terrors of 1984 have been avoided thus far in history.
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