George Orwell’s novel 1984 is very much about the way a society can work to systemically disenfranchise various groups. There is complexity to this book, as different groups and types of people are excluded, silenced, and marginalized in ways that the author believes are predictive of the future. The book is about class stratification, but there are additional issues at play as well. In fact, Orwell describes a society in which the middle class is suppressed and marginalized, the proles—those in the lower classes—are largely disenfranchised, and women are altogether excluded from the halls of power (Kellner).
The middle class is perhaps the most interesting group to be defined power and marginalized throughout Orwell’s book. The narrator himself falls into the middle class, which is one of the reasons why the voice and perspective of the work tends to focus so much on the plight of these individuals (Woodcock). Importantly, the middle class is in a position where people might have the ability and wherewithal to understand what is going on. This becomes quite important because the ultimate goal of the government is to ensure that dissent is suppressed and the gravy train can continue to roll on. The middle class represents an existential threat, then, because the middle class could be the body that might lead a revolution in thought. It is suggested in the work that the lower classes cannot be expected to bring on this type of revolution. Instead, the middle class must be silenced and controlled so that they do not get out of hand. This is why the thought police becomes such a major issue in the work.
The goal of the ministry was to ensure that the middle class never even got the idea that they might want to challenge Big Brother. By getting an early start on shutting down the voices of middle class individuals, the people in power could make sure that there was not a cascading effect in play. One of the ways in which potentially problematic middle class individuals are excluded is through the creation of rehabilitation programs. If these individuals are suspected of having ideas or thoughts that are in any way outside of the norm, then they are expected to go through one of these programs after having very real contrition in public.
Not only does this allow for the government to brainwash these individuals, but it also allows for a scenario in which other middle class people are silenced through fear. They see what their fellow brothers and sisters have to go through just for having the wrong thoughts in this society. After seeing that, these other middle class individuals have no desire to put themselves through the torment that might follow if they step out of line. Like all good demagogues, the people in charge of the government understood that fear is perhaps the best possible way to intimidate others into doing what the government wanted. This becomes a major theme in the ability of the government to control its constituents.
While the control and silencing of the middle class is important, they were not the only social group that found itself under the watchful eye of the government (Resch). The proles, or those people at the bottom of the ladder in that society, were also marginalized and excluded in ways that were damaging. The narrator’s comments about the proles provide some basis for understanding the plight of these individuals. Namely, he believed that they had a significant amount of untapped power. They were people with great numbers, and if they could ever figure out what was going on, the government would have no capacity to stop them from reclaiming their rightful claim to power. Unfortunately the narrator suggests, as well, that these people are not clever enough to get that knowledge and gain that power. At the end of the day, the proles are just people who are silenced because they do not possess the sophistication to state their case. Even if they did have the ability, the fact that people like Winston, in the middle class, believed that they were too stupid was another means by which they were silenced in society in this book.
Women are marginalized in this society by the ruling class and government. They are not respected by people in any of the social classes, which forms a division that makes it hard for the people to overthrow the government. In short, there are not many mentions of women who are in power or are otherwise taking back society for themselves. Rather, they are depicted as being props. They are sitting at bars or they are serving as the object of affection for people who might have wanted to use them. This marginalization, and even the mentions of rape and sexual assault, are ways in which women are kept down in this society. The author describes them as being on the margins and not having the sorts of opportunities for influence that other groups within this book might have had.
One of the ways that a controlling government can work is through marginalizing groups. Social groups are controlled, excluded, and silenced so that they will not develop a sense of power. At the end of the day, this happens with many groups in the work. Poor people, middle class people, and women are the primary groups that are kept from the halls of power in the society described by Orwell.