But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound. He could hear the woman singing and the scrape of her shoes on the flagstones, and the cries of children in the street, and somewhere in the far distance a faint roar of traffic, and yet the room seemed curiously silent, thanks to the absence of a telescreen.
While Winston waits for Julia in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop, outside the window he sees and hears a prole woman singing while hanging laundry to dry. It is not the song itself that touches him, as it is a nonsense song made up by the Music Department specifically for the proles, but her singing and domestic work, along with the absence of a telescreen, transport him to another world with simple pleasures and no surveillance. This woman becomes the embodiment of Winston’s belief that “if there is hope, it lies in the proles.”
Her voice floated upward with the sweet summer air, very tuneful, charged with a sort of happy melancholy. One had the feeling that she would have been perfectly content if the June evening had been endless and the supply of clothes inexhaustible, to remain there for a thousand years, pegging out diapers and singing rubbish. It struck him as a curious fact that he had never heard a member of the Party singing alone and spontaneously.
As Winston waits for Julia above Mr. Charrington’s shop, he continues listening to the prole woman singing. He seems to envy the simplicity of the proles’ lives as well as their freedom to do things like sing. The proles’ ability to do things such as singing distinguishes them, in Winston’s mind, from members of the Party. The proles are free from the scrutiny of the telescreen as well as the constant presence of Big Brother.
From below came the familiar sound of singing and the scrape of boots on the flagstones. The brawny red-armed woman whom Winston had seen there on his first visit was almost a fixture in the yard. There seemed to be no hour of daylight when she was not marching to and fro between the washtub and the line, alternately gagging herself with clothes pegs and breaking forth into lusty song.
Here, Winston hears the prole woman singing on yet another occasion that he and Julia are in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a time when Winston is in that room that he doesn’t hear her singing. Like the paperweight he found at the shop and the picture of St. Clement’s Church, the prole woman serves as both a reminder of another time and hope for freedom in the future.
As he looked at the woman in her characteristic attitude, her thick arms reaching up for the line, her powerful marelike buttocks protruded, it struck him for the first time that she was beautiful. It had never before occurred to him that the body of a woman of fifty, blown up to monstrous dimensions by childbearing, then hardened, roughened by work till it was coarse in the grain like an overripe turnip, could be beautiful. But it was so, and after all, he thought, why not? The solid, contourless body, like a block of granite, and the rasping red skin, bore the same relation to the body of a girl as the rose-hip to the rose. Why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?
As Winston and Julia observe the red-armed prole woman singing, Winston reflects on the idea that she is beautiful. Winston’s only hope lies in the proles becoming aware of their plight and rising up, as they constitute the majority of Oceania’s population and are the only body of people that could have the power to overthrow the Party. For this reason, Winston sees the prole woman’s fertility and physical strength as a hopeful sign of generations to come.
The woman down there had no mind, she had only strong arms, a warm heart, and a fertile belly. He wondered how many children she had given birth to. It might easily be fifteen. She had had her momentary flowering, a year, perhaps, of wildrose beauty, and then she had suddenly swollen like a fertilized fruit and grown hard and red and coarse, and then her life had been laundering, scrubbing, darning, cooking, sweeping, polishing, mending, scrubbing, laundering, first for children, then for grandchildren, over thirty unbroken years. At the end of it she was still singing.
As Winston thinks about the fact that he and Julia can never have a child together to whom they can pass on their knowledge, he views the prole woman as being more powerful than them despite her class, as she is able to procreate. He again envies her freedom to sing as well as her apparent happiness despite the troubles of life. In this way, the red-armed prole woman seems to embody the Party’s slogan that “ignorance is strength,” as her happiness stems from the ignorance that is unique to the proles.