The Animals in This Novel, Real and Convincing
Orwell was neither a great creator, nor a great delineator, of human character. In fact, his principal weakness as a novelist lies in the sphere of characterization. The persons in his novels have not been satisfactorily or successfully been drawn.
The reason for this failure is Orwell’s incapacity to take us into the minds of his characters. He is unable to depict the inner life and the inner consciousness of the characters. As a result, his character-portrayals are superficial and therefore not quite convincing. However, the case of Animal Farm is different. The major characters in this novel are animals, and the author is under no necessity to portray their inner life because the animals are not believed to have any inner life (even though most of the actions of Napoleon are pre-meditated, thereby showing that some thinking has gone into the decisions he takes). Neither Aesop nor La Fontaine tried to depict the psychology or the working of the minds of animals. Orwell’s love of animals is well-known. He had kept a number of animals during the period of his residence in the town of Wellington and had observed their behaviour. That is one reason why he has been able successfully to portray the animals in this novel and to make them real and convincing.
A Brief Picture of the Physical Appearance of Each Character
Orwell’s technique in his delineation of the animals consists in giving us a brief visual picture of the physical appearance of each and then letting us infer their moral traits from their actions and speeches, though occasionally he brings a moral trait to our notice through his own words. He also makes use of the device of contrast to emphasize the moral traits of some of the animals. The physical appearance of the animals is indicated to us very briefly. For instance, Old Major is described as a prize boar, twelve years old, rather stout, but a majestic-looking animal with a wise and benevolent appearance. Napoleon is described as a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar who is not much of a talker but who has a reputation for getting things done in accordance with his own wishes. Snowball is a more spirited and lively pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive. Squealer, whose physical appearance receives more attention from the author, is “a small fat pig, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice.” He is a brilliant talker and when he is arguing some difficult point he skips from side to side, whisking his tail. Boxer is described as an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high, and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down his nose gives him a somewhat stupid appearance. Clover is a stout motherly mare approaching middle life, who has never quite got her figure back after the birth of her fourth foal. Mollie is a foolish, pretty white mare who walks with mincing steps and who is fond of wearing red ribbons in her white mane. Thus, by means of a visual picture of each of the animals, the animals have been individualized and differentiated from one another.
Moral Traits, Indicated Through Authorial Comments
As already pointed, Orwell occasionally specifies the moral traits of the characters through his own comments. Napoleon, as already mentioned, has a reputation forgetting things done according to his own wishes. Later in the story, we are told that Napoleon is better at canvassing support for himself behind the scenes, while Snowball is able to win over the majority of the animals to his side by his brilliant speeches. Napoleon, we are also told, is especially successful with the sheep. Boxer, we are told, is universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work. Benjamin the donkey, says the author, is the worst-tempered animal on the farm. Benjamin seldom talks and, when he does, it is usually to make some cynical remark: for instance, he would say that God has given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would prefer to have no tail and no flies. Alone among the animals on the farm, Benjamin never laughs. If asked why, he would reply that he sees nothing to laugh at. Squealer, says the author, has a persuasive manner of talking and can turn black into white, meaning that he can represent a falsehood as if it were an undoubted truth. Mollie, we are told, does not get up early to attend to her work. She makes all sorts of excuses for coming to the work late. There is a cat whose behaviour is described as somewhat peculiar. Whenever there is any work to be done, she can never be found. She disappears for hours at a stretch, and then reappears at meal-times or in the evening after work is over. But she has a way of purring so affectionately that nobody can criticize her. Benjamin does not shirk work, but he never volunteers to do extra work either. These specific traits of the various animals, indicated by the author, further help us to distinguish them from one another; and these traits also make the portrayals much more interesting. We are certainly much amused by the way in which the skipping of Squealer and his whisking his tail is described, and also by the manner in which the behaviour of Benjamin, Mollie, and the cat is described by the author. The description of their physical appearance, combined with these specific traits, really imparts a vividness to the portrayals of the various animals and helps the author in making them convincing figures.
Moral Traits, Inferable From Behaviour and Talk: The Case of Major
By and large, the moral traits of the animals are allowed to emerge from the way in which they behave or talk. Major, whom we meet in the very opening chapter, and who summons all the animals to a secret meeting, is the animal who instigates his fellow-animals to rebel against Mr. Jones, the tyrannical owner of the farm. It is he who provides the motivating force behind the rebellion which he suggests. His exhortation to the animals to become united in order to struggle to overthrow Mr. Jones shows that he is a true well-wisher of the animals and also that he has a fertile mind. He gives to the animals some guidelines for their day-to-day behaviour, and he sings to them the song called “Beasts of England” which immediately becomes popular. Major symbolizes, of course. Karl Marx, the German economist who was the founder of the Communist ideology. Major occupies a distinctive position in the novel; the speech which he makes to the animals stamps him as a venerable father-figure. He wins our esteem by his passionate love of freedom and equality and by his capacity to inspire the other animals with his progressive ideas. He is able to convince the animals that man is their enemy against whom they must fight. Man symbolizes, of course, capitalism and the tyranny which the capitalists are in a position to exercise over the working-class.
The Portrayal of Napoleon
Leaving aside Major, the most important character in the book is Napoleon. Napoleon’s first action, after Mr. Jones has been driven away from the farm, is to reserve milk and apples for the exclusive use of the pigs. By this action, with which Snowball too concurs. Napoleon shows that he has already made up his mind that the pigs are to acquire a privileged position on the farm. Napoleon’s second important action is to take charge of the newly-born puppies of Jessie and Bluebell in order to rear and train them in accordance with his own secret design. In course of time, these puppies grow into fierce dogs who serve Napoleon with great devotion and through whom he is not only able to expel his rival Snowball from the farm, but through whom he also acquires a tremendous power to rule the farm in an autocratic manner. Napoleon shows his capacity for intrigue by training the sheep to bleat the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad” loudly whenever he wants Snowball’s speeches to be interrupted so that Snowball should not be able to sway his audience. After the success of the rebellion against Mr. Jones, it becomes Napoleon’s constant endeavour to strengthen and consolidate his own position. He is now dominated by a love of power and a desire for self-aggrandisement. He confers more and more privileges upon the pigs, and he goes on becoming more and more of an autocratic ruler. He shows a good deal of cunning and cleverness in deviating from, and violating, the Seven Commandments till they are reduced to only one which reads as follows: “All Animals Are Equal But Some Are More Equal.” The absurdity of this Commandment as compared to the original wording is obvious. Napoleon has bidden a final good-bye to the ideals with which the rebellion against Mr. Jones had been launched. Napoleon’s cunning is seen also in the manner in which he makes use of Squealer to defend and justify his policies and actions. Napoleon symbolizes Stalin who, by his arbitrary and ruthless policies and actions had crushed all opposition in Russia and had emerged as a dictator with absolute powers. The massacre of animals which takes place on the farm under, Napoleon’s orders corresponds to the Great Purges of 1936-38 which had been carried out under Stalin’s orders. Napoleon is really made to live in the pages of the novel and is a truly convincing figure.
A Contrast Between Snowball and Napoleon
Snowball offers a striking contrast to Napoleon. While Napoleon is secretive, Snowball is frank and open-hearted. While Napoleon is prone to be reticent, Snowball is an eloquent orator. While Napoleon insists on the importance of agricultural production. Snowball wishes to pay greater attention to the development of scientific technology as represented by his plan to build a windmill on the farm to generate electricity. While Napoleon wants that the animals should keep themselves in a state of armed readiness to defend the farm against a possible attack, Snowball believes that pigeons should be sent to other farms to excite the animals on those farms to rise in revolt against their human masters, thus making it impossible for those human masters to attack Animal Farm. This contrast between the two leaders is based on historical facts. Napoleon, as already pointed out, represents Stalin. Snowball, on the other hand, represents Trotsky who came into conflict with Stalin and who was driven away by Stalin into exile. Stalin and Trotsky were men of opposite views, and so are Napoleon and Snowball in the story. After Snowball has been driven away from the farm, Napoleon, making use of Squealer, starts a campaign of slander and vilification against Snowball. Whenever any misfortune or hardship or a piece of bad luck is experienced by the animals on Animal Farm, Squealer, acting under Napoleon orders, gives out that Snowball is responsible for it. Every disaster on the farm is attributed by Napoleon to the machinations of Snowball who, however, is nowhere in the picture at all. Stalin, likewise, had slandered and defamed Trotsky for years after Trotsky had gone into exile. The contrast between Napoleon and Snowball helps to lend a greater vividness to the delineation of both.
A Convincing Portrayal of Squealer, the Propagandist
Squealer too has skilfully been drawn. He is an able propagandist, who can twist and distort facts to suit Napoleon’s purposes. He is an accomplished liar. His distortions of the truth are disgusting, chough very amusing at the same time. He defends Napoleon’s decision about the milk and the apples on the ground that the pigs, being brain-workers, need milk and apples to keep them in a state of good health. He defends Napoleon’s decision not to hold any more meetings of the animals for the purpose of taking collective decisions. This defence is based on the ground that Napoleon has only added to his labour by taking this step because Napoleon thinks that, if all the decisions about running the farm continue to be taken by a majority vote, the decisions might prove to be wrong and harmful. When Napoleon decides to build the windmill which he had originally opposed, Squealer explains to the other animals that Napoleon’s original opposition had really been a device to get rid of Snowball who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Squealer describes Napoleon’s original opposition to the windmill as “tactics”; and Squealer repeats the word “tactics” several times, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. Indeed, Squealer tells all kinds of lies in a most brazen manner to support Napoleon. Squealer is meant to symbolize the servile Russian Press which always supports and justifies the policies of the Communist regime.
The Memorable Portrayal of Boxer
Among the minor animals, Boxer is perhaps the most memorable. It is amusing to find that he cannot go beyond the first four letters in his efforts to learn the alphabet. But, apart from this deficiency, he is an animal of a sterling character. His habit of working hard and his loyalty to Napoleon are remarkable. His two mottoes are “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right”. However, Boxer meets a sad fate when, on falling ill and becoming incapacitated for work, he is sold by the ruthless and ungrateful Napoleon to a horse-slaughterer.
Clover and Mollie
Some of the other animals have also been drawn with a sure touch and are made really to live before us. Clover is as faithful a follower of Napoleon as Boxer is. However, she is able to learn a little more of the alphabet than Boxer, though she is still not able to read the Seven Commandments unaided. She is as hardworking as Boxer, though she is much less strong. By her habits of hard work she resembles Boxer but she differs widely from Mollie, the white mare, who is a shirker. Another point of contrast between Clover and Mollie is that, while Clover remains faithful to the farm, Mollie defects from the farm and goes over to the human beings to serve them. Clover is as sentimental as Boxer is. She is deeply attached to Boxer, and she feels grief-stricken when Boxer falls down to the ground in the course of the performance of his duties and lies helplessly, with blood trickling from his mouth. Clover’s reactions to Napoleon’s violations of the Commandments show that she is a sensitive creature who is much distressed by the sad developments going on around her.
The Portrayal of Benjamin the Donkey
Benjamin the donkey has also been memorably drawn. His philosophy of life is that things never really change. He is inclined to be reserved, and seldom opens his heart. When asked by fellow-animals whether he is happier after the expulsion of Mr. Jones, he gives a cryptic reply which is “Donkeys live a long life. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.” At the end of the story we are told that old Benjamin is much the same as ever, except that he has become a little more gloomy and reticent after the death of Boxer to whom he had deeply been attached. He is still of the opinion that things can never become much better, or much worse than they have been before. In his opinion, hunger, hardship, and disappointment are the unalterable law of life. Benjamin symbolizes the stoical and cynical philosopher who does not believe that any real improvement or progress in human affairs is possible. However, it is somewhat surprising that Orwell should have attributed so much wisdom to an animal who has traditionally been regarded as stupid.
The Portrayal of Moses, the Raven
Moses, the raven, is described as a spy and a tale-bearer and also as a clever talker. He continually talks about a country called Sugarcandy Mountain which, he says, is situated somewhere up in the sky. Sugarcandy Mountain is depicted by Moses as a kind of paradise to which all the animals would go after their deaths. Some of the animals believe him, but the pigs are openly contemptuous of him because they regard his talk about Sugarcandy Mountain as a pure fabrication. However, even the pigs tolerate his presence on the farm. Allegorically Moses represents first the orthodox Russian Church and subsequently the Roman Catholic Church. He is relevant to the story because he symbolizes a priest through whom Stalin had tried to mend his relations with the Pope at Rome.
The White Goat, Muriel
Finally, there is a white goat by the name of Muriel who is quite an intelligent and clever animal and who learns to read even better than the dogs who are next only to the pigs in their capacity to read. Muriel is very friendly with Clover to whom she sometimes reads out the Seven Commandments which Clover herself cannot read.
The Portrayal of Human Beings
Besides the animal, there are a few human beings who also figure in the story. They are Mr. Jones, Mr. Pilkington, Mr. Frederick, and Mr. Whymper. They are all dawn briefly but convincingly. Mr. Jones represents capitalism and Czarism. Mr. Pilkington most probably symbolizes Churchill, so that his farm represents Britain and the capitalist economy of the time. Mr. Frederick symbolizes Hitler, so that Pinchfield Farm would then represent Germany with her plans to annex other Europeon countries. Mr. Whymper is a solicitor who acts as an intermediary between Animal Farm and the other farms, and who makes enough money as commission from the commercial transactions which he negotiates between the two parties.