A Temporary Meaning and a Universal Meaning
Animal Farm was Orwell’s most successful attempt to unify his political thought and his artistic purpose. Here he suggests both a temporary or historical meaning and a more general or universal one. Through the use of the beast fable he goes beyond a critique of Russian Communism and its subsequent growth and decay to describe human society and revolutionary psychology. It is important to note that the pigs, Old Major, Snowball, and Napoleon parallel Marx, Trotsky, and Stalin respectively, and that Animal Farm’s enemies, Pinchfied and Foxwood, represent the forces of Fascism and Capitalism. (Or, perhaps, these two farms represent Hitler’s Germany and Churchill’s Britain respectively). It is of more value, however, to see Orwell’s final purpose. After more than two hundred years, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels can be enjoyed without a detailed knowledge of eighteenth-century politics. Orwell’s allusions to contemporary politics in Animal Farm will also not draw as much of the future reader’s attention as the deeper issues.
The Reason for the Disintegration of Animals’ Society
An assertion, that Animal Farm demonstrates Orwell’s complete disillusionment concerning the efficacy of revolution and, later, that Nineteen Eighty-Four proves his belief in the inevitability of a slave-world, is founded on a misreading of these two books and on a failure to see them in relationship to his other writings. If the satire in Animal Farm is read closely, it becomes clear that animals’ society disintegrates, not because it springs from revolution, but because it lacks an established political tradition. When moral direction fails to come from the people, authority becomes absolute power which corrupts absolutely. This situation on the farm allows Napoleon to change the Commandments and the regulations when it suits him. The animals do not have a “racial” memory, nor an idea of justice and equality, to fall back on. Consequently, when at last the single Commandment (“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”) goes up on the barn, only Benjamin the donkey appears perturbed because it is only he who remembers what the conditions were originally and at the beginning of the revolution. The other animals accept the new rule as a matter of course, because they do not know what equality is in the first place and cannot recall any other time vividly enough to assess their present position.
Certain Kinds of Revolutions, Fated to
Since the animals have no history, it can be written at will. And since they have no collective conscience, truth can be manipulated or created to meet the situation. Therefore Snowball’s heroism at the Battle of the Cowshed can later be defined as cowardice without causing any social disturbance. These same conditions appear fully developed in Nineteen Eighty-Four with, however, two important differences. At Animal Farm no one challenges the pigs’ authority, while in Oceania, Winston Smith sees the truth—at least for a moment; and, furthermore, the proles continue to survive with an inherent sense of morality and a vague memory of the past. Certain kinds of revolutions, then, according to Orwell are fated to propagate enslavement rather than to bring about freedom and to take on the appearance of that which they sought to eliminate. Revolution, as such, is not evil or worthless, but most revolutions lead ultimately to dictatorship though they had started with an overthrow of the dictatorship which had previously been in existence and which had been persecuting and exploiting the people.
A Clever Satire
There is plenty in the U.S.S.R. to satirize, and Orwell does it well. How deftly the fairy story of the animals who, in anticipation of freedom and plenty, revolt against the tyrannical farmer, turns into a rollicking caricature of the Russian Revolution! Orwell’s shafts strike home. We read of the sheep who drown discussion by the bleating of slogans; we notice, with amusement, the gradual change of Soviet doctrine under the pretence that it is no change and then that the original doctrine was erroneous. The best thing in Orwell’s story is the picture of the puzzled animals examining the original principles of the Revolution, and finding them altered. “All animals are equal”, said the slogan; to which is added: “but some animals are more equal than others.” The story of the loyal horse who worked until his lungs burst is told with a genuine pathos: it represents a true and hateful aspect of every revolutionary struggle. Particularly noteworthy is the character of the donkey Benjamin who says little but is always sure that the more the things change the more they will be the same, and that men will always be oppressed and exploited whether they have revolutions and high ideals or not.
A Devastating Attack on Stalin and his Betrayal of
the Russian Revolution
the Russian Revolution
Animal Farm is truly a fairy story told by a great lover, of liberty and a great lover of animals. The farm is real; the animals are moving. At the same time it is a devastating attack on Stalin and his betrayal of the Russian Revolution. The parallel between the animals’ revolution and the Russian Revolution is skilfully worked out, perhaps the most felicitous moment being when the animal saboteurs are executed for some of the very crimes of the Russian trials, such as the sheep who confessed to having urinated in the drinking pool, or the goose which kept back six ears of corn and ate them in the night. The fairy tale ends with the complete victory of Napoleon and the pigs who rule Animal Farm with a worse tyranny and a far greater efficiency than its late human owner, Mr. Jones.
An Interesting Plot, with Several Dramatic Situations; Pathos; Humour
Animal Farm has a very interesting plot. The story of the animals, who revolted against their human master and established a government of their own, would appeal primarily to children; but the story acquires an interest for the adult mind also when, after some time, it is realized by the reader that there is a deeper meaning at the bottom and that the story deals with the establishment by the Russian revolutionaries of a government aiming at equality and comradeship soon developing into totalitarianism. Thus Animal Farm may be perused at two levels; at the level of a children’s story and at the level of an allegory for mature people who cannot miss the message that Orwell wishes to convey through it. There are a number of dramatic situations in the story, such as the “Battle of the Cowshed” and the “Battle of the Windmill”. There is plenty of pathos in the story too. Two situations stand out in this respect: one is the massacre of the innocent animals who are compelled by the threat of torture to confess that they had been working secretly in collusion with Snowball against the interests of Animal Farm; and the other is the heart-rending episode of Boxer’s death. But there is plenty of humour too in the novel. In fact, a vein of humour runs through most of the story, the humour becoming almost uproarious at times as, for instance, when it is found that Mr. Frederick has cheated Napoleon by giving him forged currency notes and, again, when Mr. Pilkington and Napoleon make their speeches and when, soon afterwards, they play an ace of spades each at the same time in the course of their game of cards.
The novel is very successful from the point of view of characterization also. It is true that Orwell was not a successful delineator of human character in his novels. But the major characters in this novel are not human beings. The major characters here are animals and, in portraying them, Orwell has achieved a measure of success which he had never achieved in delineating human beings. In the novels written before Animal Farm, his character-portrayal had been superficial and therefore unsatisfactory. Here, however, Orwell has been able to individualize the various animals so that we become thoroughly acquainted with each of them and are able to differentiate one from the other. The characters of the various animals, as drawn by Orwell, are perfectly convincing. This fact has been recognized by almost every critic. Napoleon, Snowball, Squealer, and Boxer are unforgettable characters about whose reality we feel no doubt at all. Even Muriel the goat, Benjamin the donkey, and Mollie the mare have, each of them, an identity of their own, not to speak of Moses the raven and Clover the motherly mare. They have all been made truly convincing.
Animal Farm is an outstanding novel so far as its plot-construction and structure are concerned. Orwell here shows himself to be an excellent craftsman. The plot is well-knit and produces a concentrated effect because there are no side interests or sub-plots in the novel. The structure of the novel is extremely compact, and is characterized by an extreme economy. The simplicity of the style is another merit of the book. Orwell’s style here may be compared to a window pane. The satire becomes much more pointed and effective because of the qualities of compactness, brevity, and simplicity.