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Animal Farm (lit essay)

Posted on May 11, 2009 at 12:10 AM

Orwell said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” The quote itself refers to an essay originally published by Orwell in March, 1946. The essay is called In Front of Your Nose, and was written as a piece that explored the implications of social facts that are so obvious that other intellectuals prefer to remain oblivious to them. What this basically means in English is that throughout history, particularly throughout the past century, societies and individuals have been faced with obviously contradictory ideas to one situation, yet accept both ideas without questioning their confliction. Orwell gave several examples in the essay, they included: the idea that Jesus was the son of Joseph, yet, at the same time, the son of God; British occupation of Hong Kong, despite the fact that neither the people, nor the government, wanted the responsibility, and knew it would be annexed by the Japanese; British opposition of Germany, yet also their opposition of a conscription; the conflicting and absurd statistics of birthrate and the economy; and the uselessness, yet constant funding, of the U.N.O. Medically, Orwell stated, this manner of thinking is called schizophrenia: at any rate, it is the power of holding simultaneously two beliefs which cancel each other out.


This idea ties directly in with this essay’s analytical question: Why do you think the animals were unable to see that they were being exploited? The animals were obviously being exploited by Napoleon and the other pigs, yet at the same time, believed that they lived in a paradise free from totalitarian oppression. How could this be?


Throughout this essay I will determine why the animals seemed so utterly oblivious to their desperate situation. I will explore the inevitable division of the classes; the unattainable dream of a socialist [or animalist] democracy; and finally, the cunning, and often brutal, manipulation of the ruling class against its own subjects.

 

Society will always be divided into two classes – the working class and the ruling class – irrelevant of which system of government it lives by. The preaching’s and philosophy that Old Major instilled upon the animals before his passing, reflects precisely that of the social teachings and economic theories put forth by Karl Marx himself. One key aspect of his economic study presented the idea that society would always be divided into two classes to account for the division of labor – the ruling class (who own the means of production), and the working class (the non-owners, who produce). Marx predicted that the ruling middle class would be overthrown by the working class. The result of this revolution will be a classless society in which the chief means of production would be publicly owned (socialism/animalism). In his speech, Old Major tells the animals about the coming revolution, and how animals will overthrow the evil human race and live and work together as equals, thriving off the fruit of their own labor.


However, the reality is very different. Even though the production of the animals is initially shared out equally between them, Old Major [and Karl Marx] neglected to take into consideration the fact that certain individuals will take advantage of this unstable form of social democracy. Greed will overcome certain persons, persons who possess the intellect to sway the situation in their favor. An ever-tightening strain will develop between those who produce, and those who organize. And eventually the two will separate into rulers and workers again. And those among them who are hungry for power will be corrupted by new their new ruling status – hence the eventual failure of communism.


One possible insight into the ruling classes’ ability to exploit is the chilling theory that perhaps the working class is simply there to be programmed by some higher power, and that they are incapable of deciding how to contribute to society on their own. This may sound farfetched, but it does parallel with Boxer’s incredible devotion to Napoleon’s regime, despite its negative effect on him and the other animals. And also the need for some of the stupider animals to memorize passages to remind themselves what system of government they currently live by (e.g. The bleating of the sheep “two legs good, four legs bad”; later reprogrammed by Squealer to “four legs good, two legs better” to recognize the promoted stage of the pigs’ social status).


The animals don’t seem to be able to decide things for themselves. They lived under Mr Jones’ reign for all of their life without ever challenging his authority. They do in the end revolt against him, but only due to Old Major’s influence. If he had said nothing, then the animals would have gone on with their life as they always had. Everyone was satisfied, or at least content, with their place on the farm until someone suggested that it could be better. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss. Who is to say that we are not living in the society of an oppressive totalitarian regime – especially if we don’t know any better? And yes the animals do form a resistance, but only under the close direction of the pigs, led by Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. The scariest thing is that there is no guarantee that history will not repeat itself again. Perhaps a new animal will emerge from the working class to lead a rebellion against the corrupt pigs. But who’s to say that he will not be corrupted by the benefits of power himself (like Jones and Napoleon before him). And so the grimy cog of power continues to churn, with only one assurance – socialism, while it is employed with noblest of intentions, shall ultimately fail, simply because it does not take into account the greed and jealousy which will eventually undermine its entire philosophy.

 

The animals could not see that they are being used, because they refused to believe that the rebellion had failed. The true tragedy of Animal Farm lay in the undying spirit of the animals themselves (especially Boxer). Even after Napoleon had enslaved them and corrupted animalism for his own devices, the animals continued to toil ever onwards and upwards for [as they perceived it] the good of the farm, warmed by the knowledge that they worked for themselves, and would enjoy the full fruit of their labor, free from the tyranny of man. No matter how hard their lives became, they were rendered oblivious to the fact that the root cause of all their misfortune was Napoleon, purely because they believed that they were free and at peace. Orwell narrates, "Nobody stole, nobody grumbled over his rations, the quarreling and biting and jealousy which had been normal features of life in the old days had almost disappeared."


Although Old Major’s speech certainly stirred up some emotions with the animals, a lot of what he originally preached was gradually discredited or ignored by the pigs following his death. And after a short while, only Old Major’s most primary ideologies come to remain (i.e. The Seven Commandments; Animal equality; resistance against human tyranny).


It is the revolution's anthem, “Beasts of England," which holds the most sway over the animals. This song embodies everything that the animals stand for – the spread of animal resistance against man; the freedom and equality of all creatures; reaping the fruits of their own labour; and living in the paradise of nature, free from human influence.


But as Napoleon gains more and more control over Animal Farm and its inhabitants, many of these principles are disregarded or overlooked in favour of the farms economic prosperity (i.e. money). Eventually, to the shock and surprise of the other animals, Napoleon outlaws Beasts of England, which had served as one of the only remaining ties between Animal Farm and Old Major. So with Old Major’s influence removed from the equation, yet his inspiration still holding the animals firmly in place, the pigs are free to bend the rules of animalism to their own self-centered pleasures.


The song “Beasts of England” is promptly replaced by the refrain, “Animal Farm, Animal Farm / Never through me shalt thou come to harm.” This refrain is more ironic than it is inspiring like “Beasts of England” was. The animals are led to sing that Animal Farm shall never harm them, but the phrasing suggests a hidden second meaning. The pigs claim that the animals shall never harm them "through" Animal Farm; in other words, the Animal Farm's pleasant appearance prevents the subjects from protesting, so the farm itself shields the rulers.


Another way in which the pigs use the ideals of Old Major to enforce unchallenged control over the animals is by unearthing Old Major’s skull and confronting the other animals with it. Orwell narrates, “The skull of old Major, now clean of flesh, had been disinterred from the orchard and set up on a stump at the foot of the flagstaff, behind the gun. After the hoisting of the flag, the animals were required to file past the skull in a reverent manner before entering the barn.”


By forcing the animals to pay their respects, Napoleon is promoting Old Major to the status of the divine, in turn crippling the other animals’ ability to dispute Napoleon’s constant adjustments to the animalism philosophy, out of respect for the dead. This passage is also supposed to symbolize the hollowness of the skull to portray the empty promises behind false front the pigs put up, once again highlighting the tragedy of the animals celebrating their own demise.


As Napoleon seizes an ever growing control over the other animals, he carefully dismantles the animalistic system Old Major had preached by slowly altering the common symbols of freedom and patriotic sayings, and establishes a devious government at least as unjust as the one it replaced.


Napoleon and the pigs manipulate the other animals, deluding them with illusions of dignity and improved living conditions, while masterfully holding all of the power for themselves.


While the "bit and spurs" may rust forever, the political chains administered by the pigs grip the animals more tightly, as they are led to celebrate their own tragedy.

 

The pigs shield the other animals from the horrible truth through manipulation and mass propaganda. In 1984, Orwell underlines one of the most powerful themes in Animal Farm, “In accordance with the principles of double-think it does not matter if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance, this new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society in tact.” This highlights the most fundamental reason why the animals fail to see their exploitation. It sums up the idea that totalitarian government lulls the working class into co-operating on the basis of not only lies and deceit, but by keeping them on the verge of fear and death, so that they will obey authority without question, believing that their leaders know what is best for them.


Throughout the course of the pig’s rise to power, they used a number of cunning and manipulative devices to gain control over the other animals. They were as subtle as twisting words and using language to trick the animals. Or as blatantly corrupt as rewriting the very philosophy of animalism to suit their own selfish desires.


The pigs’ most obvious instrument of persuasion over the other animals was the smooth-talking pig, Squealer. Squealer always found a way to convince the other animals to accept Napoleon's latest infringements on their rights, and was invaluable in the pigs’ rise to absolute power. Orwell narrates, "He could turn black into white."


Another device that Napoleon and the pigs used to employ influence over the animals was through wide spread propaganda (which was dispensed by the pigeons), and mass pressure to accept certain conditions of change (which was engaged by the sheep).


The most powerful way of getting the animals to follow, however, was through fear – the unspoken fear of being killed by the dogs if they did not follow orders and the pervasive fear of Mr Jones’ return if they challenged Napoleons decisions.


It was the pigs’ constant readjustments to “The Seven Commandments”; however, that lead the animals to their eventual downfall. Through the use of these inconspicuous changes (by using the memory of Old Major) the pigs are ultimately given the power to dominate the other animals at will.


The pigs’ absolute power, and thereby absolute corruption, was finally established in the concluding chapter, when the animals huddle around “The Seven Commandments” to find that they have all been replaced in favor one single definitive verse: "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS" This marks the point at which animalism is no longer just a generic belief in equality made by everyday common animals, but now it is a hungry powerhouse of oppression run by the government. It is official – the pigs have replaced Mr. Jones.


It may also be of interest to note that, although Napoleon’s reign over the other animals seemed to begin after he chased Snowball into exile, a closer look reveals that the seeds of corruption were planted long before that. After the animals drive Mr Jones off the farm, the pigs reveal to the others that they have taught themselves to read. Although the pigs use their new found talent for the benefit of the revolution, it seems odd that they had kept it a secret for so long. The pigs’ superior intellect is however, used later on as a device of manipulation. Napoleon reveals that education is a powerful tool; very dangerous in the wrong hands. Also, during the crop harvesting, the pigs supervise, rather than work, which later results in the division of animal classes.

 

Although the quote “to see what is in front of ones eyes need a constant struggle” is to be used to analyze Orwell’s Animal Farm, it can also be used in contrast with his later novel, 1984, which deals with many of the same society/totalitarian ideas and theories. Here he argues that "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four, if that is granted, all else follows." This quote signifies the fact that the core convictions of a totalitarian government lies in the division and conquer of each of its subjects. In the case of animal farm the reason that the animals were unable to see that they were being exploited was because the pigs’ oppression affected them each in a different way, which meant that the animals could find no unity in their struggles; they dared not challenge the system alone.


Some of the animals – like Boxer or Clover (who represent the lower class of unskilled workers) – could not see the truth because they lacked the intelligence and resourcefulness to understand they were being used; other animals – like Muriel the goat (who represented the educated working class) or even Benjamin the donkey – were critical of Napoleon’s regime, but had not the courage, nor the determination to challenge the system; and still others “could not see what was in front of their noses”, simply because they refused to admit to themselves that ultimately, the revolution had failed.


Each animal had his or her separate excuse to not confront the rise and corruption of Napoleon and the pigs. But ultimately, the revolution failed, not because of the inherent corruption of humanity, but because the working class simply did not dispute the distortion of authority.


Every animal wore a different blindfold that shielded them from the truth. But there is one absolute power that held them all firmly in place – the very will of Napoleon the pig. Through the cunning tongue of Squealer; or the mass propaganda of the pigeons; or the threat of Jones’ return; or the overwhelming bleating of the sheep; or by the fear of death by canine instilled in every single animal who dares to challenge the system, Napoleon was able to manipulate, influence, and convince the way the animals acted, and felt … and even thought. And that is why the animals were unable to see that they were being exploited.

 

Categories: ESSAYS, Literature

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