Animal Satire in Animal Farm
Animal Farm is an animal satire through which Orwell indirectly attacks on the Russian Communism, on Stalinism. Through a humorous and effective animal allegory, Orwell directs his satiric attack on the events of the Russian Revolution and on the totalitarian regime. Orwell combines political purpose with artistic purpose to voice his pessimistic belief, which stems from various experiences he had of the revolution in Spain and the results of the Russian Revolution, that people can only change the tyrants through revolutions but the systems remain the same. He believes that it is only a dream, an ideal to assume that people can achieve a classless society through revolutions. Moreover, he thinks this ideal that begins as utopia is doomed to failure since human nature is corrupt. It is very likely that the lust for power felt by those who are cleverer and more skilful than the others turn revolutionary enthusiasm into the opposite. In a society where people have no voice, if the ruling body with privileges such as special education, luxury and titles, has absolute power, this will lead to total corruption and disintegration of values. Thus, in the novel, the dream, the ideal shatters since what happens in the end turns out to be in sharp contrast with what the Revolution was all about. The dream was a classless society where everybody would be equal and free, enjoying a perfect democracy; the reality is the terror and poverty of dictatorship in which some individuals are "more equal" (Orwell, 1955, p.114) than the others (Hollis, 1962, p. 225). However, although the structure of the novel is suggestive of the Marxist Revolution due to apparent parellels on the level of plot, it could resemble any class of idealistic principles which is mainly based on propaganda but which is not a workable system. Christopher Hollis puts it this way: "The lesson of Animal Farm is clearly not merely the corrupting effect of power when exercised by Communists, but the corrupting effect of power when exercised by anybody."(1962, p.227)
The first chapter of the book introduces old Major, the prize Middle White boar, telling the animals about his dream. He says he dreams of a new life for the animals and encourages them to take action against the cruel owner of the Manor Farm, Mr Jones. Shortly afterwards old Major dies and the animals rebel. They expel Jones and rename the farm as Animal Farm. All the animals participate in the rebellion. The pigs, who consider themselves the cleverest of all, assume the administration of the farm. They write the principles of their new system called Animalism on the wall. The principles are reduced to Seven Commandments for the animals to keep in mind easily. According to these principles no animal will be in association with or will get in touch with human beings. Napoleon and Snowball, the two boars, compete for the leadership but when Jones and the other farmers assault on the animals, they unite. After this war, while Snowball is busy with improving life in the farm by building a windmill, Napoleon prefers to educate the young. Although Napoleon seems to oppose the idea of the windmill, soon afterwards he drives Snowball out of the farm by force and takes over the project as his own. After Snowball has left, life gets worse in the farm. The pigs and the dogs are cruel and at the same time unproductive. They are ready to consume whatever is produced and to justify their actions. They are the ruling class:The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone. (Orwell, 1955, p. 33)Then they begin to use Snowball as a scape-goat who, they claim, comes and goes secretly to give the animals harm. Later on, he is accused of having destroyed the windmill. The pigs use him as a tool to frighten the animals since "there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back" (p. 33). In time, the pigs start to transact business with human beings. As they adopt human behavior and comfort gradually, the nature of the Seven Commandments are changed in such a way as to justify what the pigs do. Although some of the animals happen to remember the true nature of the Commandments, they are threatened by the fact that Jones, in cooperation with Snowball, may come back to the farm at any time. Several years pass by and during this time the windmill collapses three times. The pigs put the blame on Snowball and execute some of the animals for being in cooperation with him. During this time, Napoleon turns out to be the national hero, a legend. He is called "father of all animals, Terror of Mankind" (p.79). Now he is appearing only on rare occasions. As the animals sell their products to their neighboring farmers, the farm prospers. However, only the pigs and the dogs benefit. At this point, the final transformation of the pigs starts. They are now walking erect, carrying whips. By this time the Commandments have already been altered. The pigs have started to live in the farm, wearing human clothes, using a radio and a telephone. In the final scene, the pigs invite the farmers to dinner. In his brief speech Napoleon says that "their sole wish, now and in the past, was to live at peace and in normal business relations with their neighbors." He adds that the animals' foolish customs will be "suppressed" and that "the name 'Animal Farm' will be "abolished." From then on the farm will be "known as 'The Manor Farm'" (p.119). The other animals watching the pigs from outside realize that they cannot distinguish the pigs from the men: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which" (p.120). The final transformation takes place and the criticism is directed towards the fact that through revolutions only the tyrants are changed. As Hollis (1962, p. 226) puts it, "It was the Orwellian thesis, right or wrong, that power inevitably corrupts and that revolutions therefore inevitably fail their purpose."
In order to comprehend the satire and criticism brought by the author, it is necessary to consider the form of the novel, analyzing the methods he makes use of. First thing to deal with is point of view. Orwell tells the story from the viewpoint of the animals so that the human beings are not characterized fully. He uses a simple language to reflect the na´ve perception of the poor animals. Although the reader is made to observe the way the animals are deceived, s/he is never allowed to penetrate the minds of the characters. Orwell's skilful management of the point of view enables him to make the reader like the animals but at the same time realize that their ideals are doomed to failure. Hence, this viewpoint creates ironic distance because of which the reader sees and understands the plots of the pigs which the animals miss. The reader feels sympathy for the beasts subsequently. In addition, the author creates frustration and anger on he part of the readers and confusion on the part of the animals. The ironic distance, furthermore, emphasizes the corruption in human nature. Though old Major starts with good intentions, irony goes hand in hand with satire to reveal that these good intentions are certain to change into evil intentions. For in this advice lies the possibility for just the opposite of the "promised land."
The second device Orwell uses is characterization. Orwell attributes human traits to the animals, still letting them appear as animals; for this reason "we almost nowhere feel that we are in an animal world." (Leyburn, 1962, p. 220). Besides, "since the whole point of animal satire is to show up humanity by revealing human traits in nonhuman characters" (1962, pp. 215-216), the men in the novel are kept in the background. In the story, the animals display goodwill and eagerness to attain a better life promised by their leaders. Although they were hopeful in the beginning, this hope is gradually destroyed by the selfishness of the pigs. These animals display one human trait at a time. For instance, Snowball is imaginative and tries his best to establish a democratic system with committees and meetings. Napoleon on the other hand, is the absolute dictator who destroys hope for a better world and abuses their goodwill. While Boxer is the very image of a strong, determined and faithful worker, Benjamin remains as the perpetual sceptic. These descriptions prove that although they do not have fully developed characters, they are character types. They have easily recognized character traits. Since they have combined both the human and animal characteristics, they are believable. By giving these animals only one human characteristic at a time, the writer avoids complex characterization. Thus, he prefers "concentrated singleness of attack" which "might almost be laid down as a second law of the genre . that the animals shall stay both animal and human. It removes the possibility of very complex characterization." Therefore, "the force of the tale" lies in the "singleness and simplicity on the human level" (1962, p. 216).
The third method Orwell uses to direct his satiric attack on his object is irony. To begin with, just before his death, old Major warns the animals against mankind: "Man serves the interests of no creature except himself . All men are enemies .And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him . Do not adopt his vices . And, above all, no animal must ever tyrannize over his own kind . All animals are equal" (Orwell, 1952, pp. 10-12). However, the reader observes that the pigs undergo a gradual change. They start to live in the farmhouse, adopting human vices. They start to walk with whips in their hands. Napoleon's insistence on the fact that the windmill should be built and re-built several times is suggestive of the establishment of his tyranny. His sole aim is to keep the masses busy so that he can easily rise to absolute power to terrorize his own kind. As time passes, Napoleon starts to lead a pleasant life while the working class is suffering. His ruling body turns out to exploit the animals more than Jones and the others did. In the end, irony reaches its peak. Old Major's doctrines are totally reversed. For, it is impossible now to distinguish between the pigs and the men. The animals that played the leading role during the revolution replace the human masters under whose oppression the animals suffered a great deal. This final transformation of Napoleon, who is in cooperation with the farmers, confirms what Leyburn says: "The revealing light of the allegorical satire is turned most searchingly upon the villainous hero himself: and when he is allowed to go off triumphant in the end, the feeling is that the wicked ways of the world have been convincingly displayed" (1962, p. 219). Since the newcomers will definitely be corrupted by the newly gained power, the revolution fails its purpose.
In the second place, the way the Seven Commandments have gradually been altered displays another kind of irony. When Squealer, the propaganda agent, changes the Commandments one by one, he, in fact, changes the meaning underlying the revolution completely. The Commandments come to mean just the opposite of what old Major intended to mean in the beginning:
These Commandments have been changed in order to justify what Napoleon and the other pigs do. However, none of the animals but Benjamin discusses much about the change. For they do not clearly remember the true nature of them. They prefer to depend on what Squealer tells them and to believe in his propaganda since they are incapable of sorting the truth from the lie. They readily accept the Commandments as they are written on the wall of the barn. They never realize the fact that they are no more than slaves and they remain, as Boxer does, dedicated to their cause. But Benjamin has always been sceptical of the outcome. And he is the only one who realizes that Boxer is taken to the knacker's.
- "Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy."
- "Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings is a friend" changes into:
"Four legs good, two legs better."
- "No animal shall wear clothes."
- "No animal shall sleep in a bed"
"No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets."
- "No animal shall drink alcohol"
"No animal drink alcohol to excess."
- "No animal shall kill other animal"
"No animal shall kill other animal without cause." 7. "All animals are equal"
"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."
In the third place, the use of the farmhouse and the destruction of the windmill have ironical effect on the level of the plot structure. The farmhouse represents the evil old Major warns the animals against. The farmhouse means luxury that men of power enjoy. When Napoleon and the pigs decide to live in luxury, this action suggests Napoleon's ambition for power leading to his cooperation with human beings. It is the very place where the total transformation from pigs to human beings takes place. On the other hand, the windmill represents the spirit of Revolution since it is associated with progress. However, the project of the windmill takes on a new dimension when Napoleon becomes the omnipotent leader. He uses it as a means through which he keeps the working animals engaged all the time. Moreover, he uses the windmill for another purpose. He blames Snowball for destroying the windmill. Therefore, he creates a scape-goat through which he is able to control the masses. The existence of the scape-goat is the reason why the animals become more determined and more faithful to their causes. Since they have experienced freedom, they do not want to work under the tyranny of Jones who is supposedly in league with Snowball. In this way, Napoleon is made the omnipotent leader who is the only one who can save the animals from human beings. It is ironical enough that the animals choose to suffer under the dictatorship of the pigs. The leader, ambitious enough to rule the animals who are deprived of democracy, isolates himself from the working class. He knows that so long as he keeps the illusion going, he will be able to maintain his individualism while reducing the others to the level of ignorant and voiceless masses who are no more than extensions of him.
Since the aim of satire is to criticise the object of attack, teaching a moral indirectly with a humorous tone, in the animal satire, the author uses animals instead of human beings and places his animals in human situations. Hence Orwell is able to attack on the political ideas he is contemptuous of and entertain the reader at the same time.
In the novel, Orwell comments on society rather than on individual human characteristics. His characters are disguised as animals and the human characters are not fully developed. The animals display "a single dominant trait" (Leyburn, 1962, p. 219) at a time. Thus, he aims at a social satire "couched in animal terms as for the story whose object is simply laughter at a human foible" (1962, p. 219). His skilful manipulation of point of view creates a convincing atmosphere. For "imaginative scheme of the animal allegory" (1962, p. 221) reflects the illusion of those who are deceived into working for the tyrants of a totalitarian system. In the end, the reader gets a message of a lesson full of despair since Orwell aims to convey that revolutions take place in a vicious circle in the end of which new dictators betray the cause, giving rise to the same beginning.
Hollis, C. (1962). Animal farm. In A. Kernan (Ed.), Modern Satire (pp. 221-228). New York: N.Y. University Press.
Leyburn, E. D. (1962). Animal stories. In A. Kernan (Ed), Modern Satire (pp. 213-221). New York: N.Y. University Press.
Orwell, G. (1955). Animal Farm. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Alev Yemenici, Ph.D.
University of Ankara
Faculty of Letters
Department of English
10 April 1997