Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The animals are presented as illustrative of the utopian dream of socialism pitted against the vices of capitalism represented by the humans in the story. Neither political ideology is presented in a favorable light, but whereas the evils of capitalism are taken for granted, it is the futility of the socialist ideal on which the work primarily focuses. Yet the means by which it levels this criticism at Communism—that is, in terms of a relatively simple and two-dimensional beast fable—does little to illuminate either the virtues or the vices of that complex ideology.
Animal Farm perhaps works best not as a specific allegory of the Russian Revolution but rather as a fable about the basic nature of human beings, both in isolation and in groups, which militates against any utopian ideal. What Orwell has seized upon is precisely those qualities of animals that humans share which make such an ideal impossible—qualities such as sloth, stupidity, fear, and greed. The central irony of the fable is that although the animals initially rebel against the humans because of behavior which humans usually call “beastly,” the animals themselves, as the work progresses, become more and more like humans—that is, more and more base and beastly.
What is most demoniacally human about the pigs is their use of language not only to manipulate the immediate behavior of the animals through propaganda, emotive language, and meaningless doubletalk but also to...
(The entire section is 413 words.)
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Language and Meaning
In Animal Farm, his allegory of the Soviet Revolution, Orwell examines the use of language and the subversion of the meaning of words by showing how the powerful manipulate words for their own benefit. As a journalist, Orwell knew the power of words to serve whichever side the writer backed. In the novel, Snowball is a quick talker who can always explain his way out of any situation. When the birds object to the maxim, "Four legs good, two legs bad," that the pig teaches the sheep, he explains that the bird's wing "is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg." The birds do not really understand this explanation, but they accept it. Orwell particularly comments on the abuse of language with his character Squealer, "a brilliant talker," who acts as an unofficial head of propaganda for the pigs. Like Joseph Goebbels, who bore the title of Nazi party minister of propaganda and national enlightenment during World War II, Squealer "could turn black into white." This is also reminiscent of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Pravda, which was often used to rewrite the past. (Ironically, its title means "Truth.") When a bad winter forces a reduction in food rations to the animals, Squealer calls it a "readjustment." In a totalitarian state, language can be used to change even the past. Squealer explains to the animals "that Snowball had never—as...
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Conceived and written as satire. Animal Farm is generally acknowledged as possessing much of Orwell's humanistic aspirations and political conviction. The novel develops as an allegorical fable contrasting man and beast in a literary metaphor of the human condition. Clearly analogous to the political events in Russia dating roughly from 1917 to the Second World War, Animal Farm is primarily an attack on Stalinism yet beyond that serves as a biting commentary on the anatomy of revolution.
Modeled on a relatively simple premise, the novel begins as the animals of Manor Farm unite against their master, the farmer Jones, and overthrow his tyrannical rule. Understandably ecstatic over their sudden and unexpected good fortune, the animals create a new order for the future based on equality and equity. However, the paint is hardly dry on their barnyard manifesto when the identical elements initiating the revolt surface to tarnish and eventually destroy the dream of emancipation. Orwell is undoubtedly passing judgment on the fate of revolution, juxtaposing ideological promise with practical application and realistic demise of principle.
Of additional importance, however, Orwell is attempting to explore the parameters of intellectual responsibility, cultural heritage, and moral integrity. In essence, Orwell is not condemning the revolution but agonizing over its betrayal. Possessing superior knowledge, the pigs assume leadership of the farm and in so...
(The entire section is 310 words.)