Discuss the characters of Boxer and the sheep with regard to their use of language, both as listeners and speakers, in the novel, Animal Farm.

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is both tragic and sad that Boxer and the sheep become mere pawns in the hands of the tyrannical Napoleon and his fawning acolytes because of their poor intelligence. 

It is evident from the outset that Boxer and the sheep struggle to learn, let alone have insight into, the underlying principles of Animalism. At best, they display only a shallow appreciation thereof. Their lack of intelligence does not allow them to question and attempts to teach them are largely unsuccessful, as illustrated in the following extracts:

Their most faithful disciples were the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover. These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments.

Boxer could not get beyond the letter D. He would trace out A, B, C, D, in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding. On several occasions, indeed, he did learn E, F, G, H, but by the time he knew them, it was always discovered that he had forgotten A, B, C, and D. Finally he decided to be content with the first four letters, and used to write them out once or twice every day to refresh his memory.

It was also found that the stupider animals, such as the sheep, hens, and ducks, were unable to learn the Seven Commandments by heart.

It is clear that Boxer was a good listener and could understand the bare basics. It is for this reason that he adopted, through the course of the novel, two maxims which he lived by, 'I will work harder' and 'Napoleon is always right.' This approach was obviously very satisfying to the pigs for it meant that Boxer would not pose any threat at all. His loyalty was unquestionable.

As for the sheep, they were used by Squealer to inanely repeat 'Four legs good, two legs bad' and later, 'Four legs good, two legs better. 'The first expression was mostly used during meetings whenever a difficult issue was raised or when Snowball wanted to make an important point. They were therefore essentially used as tools by the pigs to drown out any resistance. They were quite good at repeating the phrase on a signal from Squealer. The second phrase was repeated once the pigs started walking on their hind legs and the commandment was adjusted to suit them. The sheep's constant bleating was used to remind the other animals of the pigs' superiority.

There are few occasions in which Boxer can be said to have uttered some resistance. One was when Squealer branded Snowball a traitor and mentioned that he had been in cahoots with Jones fronm the start. Boxer responded: 

‘I do not believe that Snowball was a traitor at the beginning,’ he said finally. ‘What he has done since is different. But I believe that at the Battle of the Cowshed he was a good comrade.’
‘Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ announced Squealer, speaking very slowly and firmly, ‘has stated categorically — categorically, comrade — that Snowball was Jones’s agent from the very beginning — yes, and from long before the Rebellion was ever thought of.’
‘Ah, that is different!’ said Boxer. ‘If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.’ 

Another instance was after the Battle of the Windmill. Once their hard work had been destroyed by Frederick and his men and Squealer spoke about the animals' victory, Boxer asked:

‘What victory?’ said Boxer. His knees were bleeding, he had lost a shoe and split his hoof, and a dozen pellets had lodged themselves in his hind leg.
‘What victory, comrade? Have we not driven the enemy off our soil — the sacred soil of Animal Farm?’
‘But they have destroyed the windmill. And we had worked on it for two years!’

Tragically, it was statements such as these which turned suspicion on Boxer for, at one point, he was attacked by Napoleon's dogs but he fought them off, but when he fell ill, the reward for all his hard work and dedication was to be sold to the knackers, the proceeds used by the ruthless pigs to buy a case of whisky.

The sheep never offered any resistance except when some of them confessed during Napoleon's brutal purge:

Then a sheep confessed to having urinated in the drinking pool — urged to do this, so she said, by Snowball — and two other sheep confessed to having murdered an old ram, an especially devoted follower of Napoleon, by chasing him round and round a bonfire when he was suffering from a cough. They were all slain on the spot.

They were, on the whole, used to benefit the unscrupulous and greedy pigs.