Early in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, after the animals have staged a revolution and taken control of the farm, seven “commandments” are posted for everyone to see:
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
During the course of the novel, various of these commandments are modified to suit the interests of the most powerful animals. In Chapter VIII, for instance, after Napoleon and some of the other powerful animals discover alcohol and drink too much of it, Napoleon becomes extremely drunk. An order is quickly issued in his name that no animal is to drink alcohol, upon pain of death. After he sobers up, however, Napoleon thinks better of this directive. The final paragraph of Chapter VIII reads as follows:
But a few days later Muriel, reading over the Seven Commandments to herself, noticed that there was yet another of them which the animals had remembered wrong. They had thought the Fifth Commandment was ‘No animal shall drink alcohol,' but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.’
This paragraph is doubly ironic: the statement that the animals had remembered the fifth commandment incorrectly is false, and so, of course, is the new phrasing of that commandment. Once again, the commandments have been altered to suit the interests of the farm’s rulers, especially Napoleon. The altering of the fifth commandment is yet more evidence of the cynicism of Napoleon and the corruption of his regime.