Satire In Animal Farm

How is Animal Farm a satire?

Animal Farm is a satire because it pokes fun at, and exposes to ridicule and contempt, the leadership of the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin.

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Satire can be defined as a brand of humor used to expose stupidity and human vice, especially among the high and mighty in a given society. Indeed, satire is particularly effective when it is used against those in positions of power and prominence, such as politicians.

This is the approach adopted by George Orwell in Animal Farm. Using the outward form of an animal fable or fairy-tale, Orwell exposes the Soviet Union under Stalin for its brutality, corruption, and serial incompetence. He does this by making Napoleon and his underlings look utterly ridiculous as well as just plain evil.

For instance, we have the ludicrous speeches of Squealer, the regime's propagandist-in-chief. His willful distortions of the truth are so outrageous, so completely blatant in their attempts at gaslighting, that one can only laugh at him, while at the same time acknowledging the seriousness of the threat to the other animals that his brazen lies represent.

Irony is a very important element in satire, and there are numerous examples in Animal Farm. A classic example of irony comes right at the end of the story, when it becomes impossible to tell the pigs apart from the humans. This is because the pigs have become more and more human as the story has progressed despite their ostensible commitment to the political philosophy of Animalism.

What Orwell is doing here is to satirize the way in which the Soviet Union under Stalin, despite its supposed commitment to establishing a workers' state, has actually become every bit as ruthless and exploitative as the capitalist states it claimed to be against.

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A satire is a work which uses humour, irony or wit to highlight the vices, follies and pretensions of individuals, institutions, communities or ideas. Animal Farm satirises the breakdown of political ideology and the misuse of power, and does so in the ingenious form of a beast fable. The major players are animals but their failings are all too recognisably human. They begin with an idealistic attempt to form a new society, liberated from the tyranny of humans and founded on the principle of equality and freedom for everyone, but it all goes wrong as the pigs take over. Backed up by the brute power of the dogs, they appropriate all manner of comforts and even luxuries for themselves, while reducing the the other animals to the same condition of slavery that they suffered under humans.

Orwell's point that the pigs are really just the same as the human tyrants they replaced is underlined in the famous ending to the novel, as the pigs mingle with humans to the extent that it becomes impossible to distinguish between them:

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.(chapter 10)

The novel, then, exposes the perversion of political ideals and the corruption of power which occur all too regularly in human societies. Most obviously perhaps, it functions as an attack on Stalinist Russia, where the original Communist Revolution degenerated into war, interior power struggles and the emergence of a grim totalitarian regime under Josef Stalin. However, the satire of Animal Farm is not tied to any one time or place. Its lessons are universal, and conveyed in memorable fashion, and as such it endures as a powerful and relevant literary work. 

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George Orwell used the real-life Russian Revolution, which resulted in the U.S.S.R. and many human-rights violations by the corrupt leader Joseph Stalin, as the template for Animal Farm. The satire comes in the very obvious power-grabs by Napoleon, who represents Stalin, and how the animals are prevented from questioning him by violence and propaganda:

[Napoleon] announced that from now on the Sunday-morning Meetings would come to an end... In future all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards communicate their decisions to the others.
(Orwell, Animal Farm, msxnet.org)

Most of the plot echoes real-life events from the Battle of the Cowshed (the Russian Civil War and battles against Germany) to Napoleon's use of trained dogs to kill animals he deems subversive (the KGB and secret police who turned in Russian citizens who voiced "subversive" opinions). By limiting the setting to a farm, and showing the deliberate lies told as propaganda, Orwell both condemns and satirizes the Marxist ideals that drove the Russian Revolution.

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Animal Farm is both a political satire and an allegory. In an allegory, everything has both a literal and symbolic meaning. Orwell's novel parallels the Russian Revolution in order to comment on the way power corrupts and to warn against totalitarianism (as he also does this in the political novel 1984).

In Animal Farm, the animals rebel against humans and take over the farm. They claim that all animals are equal, but it isn't long before the pigs assert their authority over other animals. The pig Napoleon's corruption is meant to reflect Stalin's reign over the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Once Napoleon has power, he and his pig friends start to think of themselves as above the other animals, even going so far as to move into the house and start acting more like humans.

The political satire is clearly related to the allegory in the novel; however, to write a satire, the author must use humor or irony. In Animal Farm, Orwell's choice to make the characters animals exaggerates the absurdity of their position. It is humorous to see animals speak and act like humans, though the humor is sometimes dark and disturbing. Irony is also present in the way that the pigs, who fight for equality for all animals, end up being corrupted by the power that they seize. They fought against injustice only to become unjust themselves.

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Even though Orwell's classic novella Animal Farm is often categorized as an allegory, there are certainly elements of the story that fall under the category of satire.

A historical allegory is when a particular work has two "meanings": the first is the literal text, and the second meaning pertains to political and historical events that the text makes reference to, even though these events (usually) aren't explicitly mentioned in the text. Therefore, Animal Farm allegorically represents the events that transpired before the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the early years of the Soviet Union under Stalin's reign.

A satirical work, on the other hand, ridicules, criticizes, or exposes certain aspects of society using humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule; in the case of this novel, the satirical focus would be political corruption.

There are numerous satirical elements throughout Animal Farm used to criticize, expose, and ridicule Stalin and his corrupt authoritarian regime. The fact that the ruling characters are pigs satirically represents the "repulsive" nature of human tyrants. Even the names of the characters and their personalities are considered elements of satire. Napoleon and Squealer's manipulative propaganda techniques are also satirical of the Soviet Union's corrupt politics. Orwell also uses the novel to satirize the tenets of communism by demonstrating how Napoleon ironically manipulates socialist principles in order to oppress and control the other animals.

Orwell cleverly includes elements of satire that work harmoniously with his allegorical tale of the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union as a warning to readers: he illustrates the dangers of consolidating political authority and the corrupting nature of power.

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Animal Farm is clearly a satire of the Russian Revolution. Orwell's book even received criticism in Britain by some reviewers as a result. At the start of the book, the farmer treated the animals poorly--this is meant to show the state of the Russian peasant under the leadership of the czars. Old Major is meant to symbolize Marx and his theories of state-control of the means of production. Old Major's theories of "Animalism" stated that the animals could work together as long as all goods were controlled centrally.  

The chief conflict early in the book is the rivalry between Snowball and Napoleon. Napoleon is ruthless and manages to rewrite history in order to place himself in key moments of the Revolution. Snowball, on the other hand, is more idealistic. Napoleon is based on Joseph Stalin, who was indeed ruthless in his use of mock trials and public executions. Snowball is based on Leon Trotsky, who, while being more idealistic, was chased out of the Soviet Union and killed while in exile in Mexico. The reader never knows what happens to Snowball in the novel, but Napoleon uses him whenever he needs a scapegoat.

Napoleon uses propaganda well in the story. He plays farmers off each other in order to get the best trade deals possible; Stalin used trade deals in order to establish Soviet relations with the outside world. Napoleon also uses his leadership to enrich his closest followers and secret police; Stalin's underlings lived like princes while most of Russia had a poor standard of living. Napoleon undertakes grand projects such as the building of the windmill as a monument to "Animalism;" Stalin built many monuments to his "greatness." Just like Stalin was paranoid, Napoleon also employs a food taster and his own secret police.  

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Looking at the characters in Animal Farm is important in understanding how the book satirizes the Russian Revolution. Orwell has deliberately created characters who are based on real figures from the Revolution and we can see this from the very beginning. Old Major, for example, who makes his stirring speech to the animals in Chapter One is based on Karl Marx, the revolutionary thinker and economist. Notice how the pigs transform the content of Old Major's speech into a social system called Animalism. This is a satire of Communism, the system created by Karl Marx which emphasises the exploitation of the working classes and argues that a revolution is the only way to bring about social and economic equality.

Similarly, consider the character of Snowball. One of the leaders of the Rebellion, Snowball is based on Leon Trotksy, a major figure in the Russian Revolution. Just like Trotsky, Snowball provided the ideological framework of the Rebellion. Moreover, his conflict with Napoleon mirrors that of Trotsky with Stalin. Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin, just like Snowball was run off the farm by Napoleon after he declared his plans for the windmill. 

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The satire in Animal Farm comes in the form of its allusions to real events, such as the Russian Revolution in the animal revolt, or the banishment of Leon Trotsky in the expelling of Snowball. The book takes the real events and shows the inherent foolishness of Marxist ideology through its inevitable failure, and the rise of a dictator in pretense of "protecting" others from some unseen threat.

Between pigs and human beings there was not, and there need not be, any clash of interests whatever... Mr. Pilkington once again congratulated the pigs on the low rations, the long working hours, and the general absence of pampering which he had observed on Animal Farm.
(Orwell, Animal Farm, msxnet.org)

In order to keep their own luxuries, the pigs necessarily reduce the amount of food given to the other animals, and increase their working hours because the pigs are not pulling their own weight. Here the intention of real-life Marxism can be seen; the pie-in-the-sky dreams and good intentions always end in misery for the workers as they toil endlessly for the benefits of a few in power. 

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Animal Farm is a satire, specifically a political one, because it uses humor and the absurd to make a serious political point. On the one hand, it is simply a story about animals, one that ends badly, but still a cartoonish story in which animals have human characteristics, including the ability to speak. But on a deeper level, it is an examination of the ways that power can corrupt and of the unintended consequences that can result from revolutionary change. As is well known, the story was intended to be an allegory of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Like Stalin, Napoleon has deviated from the idealistic goals of communism (or, more accurately, animalism). So while the idea of talking animals forming their own government may seem funny or even ridiculous, there is a deeper underlying message that is very serious.

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Animal Farm is a satirical allegory, so all the characters in the story are representative of someone or some group that was key in the Russian Revolution.  Comparisons are as follows:

  • Old Major:  Karl Marx
  • Napoleon:  Joseph Stalin
  • Snowball:  Leon Trotsky
  • Squealer:  propaganda
  • Boxer and Clover:  loyal masses
  • Benjamin:  skeptics
  • Nine Dogs of Napoleon: KGB (secret police)
  • Moses:  religion
  • Mr. Jones:  Czar Nicholas II

In addition to the characters, the concept of animalism as defined by Old Major in the novel is similar to the concept of Marxism.  The characters in the novel have traits and perform actions that are similar to those of their historical counterparts.  For example, after Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm, he asks all the animals to confess their dealings with him.  After these confessions, Napoleon has the animals killed by the dogs.  This is representative of Stalin's treatment of those who were caught, tortured, and forced to confess only to be killed by the KGB for harboring secrets against the state.  The novel may be considered a satire because it shows how ridiculous the behaviors of the animals are as they attempt to throw Animalism aside to gain power and control (i.e. the pigs walking on two legs while with the humans).

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A satire is a work that criticizes an aspect of society through humor. Irony and caricature are often employed to harpoon the perceived weakness or defect. Also, satire always aims for reform, for change for the the better. It is never designed to simply mock its subject: the purpose is to alert readers to the problem so a solution can be reached.

Animal Farm is a satire on the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia. Each step of the revolution is satirized, and Orwell draws attention to the mistakes made by leaders and followers alike. He used irony through the point of view of a naive narrator. He compares the leaders (Stalin, Trotsky) to pigs Napoleon, Snowball). Finally, he uses animals or groups of animals to represent groups of people within the revolution. For example, Boxer reflects the workers, who become like draft horses, used up and thrown out to build the new social order. In these ways, Orwell points out the failings of Soviet Russia.

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