What role does the written word play in Animal Farm?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The written word is important in Orwell's work as it provides the basic semblance of a constitution.  When  Snowball writes the seven commandments on the side of the barn, it helps to establish how the written word is to govern all life on the farm.  The interesting element here is that the ability to read and understand the written word is something largely confined to the pigs.  The other animals are expected to adhere to the written word, but not fully understand it.  In this, Orwell points out how there is a disparity between those who develop and construct power and those who have to live by it.  This becomes the case when Squealer keeps adding exceptions and greater ambiguity to each commandment, such as drinking "to excess" or killing another animal "without cause."  In this, the written word is established and continues to be a source of power whereby those in the position of power can remain in it.  The written word is what helps to establish power and the justify its continuation throughout the narrative.

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