Why has Orwell used animals as the principal characters? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the tradition of such great satirists as Voltaire and Swift, George Orwell has written an allegory as the medium of his pointed criticism of Soviet Russia and Communism.  The animals used as characters represent various people and types; by using these animals, Orwell depicts concepts in an easily identifiable way. As explanation, Orwell himself wrote that he attempted in his novel "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole."

In the preface to his novella, Animal Farm, Orwell, who was a socialist, describes how the idea of setting the book on a farm came to him:

...I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
Thus, Orwell uses such strong animals such as Boxer to exemplify the compliance of those who are indoctrinated. A true believer in the precepts of Old Major, Boxer's solution to any problem is "I'll work harder" instead of being aware of his own strength. By using animals who simply represent a type, Orwell clearly communicates his thematic meanings. For instance, Napoleon is the totalitarian dictator; Snowball the benevolent dictator. Squealer is the propagandist, and Benjamin, the donkey who refuses to read, is the cynical intellectual who will not become involved, and, therefore, fails to effect a change. Minimus, who writes a poem in honor of Napoleon and composes a song that replaces "Beasts of England," stands for the artists whom the regime exploits for their propaganda.  Many of the animals are deceived by the propaganda spread by such as Squealer and Napoleon. For instance, Squealer explains the sudden disappearance of Snowball,
"Snowball was in league with Jones from the very start!  He was Jones's secret agent all the time....Did we not see for ourselves how he attempted--fortunately without success--to et us defeated and destroyed at the Battle of the Cowshed?"
The sheep are always the first to believe everything. Of course, sheep have long become the sumbol of non-thinking persons. Clearly, with the use of animals, Orwell gives readers easily recognizable types in a literary convention as old as that of Aesop. Indeed, this convention is effective as the animal community represents human society.

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