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Animal Farm George Orwell

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See also 1984 Criticism and George Orwell Criticism.

(Pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair) English novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, and memoirist.

The following entry presents criticism of Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm, which was published in 1945.

Animal Farm (1945) is considered one of Orwell's most popular and enduring works. Utilizing the form of the animal fable, the short novel chronicles the story of a group of barnyard animals that revolt against their human masters in an attempt to create a utopian state. On a larger scale, commentators widely view Animal Farm as an allegory for the rise and decline of socialism in the Soviet Union and the emergence of the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Critics regard the story as an insightful and relevant exploration of human nature as well as political systems and social behavior. After its translation into Russian, it was banned by Stalin's government in all Soviet-ruled areas.

Plot and Major Characters

The story opens as the barnyard animals of Manor Farm discuss a revolution against their master, the tyrannical and drunken farmer Mr. Jones. Old Major, an aging boar, gives a rousing speech in the barn urging his fellow animals to get rid of Jones and rely on their own efforts to keep the farm running and profitable. Identified as the smartest animals in the group, the pigs—led by the idealistic Snowball and the ruthless Napoleon—successfully plan and lead the revolution. After Jones and his wife are forced from the farm, the animals look forward to a society where all animals are equal and live without the threat of oppression. But soon, the pigs begin to assume more power and adjust the rules to suit their own needs. They create and implement an ideological system, complete with jingoistic songs and propaganda as well as strict rules. Once partners and friends, Napoleon and Snowball disagree on several issues regarding the governing of the farm. Snowball's attempted coup is repelled by a pack of wild dogs—controlled by Napoleon—who also enforce punishment against the other animals when they oppose or question Napoleon's rule. Before long, the pigs separate themselves from the other animals on the farm and begin to indulge in excessive drinking and other decadent behavior. Under the protection of the dogs, they consolidate their iron-fisted rule and begin eliminating any animal they consider useless or a threat to their power. Animal Farm ends with the majority of the animals in the same position as in the beginning of the story: disenfranchised and oppressed under a corrupt and brutal governing system.

Major Themes

Critics note that like many classical animal fables, Animal Farm is an allegory—in this case, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin's tyrannical government. It is generally accepted that Orwell constructed his story to reflect this purpose: Manor Farm represents Russia; Mr. Jones is the tsar; the pigs represent the Bolsheviks, the bureaucratic power elite; Snowball is Leon Trotsky, who lost a power struggle with Stalin; Napoleon is Stalin; and Napoleon's dogs are Stalin's secret police, known as the GPU. The corruption of absolute power is a major theme in Animal Farm. As most of the animals hope to create a utopian system based on the equality of all animals, the pigs—through greed and ruthlessness—manipulate and intimidate the other animals into subservience. Critics note that Orwell was underlining a basic tenet of human nature: some will always exist who are more ambitious, ruthless, and willing to grab power than the rest of society and some within society will be willing to give up power for security and structure. In that sense Animal Farm is regarded as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the pitfalls of revolution.

Critical Reception

Animal Farm is regarded as a successful blend of political satire and animal fable. Completed in 1944, the book remained unpublished for more than a year because British publishing firms declined to offend the country's Soviet allies. Finally the small leftist firm of Secker & Warburg printed it, and the short novel became a critical and popular triumph. It has been translated into many languages but was banned by Soviet authorities throughout the Soviet-controlled regions of the world because of its political content. As a result of the book's resounding commercial success, Orwell was freed from financial worries for the first time in his life. A few years after its publication, it attracted critical controversy because of its popularity amongst anticommunist factions in the United States; Orwell was alarmed that these forces were using his short novel as propaganda for their political views. In the subsequent years, Animal Farm has been interpreted from feminist, Marxist, political, and psychological perspectives, and it is perceived as an important and relevant book in the post-World War II literary canon. Moreover, it is considered one of Orwell's most lasting achievements.

Principal Works

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Animal Farm (short novel) 1945

The Complete Works. 20 vols. (novels, short novel, essays, diaries, and letters) 1986-1998

Down and Out in Paris and London (nonfiction) 1933

Burmese Days (novel) 1934

A Clergyman's Daughter (novel) 1935

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (novel) 1936

The Road to Wigan Pier (nonfiction) 1937

Homage to Catalonia (nonfiction) 1938

Coming Up for Air (novel) 1939

Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (essays) 1940

The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (essays) 1941

Critical Essays (essays) 1946; also published as Dickens, Dali, and Others 1946

James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (nonfiction) 1946

The English People (essays) 1947

Nineteen Eighty-Four (novel) 1949

Shooting an Elephant, and Other Essays (essays) 1950

England Your England, and Other Essays (essays) 1953; also published as Such, Such Were the Joys 1953

The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell. 4 vols. (essays, letters, and diaries) 1968

Times Literary Supplement (review date 25 August 1945)

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SOURCE: Review of Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Times Literary Supplement (25 August 1945): 401.

[In the following review, the reviewer considers Orwell's views on revolution and dictatorship as expressed in Animal Farm.]

Animals, as Swift well knew, make admirable interpreters of the satiric intention, and Mr. George Orwell has turned his farm into a persuasive demonstration of the peculiar trick the whip wrested from the hands of a tyrant has of turning itself into a lash of scorpions and attaching itself to the new authority. The animals are naturally pleased with themselves when they rise in revolutionary fervour and chase the drunken farmer off his own land, and their enthusiasm survives the prospect of the labour and discipline that lie before them if the farm is to be properly worked. From the first, however, there are inequalities of brain and muscle, and the pigs gradually assume the intellectual leadership. The revolution changes its shape and form, but lip-service is still paid to its first precepts; if they become more and more difficult to reconcile with the dictatorial policies of the large Berkshire boar, Napoleon, such a loyal and simple creature as Boxer, the carthorse, is ready to blame his own stupidity rather than the will to power working in those who have the means to power in their trotters.

Even more powerful than Napoleon is Squealer, Napoleon's publicity agent, who justifies every reactionary decree by arguing that it is really in the animals' own interest and persuades them that to add to the seventh commandment of the revolution, “All animals are equal,” the rider “but some animals are more equal than others,” is not to tamper with the principle of equality. Dictatorship is evil, argues Mr. Orwell with a pleasant blend of irony and logic while busily telling his fairy story, not only in that it corrupts the characters of those who dictate, but in that it destroys the intelligence and understanding of those dictated to until there is no truth anywhere and fear and bewilderment open the way for tyranny ferocious and undisguised. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, and his book is as entertaining as narrative as it is apposite in satire [Animal Farm].

C. M. Woodhouse (essay date 6 August 1954)

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SOURCE: Woodhouse, C. M. “Animal Farm.Times Literary Supplement (6 August 1954): xxx-xxxi.

[In the following essay, Woodhouse discusses Animal Farm as a fairy tale.]

In the sixth volume of The Second World War, Sir Winston Churchill has described the scene at Potsdam in July, 1945, when from a little distance he watched President Truman tell Marshal Stalin of the great event that was to take place in the following month; the latest triumph of western genius, the masterpiece that was destined so profoundly to affect the history of the world. The Marshal showed polite interest, the mildest of curiosity that barely rose above the level of indifference, and no comprehension whatever. Sir Winston was sure, he tells us,

that he had no idea of the significance of what he was being told. … If he had had the slightest idea of the revolution in world affairs which was in progress his reactions would have been obvious. … But his face remained gay and genial. …

According to President Truman, he did not even ask a single question.

What Marshal Stalin was being told about was not, though as a matter of mere chronological chance it could have been, the imminent publication of a little book called Animal Farm, which appeared on the bookstalls in the same month in which the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No doubt the Marshal's reaction would have been much the same if it had been; and perhaps—though this is still a very much longer shot—his reaction would have been just as inappropriate. It was nothing but an arbitrary coincidence that brought these two events together in August, 1945, though they took almost equally long to prepare: George Orwell's whole life was spent in preparation of Animal Farm, and the text itself bears the dates “November, 1943—February, 1944,” months when the Manhattan project was also moving towards a climax. But it was a coincidence that must have given Orwell a sad, ironic satisfaction: for there are those who have argued that, looked at in a wider historical context, the first atomic bombs were aimed at a quite different political target which had nothing to do with the Japanese war; and there are others who have convinced themselves that Animal Farm was also aimed at a political target—the same one. Orwell himself might perhaps have admitted to agreeing with both interpretations; but he would also surely have argued that his personal enemy was no single individual or government—it was the system of the world capable of producing and using atomic bombs. In this case the coincidence of August, 1945, was even more remarkable. Disciples of Professor Toynbee yet unborn may well point to it as one of history's most striking conjunctions of challenge and response.

These are early days to claim that the pen is mightier than the atomic bomb; but Orwell would not have flinched from the confrontation. It is not much more than one hundred years since Bulwer Lytton discovered for us that the pen is mightier than the sword, already then an obsolescent weapon, and even that only Beneath the rule of men entirely great, a sufficiently rare state of affairs. In the last hundred years enough has happened to justify us in believing that the pen's response to the challenge of force is at least not ludicrous and hopeless; indeed, it is perhaps the one serious hope we have. Certainly it would not have seemed ludicrous to Sir Winston Churchill to have spoken in the context of 1945 of a book instead of a bomb, for the pen has always been the first weapon in his armoury; and with it he won the most crucial victory in the history of our race, in the battle that was joined with the words: “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be …” Sir Winston had the advantage, it is true (though it is also true that he furnished that advantage himself), of proving Bulwer's epigram in the exact conditions required by Bulwer's qualifying line. George Orwell had come to doubt before he died (at any rate, when he wrote 1984) whether those conditions would ever be seen on earth again. But there is no doubt whatever that it was a purpose of the same kind that Orwell was setting himself to achieve by his writings, and especially when he wrote Animal Farm.

If the book itself had left any doubt of the matter, Orwell dispelled it in an article which he called “Why I Write” a few years later:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism … Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.

In the criticisms of some of his contemporaries which Orwell wrote even earlier than Animal Farm, his recurrent theme was their failure to protest against the world they lived in. This is the whole burden of his longest and most serious piece of literary criticism, written in 1940 on Henry Miller; and he called it “Inside the Whale” to illustrate this same point, that Miller had failed in his duty to protest, had “performed the essential Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting.” In the same essay he criticized a line of Mr. Auden's poem “Spain”:

The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder,

with the comment that: “it could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder.” It is odd, then, to find that in Animal Farm he does speak just so lightly of murder; that in fact he places on record a score of murders without a measurable flicker of emotion in excess of Mr. Auden's. It is odder still, at first sight, to find Animal Farm sub-titled “A Fairy Story”; for we are accustomed to think of the fairy-story as the escapist form of literature par excellence.

In what sense can Animal Farm properly be called a fairy-story? It tells how the animals captured the Manor Farm from its drunken incompetent farmer; how they changed its name to Animal Farm and established it as a model community in which all animals were equal; how two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, gained control of the revolution and fought each other for the mastery; how the neighbouring humans reacted and counter-attacked and were beaten off; how Napoleon ousted Snowball and declared him a traitor; how economic necessity compelled the animals to compromise with the human system; how Napoleon negotiated an alliance with the human enemy and exploited it to establish his personal dictatorship; how the farm learned that “some animals are more equal than others” and their last state was as bad as their first; and how the ruling pigs became daily more and more indistinguishable from their human neighbours. There is little here at first sight that we associate with the fairy-story: there is no element of magic, once the initial convention of zoomorphism is accepted; there is no happy ending, except one for the villains; there is no Prince Charming or maiden in distress or sentimental interest of any kind, beyond the personal tragedy of the cart-horse Boxer and the frivolous vanity of the white mare Mollie. The fairy-story is an elastic category—Andrew Lang included A Voyage to Lilliput in the very first of his coloured fairy-books; and certainly not all the conventional ingredients are essential to a fairy-story. Yet it would be natural to suppose that at least some of them ought to be found there; and at first sight it is tempting to conclude that Orwell wrote his sub-title with his tongue in his cheek, and to read Animal Farm with our tongues in ours. And then it is impossible to understand why the book has had such a world-wide appeal to human sentiment in the past nine years, for books written in a mere spirit of teasing do not.

In fact Orwell was a deep lover of words who never consciously misused them. If he said he had written a fairy-story with a political purpose, we cannot lightly suppose he spoke lightly. A political purpose suggests some kind of moral, and that suggests rather the fable, the medium of Aesop or La Fontaine or even Thurber. There have been fairy-stories purporting to have morals before now: Rimsky-Korsakov called Le Coq d'Or “a fairy-tale with a moral,” though no one except possibly the Russian Imperial Censor (who objected to the original version of the opera as subversive) has ever been able to detect what it was. There is something freakish about the idea, anyway, which makes it seem unlikely to stir the emotions of the common reader; and it is impossible to attach a moral in any familiar sense to Animal Farm, where wickedness ends in triumph and virtue is utterly crushed. There is perhaps a moral for farmers: don't take to drink and let your animals get out of hand; but, even so, the villains will be comforted to find that everything comes out all right for them in the end. For the downtrodden animals there is nothing but misery, cruelty and injustice; and in place of a moral there is only the tragic chorus of the donkey Benjamin, who held that “life would go on as it had always gone on—that is, badly.” This is not like the kind of moral that tells us to look before we leap or not to count our boobies before they are hatched. For the animals never had a chance to choose, and if they had it would have made no difference.

It is just this sense of purposeless cruelty, though, that gives the clue to Orwell's purpose, as well as to his deadly serious reason for calling Animal Farm a fairy-story. The point about fairy-stories is that they are written not merely without a moral but without a morality. They take place in a world beyond good and evil, where people (or animals) suffer or prosper for reasons unconnected with ethical merit—for being ugly or beautiful respectively, for instance, or for even more unsatisfactory reasons. A little girl sets out to do a good deed for her grandmother and gets gobbled up by a wolf; a young rogue escapes the gallows (and gets an old Jew hanged instead) by his talent on the fiddle; dozens of young princes die horrible deaths trying to get through the thorn-hedge that surrounds the Sleeping Beauty, just because they had the bad luck to be born before her hundred-year curse expired; and one young prince, no better or worse, no handsomer or uglier than the rest, gets through merely because he has the good luck to arrive just as the hundred years are up; and so on and so on. Even when Grimm's step-mothers are called “wicked,” it is well to remember that in German their Bosheit is viciousness and bad temper, not moral guilt. For all this is related by the fairy-story tellers without approval or disapproval, without a glimmer of subjective feeling, as though their pens were dipped in surgical spirit to sterilize the microbes of emotion. They never seek to criticize or moralize, to protest or plead or persuade; and if they have an emotional impact on the reader, as the greatest of them do, that is not intrinsic to the stories. They would indeed only weaken that impact in direct proportion as soon as they set out to achieve it. They move by not seeking to move; almost, it seems, by seeking not to move.

The fairy-story that succeeds is in fact not a work of fiction at all; or at least no more so than, say, the opening chapters of Genesis. It is a transcription of a view of life into terms of highly simplified symbols; and when it succeeds in its literary purpose, it leaves us with a deep indefinable feeling of truth; and when it succeeds also, as Orwell set out to do, in a political as well as an artistic purpose, it leaves us also with a feeling of rebelliousness against the truth revealed. It does so not by adjuring us to rebel, but by the barest economy of plain description that language can achieve; and lest it should be thought guilty of a deliberate appeal to the emotions, it uses for characters not rounded, three-dimensional human beings that develop psychologically through time, but fixed stereotypes, puppets, silhouettes—or animals. (A specially good instance is The Adventures of Pinocchio: for Pinocchio was in fact a wooden puppet; and when at last, by acquiring a heart and a conscience, he became a little boy instead, at that exact point, with a sure instinct, Collodi brought the whole matter to a full-stop, since he was writing a fairy-tale and not a didactic children's romance.) In these respects Animal Farm is after all correctly labelled a fairy-story. Its message (which is by no means a moral) is that of all the great fairy-stories: “Life is like that—take it or leave it.” And because it is written by a poet, our reaction is like that of another poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, to another (not so very different) situation:

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

To argue thus is to class Orwell among the poets; and that is not absurd. It happens that when he wrote in verse, the results were not particularly distinguished. The song in Animal Farm, “Beasts of England,” is not a fair example, since it was no more intended to be poetry than “God Save the Queen”: it is in fact a happy example of what Professor Collingwood, in his aesthetic theory, used to call “magic art.” But there are a few examples in Orwell's other works (in the post-humous collection of essays, England Your England, for example) which do purport to be poetry, and as such fail. Orwell was a poet who happened to find his medium in prose; a poet not so much in his means of expression as in the nature of his vision, which could strip the sprawling tangle of the world around him down to its core with the simplicity of a timeless flash of intuition (the sort of intuition enjoyed by Dionysiacs, according to Plato, or by epileptics, according to Dostoevsky, or by devotees of mescalin, according to Mr. Aldous Huxley); and which then turned deliberately to the most ascetically plain tools of expression to communicate it. He was the kind of prose-writer whom poets accepted as one of themselves, as Shelley accepted Herodotus, Plato, Livy, Plutarch, Bacon, and Rousseau among the poets he was defending in A Defence of Poetry. And Shelley, who may be supposed to have known his business, would surely have been glad to accept a writer who so confidently supported, and strove so stubbornly to substantiate, his own claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

Is the claim justified of Orwell? Clearly, not yet; and even for the future, only by offering precarious hostages to fortune. But everything has been a bit precarious since August, 1945, when Animal Farm and its formidable twin first saw the light of day together. Which of the two has so far made the biggest impression—there is no blinding or deafening ourselves to that; but Orwell's still, small voice has also made itself continuously heard in its own quiet, persistent, almost nagging way. Already there have been momentary intervals in the nuclear uproar of the mid-twentieth century when its steady, reassuring murmur has come through. Already in a score of countries and a dozen languages Animal Farm has made its peculiar mark in translation and in strip-cartoon (one of the most appropriate of modern vehicles for a fairy-story); and the political flavour of its message at least, whether rightly or wrongly particularized, has not been lost in the transcription. Already Orwell has launched the “long haul” of wresting back some of those cardinal, once meaningful, words like “equality,” “peace,” “democracy,” which have been fraudulently converted into shibboleths of political warfare; and already it is impossible for anyone who has read Animal Farm (as well as for many who have not) to listen to the demagogues' clap-trap about equality without also hearing the still, small voice that adds: “… but some are more equal than others.”

There is a long way to go yet; but there is a long time ahead, too. Animal Farm will not, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, contribute to changing history within a decade or so. But it probably has as good a chance as any contemporary work of winning its author a place—unacknowledged, of course—among Shelley's legislators of the world. And even if the chance does not come off, Orwell has, anyway, two strings to his bow: he is the author of 1984 as well as of Animal Farm. If the worst comes to the worst and he fails as a legislator, he is then virtually certain of immortality as a prophet.

Timothy Cook (essay date winter 1984)

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SOURCE: Cook, Timothy. “Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Orwell's Animal Farm: A Relationship Explored.” Modern Fiction Studies 30, no. 4 (winter 1984): 696-703.

[In the following essay, Cook investigates the influence of Sinclair's The Jungle on Animal Farm.]

Although George Orwell tells us that the idea of Animal Farm came from his actual experience of seeing a small boy easily controlling a huge carthorse with a whip,1 various scholars have suggested literary sources or precedents for his fable. These include a number of Kipling's short stories,2 the fourth book of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and, least plausibly, a section of John Gower's tedious Latin complaint Vox Clamantis, cited by Sean O'Casey, who makes his dislike of Animal Farm and his scorn for those who think it original very clear.3

Orwell was of course far too well read to have claimed “originality,” in the narrow sense of his having been the first person to make use of the human-animal relationship for political or social commentary. As an Eton scholar he would have known that the tradition goes back at least as far as Aristophanes' Birds. More importantly, we know from his own writings how much he admired Swift, in particular Gulliver's Travels, where he would have found the relationship between man and horse devastatingly reversed; indeed it is interesting that Orwell felt the Houyhnhnm nation had reached “the highest stage of totalitarian organization,” the stage when conformity becomes so general that there is no need for a police force.4 In other words, this nation has achieved an equine version of the ideal Party that Orwell was to make O'Brien look forward to in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The boot he imagines stamping forever on the human face is foreshadowed by the unshod hoof that keeps the Yahoos in permanent subjection. In this context the Houyhnhnms' simplified language, although not deliberately created, can be seen as a parallel to Newspeak in making certain thoughts impossible.

The resemblances between Animal Farm and Houyhnhnm land are superficial. The latter may or may not be, in Orwell's words, “about as good as [sic] Utopia as Swift could construct,”5 but it certainly can be seen as one, whereas Animal Farm of course presents a version of something that has happened in the real world. Indeed, underlying O'Casey's dismissal of Orwell's importance as a writer and his scorn of critics who compare Orwell with Swift is his outraged reaction to what was really “original” in Animal Farm, Orwell's effective development of his farm analogy into a detailed and devastating exposé of the betrayal of the October Revolution in Russia, a revolution that for O'Casey and other Party members was still a glorious, untarnished achievement.

Like all myths about ideal societies, the myth of the socialist utopia began to lose its attractiveness once an opportunity to establish it had arisen. Eleven years before Soviet Russia had come into being, however, it was possible to believe with much more fervor in the myth's validity as the solution to man's miseries. When Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was published in 1906, readers, depressed by his grimly vivid account of the sufferings of exploited Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago's stockyards, could still thrill to the revolutionary message of the socialist speakers and theorists in its closing pages. Orwell certainly knew The Jungle, and I would argue that Animal Farm owes more of a debt to Sinclair's best-known novel than it does to any preceding beast fable or animal story. In certain respects it can be seen as his answer to the hopeful message of the earlier book, though it is doubtful that he consistently intended it as such. Although he admired Upton Sinclair for his grasp of facts, especially in The Jungle, he criticized Sinclair's novels as little more than political tracts with nonexistent plots and unconvincing characters.6 At one point he even goes so far as to dismiss Sinclair, among other writers, as “a dull windbag.”7

Windy, in the sense that its rhetoric is overblown and that it makes the same points over and over again, The Jungle certainly is, but most people would find the first part, the misadventures of Jurgis Rudkus and his family as they struggle to survive amid the Chicago slaughterhouses and packing factories, anything but dull. Of that first part Sinclair wrote in his Autobiography, “I wrote with tears and anguish, pouring into the pages all the pain that life had meant to me. Externally the story had to do with a family of stockyard workers but internally it was the story of my own family.”8 Such passionate self-identification of the struggling young writer with his central characters has helped to keep The Jungle constantly in print to the present day, making the story carry more conviction than we find in much of Sinclair's later documentary fiction. It certainly made a great impression on Orwell, for he says of the Lithuanian family's experiences that they are “truly moving.”9 The book is of course no beast fable, though the man-beast comparison is implicit from the start in its title. Like Animal Farm, The Jungle is written to demolish a myth, but in this case it is the opposing, and older, one of America as the promised land, the capitalist Zion, the myth enshrined in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. This myth had brought Jurgis from his native, semifeudal Lithuania, ironically czarist-Russian dominated, to a system in which he soon finds himself as helpless, as uncomprehending, as the hogs queuing to be turned into the products of the huge Durham pork factory.

In his powerful description of the mechanical pork-making process, Sinclair stresses the individuality and the human qualities of the hogs, right up to the moment when, despite his “protest, his screams,” each is seized by a fate that “cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.”10 Jurgis Rudkus, the strong, naive peasant who is the central figure of Sinclair's novel, turns away from the scene of slaughter with the words “Dieve—but I'm glad I'm not a hog!” He has only just arrived in Chicago, and that very morning he has been given his first job in the factory. Soon he will be married to his sweetheart, Ona Lukoszaite, and they will live in an apparently new house bought on credit, but by that time he will have begun to realize how little he matters in his new country.

Later, destitute, bereft of wife and children, he finds himself at a political meeting listening to the message of a speaker calling for the socialist revolution. The speech he hears is lengthy and highly emotional, contrasting the lot of the workers being “ground up for profits in the world wide mill of economic might” with that of the few thousand bosses living in their “palaces” on “the products of the labor of brain and muscle” of the whole of society. It ends with a stirring appeal to the audience of working men, twice compared to beasts of burden, to look forward to the moment when the great giant of oppressed Labor will break free from his chains (J, pp. 356-366). This final vision brings the audience to its feet in wild enthusiasm. A few moments later, when someone starts singing the Marseillaise and the whole crowd excitedly joins in, Jurgis is stirred as never before in his life. He seeks to learn more about socialism from the orator and is referred to a Polish tailor under whose guidance he learns about the system for which he has been working:

To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were the Beef Trust … Jurgis recollected how, when he had first come to Packingtown, he had stood and watched the hog-killing and thought how cruel and savage it was, and come away congratulating himself that he was not a hog; now his new acquaintance showed him that a hog was just what he had been—one of the packers' hogs.

(J, p. 376)

These passages could well have provided Orwell, consciously or subconsciously, first with the idea of choosing pigs as the animals to lead his revolution and then with the essential elements in the rhetoric of old Major's speech, through which at the start of Animal Farm the animals are inspired to rebel against their human masters. Indeed, Sinclair's hog with his individual character, protesting and screaming as he gasps out his life, is surely the prototype of the young porkers who (Major tells them) “will scream your lives out at the block within a year,”11 just as the singing of the Marseillaise at the end of the socialist's speech seems to foreshadow the singing of the animal liberation hymn Beasts of England when Major finishes his. Jurgis, the exploited “packer's hog,” is moved by the occasion to take charge of his own destiny, just as the Manor Farm animals are, under the pigs' leadership.

Although some might feel that the ideas in these sections of Sinclair's book were readily available in any number of political tracts, Orwell's familiarity with The Jungle makes it possible that he had these passages, with their man-hog comparisons and their references to workers as beasts of burden, at the back of his mind when working on Animal Farm, and that his fable is in part an ironic and disillusioned response to the earlier work's propagandist enthusiasm, showing how cruelly deceptive the hopes of a socialist heaven on earth can be; indeed Animal Farm may be, in this sense, actually a sequel to The Jungle.

This possibility is greatly strengthened when we look at an earlier part of the book, where Jurgis and his family struggle to survive in Packingtown, ignorant of the forces that are controlling their destinies. Jurgis is one of the two strongest members of the group; the other is his cousin, the broad-shouldered, good-natured Marija, who has “a broad Slavic face with prominent red cheeks. When she opens her mouth it is tragical, but you cannot help thinking of a horse” (J, p. 8). Sinclair uses this image again in describing how the forelady at Marija's first job is attracted by her “combination of a face full of boundless good nature and the muscles of a dray horse” (J, p. 50). Later, when she loses her first job at the canning factory, she is again seen as “a human horse” (J, p. 123).

Jurgis also is described in terms of his strength, his “mighty shoulders and giant hands,” his “broad back” and his “rolling muscles.” The two cousins are the mainstays of their family and, until in one way or another they fall foul of the system, are valued by their bosses as workers. Indeed work is Jurgis' answer to every crisis. At the start of the novel Jurgis and his child-wife Ona discover that their veselija or wedding party is going to cost much more than expected because of swindles over the drink and because of the various subterfuges used by other members of the Lithuanian community, corrupted by residence in America, to avoid paying their traditional share of the costs. He turns to his wife and reassures her,

“Little one,” he said in a low voice “do not worry—it will not matter to us. We will pay them all somehow. I will work harder.” That was always what Jurgis said. Ona had grown used to it as the solution of all difficulties—“I will work harder.”

(J, p. 19)

When Ona discovers that the house a smooth-talking agent has persuaded them to buy, beside being hardly worth the money they are spending on it, is going to cost them more in interest than they can afford, Jurgis' response is similar: “Jurgis took it stolidly. He had made up his mind to it by this time. It was part of fate; they would “manage it somehow. He made his usual answer, ‘I will work harder’” (J, p. 83). When eventually he is sent to prison for assaulting the trucker's boss whose mistress Ona has become, he is regarded by Duane, the cynical safe-breaker who is his cell companion, as “a sort of working mule” (J, p. 193).

In the giant Jurgis and the dray horse-like Marija, as they battle on stoically and uncomprehendingly in an alien world in the early part of the book, we surely have human prototypes for Orwell's two carthorses Boxer and Clover, like them representatives of the true workers and victims of forces they do not understand. Indeed the resemblance to Jurgis as Orwell describes Boxer in the following passage surely goes beyond coincidence:

Boxer with his tremendous muscles always pulled them through. He had been a hard worker even in Jones's time, but now he seemed more like three horses than one; there were days when the entire work of the farm seemed to rest upon his mighty shoulders. … His answer to every problem, every setback was “I will work harder!”—which he had adopted as his personal motto.

(AF [Animal Farm], pp. 26-27)

As with Sinclair's Jurgis, the motto is repeated several times in the book. It is on Boxer's lips as he works on the rebuilding of the windmill before his final collapse. However, whereas Jurgis becomes aware long before the end of The Jungle that all his work and sweat and agony has simply gone toward strengthening a system in which he is regarded as entirely expendable, Boxer only realizes the true nature of his situation too late, when he is trapped in the knacker's van on the way to a slaughterhouse that is real rather than metaphorical, betrayed by those very pigs with whom he has cooperated in bringing about an animal version of that revolution to which Sinclair's speaker, with his reiterated comparison of the workers to beasts of burden, had looked forward. Jurgis' creator, writing in 1906, could not know that when Marxism did have the opportunity to triumph it would not be in capitalist America but in relatively undeveloped Czarist Russia, and that the results of that triumph would be simply that one tyranny would be replaced by another. His message therefore ends in hope for the Jurgises of this world. Orwell, writing with hindsight, describes similar sufferings on his postrevolutionary farm, with far greater economy in words and with a much lighter tone, but can offer no hope because he had seen how irredeemably the power won had corrupted its holders. Indeed the despotism of the pigs of Animal Farm, as Bernard Crick has pointed out, foreshadows the even harsher and much more somberly depicted tyranny of the Inner Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four.12

It is perhaps worth mentioning one or two other ways in which the experiences of Boxer and the other animals under the pigs resemble those of Jurgis and his family in The Jungle. In Animal Farm we have, as a central symbol of their hopes for a life free of arduous labor in an animal commonwealth, the windmill planned by Snowball but worked on after his expulsion. In The Jungle we have that supreme symbol of the property-owning democracy of which Jurgis and his family consider themselves independent members: the “house of their own” that Jurgis and Ona are talked into buying. Both the windmill and the house become causes of endless heartbreaking work; both help to bring about the catastrophe in the life of the major character.

The reactions of Jurgis, on coming out of prison to find that the house is now irrevocably lost, closely parallel those of the animals when they find their windmill destroyed. The relevant passage in The Jungle ends as follows: “All that they had paid was gone—every cent of it. And their house was gone—they were back where they had started from, flung out into the cold to starve and freeze (J, pp. 209-210).

Against it, for comparison, let us put the thoughts of the animals as they contemplate the ruin of their hopes by Jones's dynamite:

For a little while they halted in sorrowful silence at the place where the windmill had once stood. Yes it was gone; almost the last trace of their labour was gone! … It was as though the windmill had never been!

(AF, pp. 89-90)

Although anyone studying these sections of the two books in their entirety will find a vast difference between Sinclair's windy rhetoric and the economy with which Orwell, writing with the relative detachment of the satirical fabulist, describes the scene, the emotional and structural correspondence between the separate situations remains striking.

Further parallels exist between the two books. Boxer's unsuccessful struggle to learn the alphabet is reminiscent of Jurgis' early struggle to read and speak English and indeed of his whole struggle toward political awareness. The accident that leads directly to the final destruction of Jurgis' hopes of happiness for himself and his family—making him recognize that he is now “second-hand, a damaged article so to speak—they had worn him out … and now they had thrown him away” (J, pp. 145-146) and forcing him to work in the human scrapheap of the fertilizer plant—has its counterpart in the collapse of Boxer to which the pigs respond by selling him to the knacker's yard.

Both writers keep us constantly aware of the time of year. We move from one season to the next, each bringing its own problems but none more so than winter. If we compare the passage in Chapter Seven of The Jungle, beginning “Now the dreadful winter had come upon them,” likening the workers to “cogs in the great packing machine,” and describing the bitter winds and snowdrifts that they had to face (J, p. 92), with Orwell's account of the “bitter winter” that followed the first collapse of the windmill (AF, p. 64), we will perceive an underlying similarity of technique despite the world, or at least ocean, of difference between Sinclair's Chicago and Orwell's rural England. If Orwell seems to lack indignation as he does metaphors of the emotive kind used by Sinclair, it is because his purpose is not to inform or to arouse, as Sinclair's is. He is working with facts that are already known but presenting them in a new guise. He knows that he does not need to stir up indignation by being indignant himself. He is confident that outrage will come after we have watched the animals endure so much while building the mill, which is used to grind corn for the financial benefit of the pigs and not to fulfill Snowball's vision of an easier life for every worker on the farm. The windmill, on one level a counterpart to the Rudkus house, can also be seen as Orwell's version of what Sinclair calls, in the passage just quoted, “the great packing machine” as a whole. Sinclair's two separate symbols are economically merged into one—as human jungle is transformed in Orwell's refining imagination to porcine dictatorship.

In her interesting comparison of Orwell with Sinclair, the only significant one, I believe, in any book published on Orwell to date (indeed Sinclair's name is not mentioned in Crick's recent biography, the Meyers' critical bibliography,13 or any work known to me that explores Orwell's relationship with the Left), Jenni Calder mentions The Jungle appreciatively although making just criticisms of its style, tone, and technique. However, the works she chooses for comparison with Sinclair's novels, of which she mentions several, are the novels and nonfictional works that Orwell wrote before Animal Farm. After discussing Orwell's views on Sinclair, she comes to the conclusion that “Orwell's sensitivity to the adulteration of literature by propaganda probably explains why he himself refrained from attempting to deliver a directly political message in his novels, except in the form of allegory and science fiction.”14 In fact it is to what she calls Orwell's “allegory” that we should turn if we want to find clear evidence of the deep impression The Jungle made on him. It is also probable that the sense of hopelessness and squalor communicated by the first part of The Jungle, with its adulterated food, its cheap liquor, and its uncomprehending, helpless beast-of-burdenlike inhabitants, contributed something to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four prole world with its shabby streets, poor food, and Victory gin.15 Orwell's striking ability to create vivid pictures through unpleasant factual detail, already evident in his earlier books and essays and regarded by a recent critic as a disagreeable feature of his work,16 may also owe much to his study of The Jungle.

Interestingly, Sinclair, after maintaining his socialist beliefs throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century, giving wholehearted support to the Russian Revolution, and being actively involved in such causes célèbres of the Left as the Sacco and Vanzetti affair17 and, at a distance, the Spanish Civil War, worried toward the end of his life perhaps even more than the dying Orwell about the threat to human happiness and liberty posed by left-wing totalitarianism. Indeed he even went as far, in 1953, as describing the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy as less bad than communism.18 His disillusionment comes out in his late novel The Return of Lanny Budd, which, as Jon A. Yoder has rightly observed, shows that the Cold War destroyed him both as a liberal and as an effective propagandist.19

As to Sinclair's reaction to Orwell's late writings, there is little evidence available to English readers out of reach of the Sinclair archives. However, it is surely significant that, five years before his death, when his massive anthology of literary extracts and documentary evidence about man's struggle for individual liberty, The Cry for Justice, was reissued in a new edition, one of the pieces added to it was the O'Brien speech from Nineteen Eighty-Four, that chilling vision of the boot on the human face referred to at the beginning of this article.20

Returning, finally, to Orwell's own account of the genesis of Animal Farm, we must of course accept that the incident of the boy and the carthorse that he describes provided, either as a fresh experience or as a memory, the initial impulse that set him writing his fable. Nevertheless, the traces found in it of the impression made on his imagination by Sinclair's powerful radical novel seem clear enough to deserve acknowledgement.

Notes

  1. George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), III, 405-406.

  2. See K. Alldritt, The Making of George Orwell (London: Edward Arnold, 1969), p. 149, and Richard Cook, “Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell,” Modern Fiction Studies, 7 (Summer 1961), 125-135.

  3. Sean O'Casey, Sunset and Evening Star: Autobiography (London: Pan Books, 1973), VI, 102. See also John Gower, Vox Clamantis, in The Complete Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macauley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1902), IV, 165-2150.

  4. Orwell, Essays, IV, 252.

  5. Orwell, Essays, IV, 256.

  6. George Orwell, “Propaganda in Novels,” (London) Tribune, 13 September 1940, p. 14.

  7. George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), p. 44.

  8. Upton Sinclair, Autobiography (London: W. H. Allen, 1963), p. 120.

  9. Orwell, “Propaganda in Novels,” p. 14.

  10. Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (London: Heinemann, 1906), pp. 40-41. All further references to this book will appear parenthetically, abbreviated J.

  11. George Orwell, Animal Farm (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1951), p. 10. All further references to this book will appear parenthetically, abbreviated AF.

  12. Bernard Crick, George Orwell (London: Secker and Warburg, 1980), p. 263.

  13. Jeffrey Meyers and Valerie Meyers, eds., George Orwell: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism (New York: Garland, 1977).

  14. Jenni Calder, Chronicles of Conscience (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968), pp. 51-53, 261-262. Compare the remarks on Sinclair's style as discussed by J. D. Koerner in The Last of the Muckrake Men (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954), pp. 230-232.

  15. R. A. Lee, in Orwell's Fiction (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969), sees the proles in Nineteen Eighty-Four as “the helpless animals of Animal Farm transposed to a more efficient tyranny” (p. 151).

  16. A. Sandison, The Last Man in Europe: An Essay on George Orwell (London: Macmillan, 1974), pp. 14, 19, 21. One can imagine how Orwell would have reacted.

  17. See W. A. Bloodworth, Jr., Upton Sinclair (Boston, MA: Twayne, 1977), pp. 94 and 115-123.

  18. See Bloodworth, p. 168, note 2, and Sinclair's letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, quoted in Jon A. Yoder, Upton Sinclair (New York: Ungar, 1975), p. 111.

  19. Jon A. Yoder, “Upton Sinclair, Lanny, and the Liberals,” Modern Fiction Studies, 20 (Winter 1974-1975), 504.

  20. Upton Sinclair, ed., The Cry of Justice (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1963), pp. 588-589.

Myrddin Jones (essay date summer 1984)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4100

SOURCE: Jones, Myrddin. “Orwell, Wells and the Animal Fable.” English: The Journal of the English Association 33, no. 146 (summer 1984): 127-36.

[In the following essay, Jones posits that H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau was Orwell's inspiration for Animal Farm and draws parallels between the two works.]

I

In his Preface to the Ukranian edition of Animal Farm, Orwell said that the germ of his story came from seeing

a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse 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.1

But if this was the actual stimulus, it was not the only source of Orwell's tale. A much more extensive and significant source is H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau.

That Orwell knew and admired Wells's work is evident from his letters and essays. In May 1947 he said that Wells was one of the favourite authors of his boyhood (C.E.J.L. IV. 394) and a year later, that he was a ‘very early influence on me’ (C.E.J.L. IV. 478). We also know that he had been reading The Island of Dr. Moreau so closely that in 1941 he was able to point out to Wells himself the persistence of misprints ‘in edition after edition since 1896’ (C.E.J.L. IV. 326).2

Wells's singularly horrifying story is about a large-scale experiment carried out by a fanatical scientist in order to change the nature of animals and their relation to each other by turning them into men. By means of vivisection the creatures ‘are carven and wrought into new shapes’ (M. 81).3 But the transformation is as much mental as physical. The scientist, Dr. Moreau, argues that ‘the possibilities of vivisection do not stop at a mere physical metamorphosis; a pig may be educated. The mental structure is even less determinate than the bodily’ (M. 82). Consequently, by using hypnotism, he attempts to replace ‘old inherent instincts by new suggestions’ and by ‘moral education’ to change pugnacity into self-sacrifice and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion. Finally, by operating on the larynx and making the animals capable of uttering human speech, he enables them ‘to frame different sound-symbols by which thought could be sustained’ (M. 82).

The most significant way in which this later, and more efficient, Frankenstein brainwashes his new community was by means of a code of laws which they have to memorise and rehearse. The set of laws remarkably anticipates the Seven Commandment of Animal Farm—another code designed as ‘an unalterable law by which all the animals … must live for ever after’ (AF [Animal Farm]. 22). In The Island of Dr. Moreau the laws run:

‘Not to go on all fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’
‘Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’
‘Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’
‘Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’
‘Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

(M. 66)

Wells's narrator, Prendick, an amateur scientist shipwrecked and forced to live on Moreau's island, is made by the Beast folk not only to participate in the ceremony of repeating the Laws ‘with rhythmic fervour’, but also to witness the singing of another anthem that deifies the ‘Master’, Moreau—and one which, this time, foretells the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four and the figure of Big Brother:

His is the House of Pain.
His is the Hand that makes.
His is the Hand that wounds.
His is the Hand that heals.

(M. 67)

One is inevitably reminded of Winston's response to O'Brien—‘He was the tormentor, he was the protector, he was the inquisitor, he was the friend.’ (1984. 196)—and of the ‘hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother’ with its ‘deep, slow rhythmical chant of “B-B.” … “B-B.” … “B-B.” … a heavy, murmurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms’ (1984. 17). There is the same demand for total faith, the same contradictory attribution of cruelty and love.

Well's story is an island fable in the tradition of Utopia, Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels. His island community is both an ironic and a pathetic image of the operation of evolution. The animals in their changing state represent man as the victim of the process of evolution; as a creature painfully evolving his humanity; or, in Wells's own words, as ‘the round Palaeolithic savage in the square hole of the civilized state.’4 The power of evolution is conveyed in the figure of the amoral scientist Moreau, a man scornful of humanity and intent only on experiment. The narrator, Prendick, does not at first understand what he sees. He thinks the creatures that he meets are men, though of a repellent ugliness; later, that they are men on whom an obscene surgery has been practised; only from Moreau does he learn the truth. Ironically, after living with them for ten months, he increasingly sees the Beast People as an image of humanity; and when he returns to London, sees in Londoners the image of the beasts.

There might not at first seem to be much in common between this story and Orwell's. The totalitarian power in Wells is not a party but a process; the dictatorial figures are not politicians but scientists. But basically both fables are about intelligent and ruthless men who reorganize and exploit simpler folk into forming a new kind of society, ostensibly for their own benefit, and who use indoctrination and terror as their instruments for keeping them in subjection.

The initiating vision in each story is of a ‘strange dream’ (AF. 9) told by a man in rebellion against his society. Major's dream is well known and does not need repeating. In Wells's fable, Moreau tells Prendick how he was expelled from England for research which offended the nation and so set up his new laboratory and experiment on an uninhibited island. But Moreau is a more complex character than the Major. He might be thought of as combining the authority of Major with the cruelty of Animal Farm's Napoleon; or as having both the compelling power and the scientific sadism of an O'Brien. Like O'Brien (1984. 206), Moreau talks with fanaticism about his conditioning of his subjects; he dismisses the pain caused as merely part of the process of conditioning, and his account of the creation of his first man out of the gorilla is gruesomely close to O'Brien's experiments on Winston, ‘the last man’ (1984. 217):

… I made my first man. All the week, night and day, I moulded him. With him it was chiefly the brain that needed moulding; much had to be added, much changed.

(M. 85)

In each case, too, the pain inflicted produces not hatred and revulsion but worship. In the Ministry of Love, with the pain only ‘half forgotten’, Winston

opened his eyes and looked up gratefully at O'Brien. At sight of the heavy, lined face, so ugly and so intelligent, his heart seemed to turn over … He had never loved him so deeply as at this moment. …

(1984. 202)

The peculiar reverence for O'Brien, which nothing seemed able to destroy, flooded Winston's heart again. …

(1984. 220)

The reverence, in this case of course, has to be transferred to Big Brother—O'Brien explains that ‘it is not enough to obey him: you must love him’ (1984. 227)—and Winston finally achieves it. Moreau's Beast Folk worship him in the same way:

As they came forward they began to cringe toward Morea and chant, quite regardless of one another fragments of the latter half of the litany of the Law: ‘His is the Hand that wounds, His is the Hand that heals. …’

(M. 102)

To the independent narrator, Prendick, however, Moreau's dictatorial nature is always apparent. He is everywhere accompanied by huge dogs that keep the Beast Folk in terror and—again like Orwell's Napoleon—he always carries a whip. In fact, the title that Moreau, his assistant Montgomery, and Prendick assume is ‘We of the Whips’ (M. 132). The ferocity of the dogs in the attack on the Ape-Man (M. 15) recalls several incidents in Animal Farm, and the pursuit of the rebel Leopard Man (M. 105) is reminiscent of the baying hunt after Snowball (AF. 39-40).

The first of the incidents on Animal Farm involving the dogs also has a significant corollary in The Island of Dr. Moreau. In both stories, the first threat to any possibility of the maintenance of a communal ideal comes in attacks by one set of animals on another. In Wells, the slaughter increases as the experiment to reverse the animals' natural tendencies breaks down and the power of propaganda fails. The first signs of reversal were the dismembered bodies of rabbits; just as, in Animal Farm the threat comes in the dog's attack on the rats. Under the influence of the Major, the inhabitants of Animal Farm tried to arrest the return to nature by voting that ‘rats were comrades’; and Moreau's creatures, similarly, follow the Sayer of the Law—their Squealer, ‘a grey, horrible, crooked creature’ (M. 117)—in recantations and confessions.

‘Evil are the punishments of those who break the Law. None escape.’

‘None escape’, said the Beast Folk.

‘None, none’, said the Ape Man. ‘None escape. See! I did a little thing, a wrong thing once. I jabbered, jabbered, stopped talking … I am burnt, branded in the hand. He is great, he is good’.

‘None escape’, said the great creature in the corner.

‘None escape’, said the Beast People, looking askance at one another.

(M. 68-69)

Prendick, appalled at the humiliation of the animals, tries to rouse them to rebellion, following the same line of thought as Orwell himself when he saw the little boy whipping the horse:

‘You who listen’, I cried, pointing now to Moreau, and shouting past him to the Beast Men, ‘You who listen! Do you not see these men still fear you, go in dread of you? Why then do you fear them? You are many—’

(M. 75)

But there is no hope. Those who do break the Law in following their animal natures are hunted down, and in each case the fifth commandment, ‘Not to chase other men’, is abandoned. The same happens on Animal Farm in the abandonment of their sixth commandment, ‘No animal shall kill any other animal’. But while in Wells the collapse of indoctrination and the return to the state of nature is at last recognised by the animals—‘The House of Pain—there is no House of Pain’ (M. 137)—the greater poignancy of Animal Farm, as the animals return to their subject status, is caught in their continuing acceptance of the propaganda of equality:

None of the old dreams had been abandoned. The Republic of the Animals which the Major had foretold … was still believed in … If they went hungry, it was not from feeding tyrannical human beings; if they worked hard, at least they worked for themselves. No creature among them went on two legs. No creature called any other creature ‘Master’. All animals were equal.

(AF 85-6)

There are many slighter similarities between the two stories. Boxer's inability to get beyond four letters of the alphabet mirrors Moreau's gorilla who was taught to read, ‘or at least to pick out letters’ (M. 86); Mollie's pretty ribbons and the pigs' clothes are echoes of the garments that the Beast Folk wear so incongruously; even Animal Farm's preacher, Moses, the ‘clever talker’ about Sugarcandy Mountain (AF. 17), is anticipated by the evangelical Monkey Man and his ‘Big thinks’ (M. 140).

II

Orwell's use of the animal fable, however, is radically different from that of Wells. The disturbing effect of Wells's story arises from its mixture not only of animal and human but also of realism and myth. We travel with the confused Prendick through a vivid and horrifying sequence of incidents, of animal smells, hunted terror and appalling butchery. Through these events, Wells conveys a fearful and even misanthropic picture of the animal nature of man. The process begins with Prendick's thinking at first that the animals were men and writing of ‘the black-faced man’ (M. 14), ‘the deformed man’ (M. 15), ‘brown men’ (M. 29), ‘the grey-haired man’ (M. 35). The confrontation with Moreau brings the explanation of the ‘manufactured monsters’ and Prendick's ensuing terror of the Leopard-Man, the Hyaena-Swine Man and others. But the direction of the narrative gradually changes again as Prendick gets used to them:

I would see one of the bovine creatures who worked the launch treading heavily through the undergrowth and find myself trying hard to recall how he differed from some truly human yokel trudging home from his mechanical labours; or I would meet the Fox-Bear Woman's vulpine shifty face, strongly human in its speculative cunning, and even imagine I had met it before in some city byway.

(M. 95-6)

As he gets to know them through ten months of living together, they become for him the image of humanity; ‘the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason and fate in its simplest form’ (M. 108). It will not be surprising to readers of Swift that Prendick retains these feelings when back in London; that he meets prowling women, furtive men, weary pale workers coughing by, with tired eyes and eager paces like wounded deer, and ragged tails of gibing children; and that when he goes to a chapel, he finds that ‘the preacher gibbered Big Thinks, even as the Ape Man had done’ (M. 150). Even Prendick himself is tinged with the element of animal in his nature: he is tempted to cannibalism when at extremity in the lifeboat, loves the taste of meat, and is several times satirically endowed with animal characteristics. He ends his story, fearing that he was ‘not a reasonable creature, but only an animal tormented with some strange disorder in its brain’ (M. 150-1).

In Animal Farm, in contrast, we meet a totally different experience. It is ‘A Fairy Story’, a world of formal allegory, with allegory's distancing and universalising effect. This is because Orwell wants to use only one element of Wells's complex story. Wells, somewhat confusingly, includes different responses to his plot: both an agonised image of human suffering under the tyranny of evolution, and a satiric exposure of the animal nature of man. The writing is sometimes indebted to Hardy5 and at others to Swift. He employs Moreau as the image of the sadistic tyrant and the animals as sufferers, and uses the figure of Prendick to focus the distress because he shares both roles.

Orwell, however, was writing not about the general nature of man but about the specific issue of the corrupting nature of absolute power. He needed both to keep separate the images of tyrant and victim, and to remove the confusing presence of an intermediary, participating, narrator.6 Instead, he adopted the traditional form of children's fable and gave us two carefully separated images: of animals as victim and of man as tyrant. The animals, of course, as William Golding indicates, convey human responses—

George Orwell's splendid fable, having to choose between falsifying the human situation and falsifying the nature of animals, chooses to do the latter. Often we forget they are animals. They are people, and Orwell's brilliant mechanics have placed them in a situation where he can underline every moral point he cares to make.7

We recall not only Boxer's loyalty and Clover's grief at the loss of her pastoral, but also Benjamin's alert scepticism about politicians, Mollie's human vanity and the cat's shrewd opportunism. But they do not adopt the human image: they retain the image of animals. The increasing corruption of the pigs, in contrast, can be caught in their changing image as they become more and more like dictatorial man. The satire of the Communist dictatorship is imaged in the one group of animals which insists on its common nature and destiny with the others but increasingly departs from it.

It is in his brilliant analysis and presentation of the role of Man that Orwell achieves his most penetrating satire. ‘Only get rid of Man’, says the Major, ‘and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we could become rich and free’. (AF. 13). Again, the relation to Wells works by contrast not similarity. In Wells's story, getting rid of Moreau freed the animals from his dictatorial power and they reverted to their earlier state. But this does not happen on Animal Farm. In Major's proposals there is an unperceived ambiguity. On the simple level of story, animals are animals and men are men. But on the allegorical level, some animals are simultaneously animals and men. Jones is simply Jones, but Napoleon is also Stalin. ‘Only get rid of Man’ works on the simple level of story; but if the pigs are simultaneously images of men, you do not get rid of Man simply by sacking Mr. Jones. The aspect of human nature that the pigs represent is a permanent part of the picture; and utopia that starts with the provision ‘Only get rid of Man’ is shown in its nature to be illusory. The historical allegory thus allows a separation between the animals and the pigs, and allows Orwell to extend his theme from that of a satire on a particular political philosophy to a more universal account of the age-old conflict between the governors and the governed.

Nineteen Eighty-Four reverted to a disturbing ambivalence that is closer to Wells's mixture of realism and myth. There is a deliberate uncertainty in the role of the narrator and consequently in the attitude to the people. Winston's early attitude to the proles has the same contempt as that of other members of the Party:

The Party claimed, of course to have liberated the proles from bondage … But simultaneously, true to the principles of doublethink, the Party taught that the proles were natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals, by the application of a few simple rules … Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern … As the Party slogan put it: ‘Proles and animals are free’.

(1984. 60)

In the words of Symes, ‘The Proles are not human beings’. (1984. 46). After a bomb attack, in which his life was probably saved by one of the Proles, Smith casually kicks a severed hand into the gutter (1984. 71); and his growing belief, that ‘if there is hope, it lies with Proles’ (1984. 69), is challenged by their degraded condition after decades of Party rule. In a walk, very similar to Prendick's tour through the London suburbs, he sees

girls in full bloom, with crudely lipsticked mouths, and youths who chased the girls, and swollen waddling women who showed you what the girls would be like in ten years' time, and old bent creatures shuffling along on splayed feet, and ragged barefooted children who played in the puddles and then scattered at angry yells from their mothers.

(1984. 69)

His growing egalitarianism is characterised as ‘a mythical truth and a palpable absurdity.’ (1984. 69)

But Winston Smith is not Orwell. He is shown to be wrong at first about many other people—about Julia, O'Brien, Charrington—and it would be absurd to identify the attitudes of the characters with those of the author. Winston gradually learns the centrality of human values, and in his last moment of free insight he acknowledges the beauty and power of the representative figure hanging clothes on the line:

The mystical reverence that he felt for her was somehow mixed up with the pale, cloudless sky, stretching away behind the chimney pots into interminable distance … The future belonged to the Proles. And could he be sure that when their time came the world they constructed would not be just as alien to him, Winston Smith, as the world of the Party? Yes, because at least it would be the world of sanity. Where there is equality there can be sanity … The Proles were immortal, you could not doubt it when you looked at that valiant figure in the yard. In the end their awakening would come. And until that happened, though it might be a thousand years, they would stay alive against all the odds, like birds, passing on from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill.

(1984. 175)

The religious euphoria of his language alerts the reader to the tragic reversal that is immediately to follow. O'Brien convinces him that History like all other structures of thought is malleable and that the Party will continue in perpetual dictatorship, stamping on the faces of the people. But again, the mad and enthusiastic O'Brien is not Orwell, either, and the reader does not accept his version of things. The book's material is not presented as an image of the truth, a prophecy of the future, but as a monstrous parody, a black satire of the possibilities that technology offers to the ruthless power-seekers of communism and capitalism. The word ‘parody’ is Orwell's own description of the book in a press release he dictated on learning of early misreadings and mis-representations.8 The doctrines of O'Brien and the conditions of the Proles are there, not as in Wells to offer a picture of the human condition, but to provoke a response that will see the dangers and oppose the horrors:

The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don't let it happen. It depends on you.9

Wells might be misanthropic and contemptuous of the uneducated mob, but Orwell's vision of the corruption of power, while allowing no easy optimism, defends the dignity of human nature and of the people. He did not share Wells's confidence in scientific socialism managed by an elite, and it is significant that he can re-shape Wells's powerful fable for radically different ends.

Notes

  1. The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell. (Penguin, 1970), vol. 3, pp. 458-459. Hereafter C.E.J.L.

  2. It is clear from the Preface to the Ukranian edition that it was about this time that Orwell was pondering Animal Farm: ‘the main outlines of the story were in my mind over a period of six years before it was actually written’ (C.E.J.L. III. 459).

  3. H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Essex edn., vol. xlv, (Benn, London, 1927).

    Page references to both Wells and Orwell will be indicated immediately after each quotation, The Island of Dr. Moreau references being preceded by M, Animal Farm by AF and Nineteen Eighty-Four by 1984. The Animal Farm edition used is the Secker and Warburg edition, 1945; the Nineteen Eighty-Four edition is the Penguin.

  4. The Island of Dr. Moreau expressed in the form of fiction ideas that Wells published in theoretical form in his essay ‘Human Evolution, An Artificial Process’. He summarised his argument thus:

    That in civilised man we have (1) an inherited factor, the natural man, who is the product of natural selection, the culminating ape … and (2) an acquired factor, the artificial man, the highly plastic creature of tradition, suggestion and reasoned thought. In the artificial man we have all that makes the comforts and securities of a civilisation a possibility … And in this view, what we call Morality becomes the padding of suggested emotional habits necessary to keep the round Palaeolithic savage in the square hole of the civilised state. And Sin is the conflict of the two factors—as I have tried to convey in my Island of Dr. Moreau. (See H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, ed. Robert M. Philmus and David Y. Hughes (Univ. of California Press, 1975).

  5. See, for instance, the last page of Chapter XVI, including:

    A blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence, and I, Moreau by his passion for research, Montgomery by his passion for drink, the Beast People, with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels. (M. 109)

  6. See Raymond Williams, Orwell, (Fontana Modern Masters series), p. 69: ‘Animal Farm is unique in Orwell's writing in the absence of an Orwell figure’, and the subsequent argument.

  7. See William Golding, ‘Fable’, The Hot Gates (Faber and Faber), p. 86.

  8. See Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Secker and Warburg), p. 395.

  9. Crick, op. cit., p. 395.

Jenny Mezciems (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8359

SOURCE: Mezciems, Jenny. “Swift and Orwell: Utopia as Nightmare.” Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters 15, no. 3 (1985): 189-210.

[In the following essay, Mezciems compares the utopian fiction of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell.]

It seems appropriate that, at a Utopian conference in 1984, one should think of Swift in relation to this significant date and with substantial reference to Orwell's view of Gulliver's Travels as well as to his own dystopian fictions. Utopian fictions (to give definitional priority to the positive side of the genre), being essentially timeless and placeless, cannot be considered only in terms of the time at which they were written, or of particular local circumstances in the real world. They have a habit of breaking down tidy period divisions and neat chronological ordering. The year 1984 will pass; indeed it was pointed out several years ago by some expert on our calendar that we are some six years adrift in our calculations, so that here we all are in 1990.1 With the suspense gone, and also the pressure to pass or fail Orwell's novel according to how accurately it predicted the way we now live, we may set about the serious task of placing it in the broader utopian literary tradition.

Gulliver's Travels is a long-established utopian text in its own right, but it is also one of direct importance to Orwell. Eric Blair, as he then was, read Gulliver's Travels at the impressionable age of eight—or, rather, just before: I first warmed to him as a human being on reading that he had stolen the hidden birthday present from his mother to read surreptitiously in advance. If he then felt guilty at the difficulty of pretending sufficient surprise on the day, the occasion perhaps provided an appropriate foundation for the guilt he so regularly expressed in his own writings. In 1946, between publishing Animal Farm and writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell wrote his essay “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels”, and there he lists Swift's book among the six which he would preserve if all others were to be destroyed (CEJL, IV, 257).2 The conditions themselves sound suitably Swiftian, and the selectivity is reminiscent of Gulliver's (or Swift's) reduction, to the same number, of those “heroes” who deserve the name throughout history: “Brutus … his Ancestor Junius, Socrates, Epaminondas, Cato the Younger, Sir Thomas More … A Sextumvirate to which all the Ages of the World cannot add a Seventh” (p. 196).3

My comparisons between Swift and Orwell, however, must go beyond the obvious relationships between the best-known fictions of each. For both, the creation of a utopia or dystopia was a climactic achievement in a lifetime of political writing, and the form chosen may be seen as one way of putting into literary perspective the urgent concerns of each with the conditions of his own time. Rival prognosticators can no longer limit our attention to the merits or demerits of Orwell's last book as any kind of specific prophecy,4 and while our fears for the future are more about whether there is to be one than about what form it may take, we are likely to think of our own time as not post-utopian but post-dystopian.5 Among all the other posts we are passing is this year: 1984, like 1948, will be lost to us as a period of particular impact, but using a date for his title was a clever choice on Orwell's part, and showed that he knew the rules of the utopian/dystopian game. Just as distance in space was once essential to the positive utopia, so the date of a dystopia had to press hard and close on readers urged to avoid its seeming inevitability. Hence the usefulness of such teasing ambiguities as Thomas More's punning on the good place being noplace, of Butler's Erewhon being Nowhere spelt backwards: the fact that Nowhere, without any reordering tricks, is also Now Here, might almost serve as a mnemonic for definitions of the genre.

But since time passes, and we must look at the relationships between ephemeral and permanent features, we can, as “post-realists”, stand back from the form of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a novel, to adjust the perspective in which it stands alongside the slighter but equally powerful text of Animal Farm, which uses the ancient form of the fable and gives an interesting twist to a theriophilic tradition reaching back through Swift's Houyhnhnms to Erasmus, and further back to Plutarch and to Cynic and even Stoic philosophies.6 The animal fable, as both Orwell and Swift used it, simplifies and universalizes at the same time, to make a statement that cannot be confined to one series of events or set of particular circumstances. Animal Farm is a warning, if you like, just as Nineteen Eighty-Four is, as well as a fictionalized account of actual happenings, but it is also, like Gulliver's Travels, a description in narrative form of natural and social forces perennially interacting in an imperfect human world, its central concern being not only with Party but with the old civic morality and its expression in government.

While we rescue Nineteen Eighty-Four from temporal limitations, Gulliver's Travels, too, is enjoying the insistence of critics on its wider scope. A recent book by F. P. Lock, The Politics of Gulliver's Travels (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), is one that urges universality of application for the seemingly most local of satiric attacks. He cites, for example, that passage in the “Voyage to Lilliput” (p. 39) where “the Emperor lays on a Table three fine silken Threads of six Inches long. One is Blue, the other Red, and the third Green. These Threads are proposed as Prizes, for those Persons whom the Emperor hath a mind to distinguish”. Obligatory footnote references usually gloss this allusion to the Orders of the Garter, the Bath, and the Thistle, and, as Lock puts it, “most readers … would … be surprised to learn that [in the first edition of 1726 these were coloured] purple, yellow, and white”. He then offers the suggestion that, far from being motivated by fear of censure, the purple, yellow, and white were chosen for the universally symbolic values of silver, gold, and imperial purple, and that blue, red, and green were introduced in later editions to sharpen and update the satire with topical allusions to Walpole's exercise of patronage (pp. 79-80).

Lock is speculating, but in doing so he is looking for a broader relevance of the kind not only Swift but also Orwell may claim in the utopian tradition. The impulse seems ahistorical, which lifts concepts out of the temporal confines to which a choice of words (or even literary forms) may confine them, when the “real” values of those words have been corrupted by the world's usage. There is significance in the number of worldly things for which Swift's Houyhnhnms have no words (their language has an innocent perfection which Orwell's Newspeak aims to pervert), but the model for this particular utopian concern with language is, I think, in Thomas More's ironic dismissal of Hythlodaye's Utopia, of a communism that “utterly overthrows all the nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty which are, in the estimation of the common people, the true glories and ornaments of the commonwealth” (p. 245).7 With “nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty”, More puts emphasis on concepts which have in European life, never mind “the estimation of the common people”, been sullied by local practice but could be restored and purified and given the original and timeless meanings of nobilitas, magnificentia, splendor, maiestas: Utopia was not written in the vernacular.

The same sense of perspective can be applied to literary forms. Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is suggested, were intended as two parts of a trilogy, which would show life before, during, and after a particular kind of revolution.8 The fable sandwiched in the centre breaks up the consistency of form we might expect from a series of novels, but not the expectations we have of works in the utopian tradition, where the useful term Menippean satire enables us to bridge gaps not only between Orwell's separate late fantasies but between Books I and II of Utopia, and as one way of accounting for disunities between the four books of Gulliver's Travels. It then does not matter that Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has what may already be seen as the outmoded “novel” form, with its limiting representation of ordered reality. That form may eventually be looked at as a concession to, and comment on, the time for which it was written, just as Gulliver's Travels exploited a prevailing fashion for traveller's tales, or Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel make use of a popular vernacular tradition of anonymous “Chronicles”. The juxtaposition of ancient with modern forms forces us to become conscious of the relationships of literature to life, learned to popular culture, written to oral modes of transmission, and is, I believe, indicative of an author's claim on tradition for the permanence and universality of his values.

I have already mentioned the centrality of moral philosophy in the politics of the great utopists. For Swift this is a crucial element in the battle between Ancients and Moderns, Homer versus the Royal Society. I want to highlight the part played by the animal fable in the fictions of Orwell and Swift because both seem uneasy with man's dependence on that reasoning faculty which should make Utopia so easy to realize and which instead appears to bring about dystopia. The theriophilic fable undermines the basic distinction men like to make between themselves and the beasts, either by suggesting identifications, and thus equality (as in Aesop's fables) or by making animals superior to men.9 A Renaissance locus classicus is the adage which Erasmus might almost have written expressly to place alongside Pico's “De dignitate hominis”, reminding us as he does that “dog does not eat dog, fierce lions do not fight each other, there is peace between snake and snake, venomous creatures agree together”, but men “use instruments invented against nature by the art of demons, to arm men for the destruction of men”.10 In one of his most striking essays, “Shooting an Elephant”, Orwell works hard to discover in his human self the fellow-feeling (not reason) that enables him to register the nobility of the falling elephant, and it is a dog that shows him the humanity of a prisoner about to be executed in “A Hanging”. No one should be surprised that the discomfort we feel on getting to know certain domestic details of Houyhnhnm life in Gulliver's Travels (their threading needles, or riding on sledges for long journeys) is due to the fact that these creatures are neither men nor horses, as we recognize each with our Lockean faculties. Orwell brings us back to Aesop's humbling simplifications, when men and pigs become indistinguishable at the end of Animal Farm. The rat that is Winston Smith's undoing in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a creature I shall return to: the creature of the sewer that, with Swiftian recognition of heights meeting depths, Orwell chose as the ultimate inhuman weapon of the Party's political science, when words had failed to persuade and convert.

When I offered the title “Utopia as Nightmare” I meant to suggest a paradox, for it is of course the dystopia that is the nightmare in Orwell, presented, as is generally the rule, as a positive utopia by those in the fiction who take pride in its realization. It is easy enough to discover dystopia behind the initial attractions of Swift's Lilliput, less easy to appreciate that the grossness of life in Brobdingnag, a mirror which distorts only the superficies of human life, may offer some sober recommendations after humbling our vanity. But the Houyhnhnms, whether or not one believes as I do that Swift offers their principles seriously as a model for humanity, are both utopian and nightmarish. They are classically utopian in the strict forms of Spartan conduct that Swift took from Plato, with Stoic embellishments.11 Their lifestyle denies most of the human values we treasure. They are nightmarish (to us) in their deviation from the natural, from a nature that we know has room for both the innocent brutish strength of the horse and the perverse passions of feeble man: above all in their usurpation of our precious capacity for reason.

Swift, calling man rationis capax instead of rational, aimed to vex rather than divert the world, but he, like Orwell, has been variously misunderstood. Partly he meant to mislead of course—to have his fiction taken for real, to shock all the more for being amusing, to anger those in power by making accusations which were not quite actionable. Both Swift and Orwell have been seen as traitors to their own parties, advocates for the wrong side. But this is because they may be read too narrowly, with application to local and specific temporal allegiances: Orwell was certainly a Socialist; Swift was variously a Whig and a Tory. But then, Thomas More was some kind of communist. The labels are too small, and therefore open to contradiction. Raymond Williams aptly describes Orwell's attachment to England, for example, as a “conscious affiliation” rather than “membership” of a society (Orwell, pp. 16-17). Swift and Orwell experienced colonial rule in opposite situations, but some of Swift's local espousals might similarly be called “conscious affiliations”, principled but pragmatic, necessary but lacking the freedom of the Erasmian spirit he might have preferred to imitate. Texts about propaganda are easily adopted and misunderstood as propaganda, in a narrower and thus misleading interpretation of what the author may have thought he intended, let alone what he believed.

Some sympathies and similarities between Orwell and Swift have all along been generally recognized, and my concern here is to investigate differences in spirit, which interestingly are most striking where the two writers seem superficially most close. Bernard Crick, in his introduction to the new Oxford edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, refreshingly absolves Orwell from blame for inaccuracies in his picture of the world we have experienced in 1984. The reorientation Crick presents concentrates on Orwell's intentions, and emphasizes the connection with Swift. Nineteen-Eighty Four, Crick says, is “specifically ‘Swiftian satire’”. “Many of the features of Oceania”, he goes on, are “wickedly comic” Even the scenes in Room 101 are “not uncomic” (the litotes suggests some awareness that his reading may be a provocative one), and when “smell and oppression, as well as dirt, are once more linked”, “all this is farce”. The end of Nineteen Eighty-Four Professor Crick sees as “comic, grotesque”, centring on the phrase “two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose” to describe the emotional force of Winston's final submission to Big Brother, and pointing to the textual significance of the words “The End” as echoing the winding-up of a Hollywood B-movie at the close of the narrative.12 A new bit of significance perhaps creeps in at this stage in Crick's edition, for there the words “The End” are accompanied prominently by the superscript number “102”, which, though presumably merely a footnote reference, accidentally opens up a whole new dimension for speculating that Winston's struggle with the Party may not, after all, be over.

The reader who comes to Orwell from Swift is unlikely to find the smells and squalor and oppression funny in either writer; and Orwell lacked the “savage indignation” which makes a certain kind of comedy possible in Swift. Orwell, for that matter, did not seem to find Gulliver's Travels funny when he wrote about it in 1946. He calls it “a rancorous as well as a pessimistic book” and describes “the inter-connexion between Swift's political loyalties and his ultimate despair” as “one of [its] most interesting features”. He then goes on to puzzle over what it is that makes the book enjoyable (CEJL, IV, 243, 257-58). He is right about the pessimism, and my argument is, first, that though the pessimism of Orwell's own dystopia is apparent, there is a world of difference between presenting a dystopia on the assumption that it can be avoided, and offering a utopia (that of the Houyhnhms) from which man is by nature excluded; secondly, that if Orwell is like Swift, then the affinity is to be found more at an unconscious than at a conscious level.

Orwell allows that “Swift was an admirable writer of comic verse”; he also recognizes that Gulliver is “ridiculous” and “silly” at times, and that (presumably like Winston Smith, given that both protagonists are provided with names to express their social status and values), he represents the average Englishman of his time: “bold, practical and unromantic, his homely outlook skilfully impressed on the reader” (CEJL, IV, 256, 242, 241). It is important to the effect of both narratives that the reader should be obliged to identify with the “hero”, not just initially but to the end of each work, but if Gulliver is eventually ridiculous (particularly in neighing and trotting like a horse on his return home), an element of humour is available only through the reader's determination to separate himself from Gulliver (not entirely what Swift intended). Winston Smith's “two gin-scented tears” may also be ridiculous, but he remains a steadily sympathetic character, a victim of social circumstances, not culpably perverse by nature, and I doubt whether laughing at him would serve Orwell's purpose. As for Swift, we have it on good authority that he could “laugh and shake in Rab'lais' easy chair”, but Pope's words (Dunciad, I. 22) do not necessarily refer to Gulliver's Travels. Moreover, Pope admitted that he did not understand Rabelais at all, and Swift told him that he did not always understand Swift.13

Rather than reiterate accounts of those features which make Swift's clean, rational, passionless Houyhnhnm utopia so unattractive to most readers, its lifestyle reminiscent not only of ancient Sparta but of the rigours of English public-school life (so often rendered as a nightmare experience), I will summarize very briefly a few salient points. What is most fully realized in Houyhnhnmland is glimpsed earlier on, in the three previous Voyages, as something lost, forgotten, or disregarded by most men. The faint “otherworldliness” of the good life is made more striking by the fact that it tends to be presented not so much as Gulliver's own experience but at second hand: in discussions reminiscent of Socratic debate (for example in audience with the King of Brobdingnag) or in surveying the history of the land he visits. This usually happens somewhere near the centre of each Voyage, or, more accurately, at the deepest point of discoveries before leaving a country (in Book III there is an actual visit to the underworld), all of which may remind us of classical and even epic procedures.

It is, Gulliver reminds us, only in their “original Institutions”, not their current corrupt application, that the Lilliputians “have more Regard to good Morals than to great Abilities” in government, and “suppose Truth, Justice, Temperance, and the Like, to be in every Man's Power” (pp. 60,59). Crimes against the State are (were) severely punished, but good men are honoured. The Lilliputians believe in divine Providence. Their children are removed from their families to be educated by the State, and parents may occasionally visit but not fondle their offspring. Training is modified according to class and gender, but breeding, as distinct from nurture, is not strictly controlled as in Houyhnhnmland, or More's Utopia, or in Plato's Republic. From the King of Brobdingnag we learn more about ourselves, as Gulliver takes his turn at giving an account of our own customs, our degenerate aristocracy, our warring religious and political factions, our invention of gunpowder as a triumph of civilization. The King's values are those of “common Sense and Reason”, “Justice and Lenity”, and he believes that “whoever could make two Ears of Corn, or two Blades of Grass to grow upon a Spot of Ground where only one grew before; would deserve better of Mankind … than the whole Race of Politicians put together”. The Brobdingnagians have no standing army, no colonizing ambitions, their learning is limited (in that they have need of few books), and they write simply and economically in a “clear, masculine, and smooth” style (pp. 135-37). (The Houyhnhnms have of course no written literature, though they excel in poetry on “exalted Notions of Friendship and Benevolence, or the Praises of those who were Victors in Races, and other bodily Exercises” (p. 274).

Book III is the most thoroughly dystopian, in that it presents a fragmented society (morally, physically, geographically, and institutionally disorientated) which is seen by its privileged classes, and by Gulliver at salient points, as utopian. Only one character, Lord Munodi, in his would-be Horatian retreat to a country estate, is admirable: out of favour at court, perhaps suggestive both of Sir William Temple and the Earl of Oxford, he cultivates his land and cares for his tenants in the old way, but is vulnerable to the imposition of disastrous new methods in estate management. The Houyhnhnms, whose Spartan and Stoic features are too well known to need description here, are of course most striking in their relationships with their subject race of Yahoos: troublesome creatures mainly because Gulliver identifies himself (and therefore the reader) as one of them. One way in which Houyhnhnmland is nightmarishly utopian is in its presentation of the passions, which, like the imagination that includes Swift's own fantasy, are governed by reason: not human reason but Houyhnhnm reason. Gulliver is allowed by Swift to come home, but only to confirm that passionate unreason can indeed not be eradicated in humanity. His return to the cave, or the stable, shows him devoid of the qualities Socrates, and Thomas More, envisaged in the hypothetical figure of the philosopher. The Houyhnhnms would leniently have castrated him, their reason allowing something mercifully short of extermination, hinting even at scope for improvement.

I am on the side of those who believe Swift seriously admired Houyhnhnm values, to their last degree of severity. The other nightmare quality, at the climax of Gulliver's (or the reader's) educative adventures, is the way he must be expelled from his utopia, however creditably he has performed to show himself superior to other Yahoos. I believe we are not meant to laugh at his wish to be a Houyhnhnm and if we find him ridiculous when he tries to be a horse, back home, we risk a lot by dissociating ourselves not only from his practices but from his desires as well. We make distinctions too easily, while Gulliver does not make them easily enough.

Orwell and Swift plainly hated and feared extremism, but Orwell saw that Swift's utopia was itself extremist: a totalitarian state in which the Yahoos, he notes, are treated like Jews in Nazi Germany. Swift might argue that the whole point of Gulliver's Travels is that the extremism of Houyhnhnmland is not for man; that man cannot handle the absolutism of a virtue which is pure reason since human reason is perverted by passion. Orwell proves the point with his invention of Newspeak: the society of Oceania, like that of Houyhnhnmland, has simplified language to a level at which there can be no ambiguity of meaning, and should be no variety of experience. “Neither is Reason among them a Point problematical as with us, when Men can argue with Plausibility on both sides of a Question; but strikes you with immediate Conviction”, as Gulliver says of the Houyhnhnms (p. 267). For Swift the enemy is not unity of opinion but open disagreement.

There are awkwardnesses in Orwell's illustrations of non-reason disguised as reason, however. “2 + 2 = 5” does not strike Winston Smith with immediate conviction. The sum is an innocent abstraction abused for the sake of power which is craved and exercised with passion, but the “common sense” opinion that 2 + 2 = 4 is also an abstraction. Winston's real appeal is to the individual reader's experience, and it might be more interesting if some men thought that 2 + 2 = 3. It is not reason but lack of imagination that disables the innocent Houyhnhnms from believing that Gulliver travelled across the sea in a boat. Swift's reader, laughing at their naivety, draws on a fund of human knowledge, which is not always the same as wisdom, and there are circumstances in which Swift would ask us to accept that 2 + 2 = 5. Orwell described him as a “Tory anarchist” (CEJL, IV, 253), and probably recognized that the term allows some breadth and variety of reference.

The real difference between the two, and between the effects of their powerful fictions, is that Orwell had faith in human nature, which he achieved by dint of taking on himself certain kinds of expiatory guilt; whereas Swift had no such faith and projected guilt on to his fellow men as punishment for the fact that he was one of them. This is why Orwell's dystopia is in fact optimistic, if not comic, and Swift's utopia is pessimistic. One of Swift's more notorious statements, in a letter to Pope, was “principally I hate and detest that animal called man”, as he prepared to launch Gulliver's Travels in a mood of defeatist irony that it would “wonderfully mend the World” (Correspondence, III, 103, 87). Orwell, believing in progress, and in revolution if unavoidable, recognized the basic dilemmas which separate the methods of the Romantic utopist from the Classical utopist: “The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature?” (CEJL, I, 469). His outlook is clear in the application of “change” to “system” and “improve” to “human nature”, and his use of “until and “before” instead of “unless”.

Swift's orthodox Christian pessimism was extreme: man is wilfully depraved, using his reason only to perverse ends (Gulliver's excuses for travelling are vain, worldly, scientifically curious, and socially irresponsible, and the outcome is total disorientation). Man is seen as corrupt when in power, ignorant, lazy, and dirty when poor, full of proud self-delusions that guarantee an interdependence between fool and knave, the gullible and the dishonest. Swift's realistic aim might be that men could be protected from their worst excesses by being forced to live with an appearance of tolerable civility within a decent orthodox institutional framework. This is not to say that Swift had no ideals, only that his ideals were too radical for human application, and his conservatism was all application, shallower than any creed—so Orwell's phrase “Tory anarchist” may be about right.

Orwell, forgiving us, is able eventually to forgive himself. He thought Swift sick and diseased in mind. “The most essential thing in Swift”, he says, “is his inability to believe that life—ordinary life on the solid earth, and not some rationalized, deodorised version of it—could be made worth living” (CEJL, IV, 253). The protest, like some of Orwell's comforting (and nowadays embarrassing) beliefs about the English (for example in “England your England”), suggests a degree of romantic self-delusion which Swift would have dealt with savagely. “Part of our minds”, says Orwell, “—In any normal person it is the dominant part—believes that man is a noble animal”. He talks of Swift's “endless harping on disease, dirt and deformity”, expanding repeatedly, and with gratuitous inventions of his own, on the kind of thing he means. “Something in us”, he claims, though with a comforting generality,x18 “responds to [Swift's pessimism] as it responds to the gloomy words of the burial service or the sweetish smell of corpses in a country church” (CEJL, IV, 259, 260).

Orwell's own poking about in the hovels of the poor, his obsessively detailed recording of stinks and other human unpleasantnesses (but especially stinks) is mostly justified in The Road to Wigan Pier by its propagandist aim against social inequality and in his evident assumption that a general decency of spirit will come to light if given material decency of circumstance. The insanitary rooms and smelly drains around which Orwell seems to linger are, I think, never satirically presented, in the manner of Swift's poem (which Orwell cites) “The Lady's Dressing Room”, where Strephon has his illusions shattered about art and nature in woman:

But oh! it turn'd poor Strephon's Bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the Towels,
Begumm'd, bematter'd, and beslim'd
With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim'd …
Nor be the Handkerchiefs forgot
All varnish'd o'er with Snuff and Snot.

(11. 43, 48)14

Swift puts the fascination and the shock equally far from himself through the mediations of both a character (Strephon) and a moralizing narrator, but Orwell's habit is to grasp these emotions to himself. His sense of guilt is at being clean, not at the rest of humanity being dirty. He evidently never recovered from the trauma of being told as a boy that the poor smelt, and privilege seemed to be a cross he continued to bear, with self-inflicted punishments reminiscent of Thomas More's famous hairshirt: “It is a kind of duty to see and smell such places now and again, especially smell them, lest you should forget that they exist”, he remarks of slum dwellings in The Road to Wigan Pier, but it is rather as though he undertakes this duty on our behalf, protecting us where Swift would expose us.15

If we grant that both men, in their writings, were in some sense idealists (as one might expect a utopist or dystopist to be), we may suspect that the idealism at its deepest was a private affair. In Swift's case it is not just that, as a satirist, he conventionally leaves positive views to be taken for granted, but that he deals with the world in manageable fragments through a range of personae each of which can contain one particular issue at a time. He is rarely the authority speaking for all men, but by turns the mad, wordy prose hack of A Tale of a Tub; the hoaxter gossip Isaac Bickerstaff; the commonsense materialist who argued for all the wrong reasons “Against Abolishing Christianity”; the solid Dublin Drapier defending the rights of a nation he disliked being a member of; the Modest Proposer whose cold logic reveals the distress Swift felt for that same nation's inhabitants. The partiality is usually eccentric and provocative, so that it is we, the rest of society, that must unite in common sense to resist. Gulliver is the obvious exception in so far as he is Everyman—but then that is even more of a shock, requiring efforts of dissociation which leave the reader asking “what must I do to be human?”.

Orwell, on the other hand, makes himself a kind of universal social conscience, putting aside, as Swift does, his own private identity, though in favour not of a multiplicity of occasional voices but of the one figure, George Orwell, whose name of course has the stability of a refuge—if not pastoral then certainly bucolic; of the land, specifically of England. Orwell, running away from the stigmas of Eton and imperialist officialdom in Burma, tried hard to be a tramp, one of the faceless proles that in Nineteen Eighty-Four may eventually rise in revolt but have meanwhile the saving grace of being irresponsible. In a totalitarian dystopia they are city slum dwellers, though the woman hanging out washing, and even the unattractive and corrupted Parsons, have a physique suggestive of rural peasant origins in a happier world, the Golden Country.

Orwell's attempts at anonymity, or at belonging unobtrusively to the mass in order to speak or even fight for it, are not entirely successful, though the regular expression of a sense of superiority, when not unconscious, shows that he is aiming at those who need converting, hardly the proles themselves. There are, however, moments when he sounds comfortingly snobbish, as when Winston Smith observes Parsons making up his notebook in “the neat handwriting of the illiterate” (p. 205). More deliberate, in its self-mocking honesty, is the class-directed moralizing of “Down the Mine”: “In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an intellectual and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior” (The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 31).16 There is even a hint of that theriophilic strain I mentioned earlier, in Orwell's description of the miners' “most noble bodies”: they have “wide shoulders tapering to slender supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs” (p. 21), sounding not unlike Blake's “Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night”, an awesome conjunction of the divine and the infernal.17

But Orwell, taking us on a conducted tour, doing the thinking and, more importantly, the feeling, for us may no more be Eric Blair (though I am not suggesting deception or dishonesty) than Swift is the Modest Proposer, whose description of the Irish poor moves along at so brisk a rate as to leave no space for the feelings we must find for ourselves, in order to protest at the inadequacy of his emotions: “It is a melancholy Object to those, who walk through this great Town” is his opening response to “the present deplorable State of the Kingdom”, in which the “prodigious Number of Children” is a “very great additional Grievance”, though the old are no problem, who “are every Day dying, and rotting, by Cold and Famine, and Filth, and Vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected” (Works, XII, 109, 114).

It was as the Drapier, stirring up resistance to the imposition on the Irish of one of Walpole's shadier fiscal schemes (or so it seemed to them), that Swift became a public hero. Orwell, a less provocative, and less isolated, fighter for less local causes, seems to have indulged in heroic acts of a more private kind. At an Orwell conference in Birmingham early in 1984, a surprise guest was Douglas Moyle, a retired (and retiring) veteran of the Spanish Civil War whom Orwell mentions several times as a comrade alongside him during incidents he records in Homage to Catalonia. Mr Moyle's own anecdotes (which had not been available to Orwell's biographers) included lively memories of Orwell's personal courage and highly individualistic leadership. He instigated night patrols to reconnoitre enemy positions, and on one occasion asked Mr Moyle to accompany him so far, then to wait (as an observer, or witness, perhaps) as he went on alone. Mr Moyle recalled being terrified on his own account, let alone Blair's, since it was a night of brilliant moonlight which made every detail of the landscape clearly visible—though Blair would not have it that they, too, could be seen. In the book, Orwell underplays his personal leadership, mentioning merely that “at night small patrols used to be sent into no man's land to lie in ditches near the Fascist lines”, etc. (my italics).18

Swift had no occasion to flirt with death is such a manner. Instead he is often censured, as Orwell is not, for seeking out dirt, disease, and depravity and rubbing the reader's nose in all three. It may be natural enough that his houyhnhnm utopia is a cleaner place than Orwell's dystopian London (except for the messes made by the Yahoos), but Swift's real world of Dublin was almost certainly more depressing, and without the same prospects for renovation, than Orwell's London in 1948. In a recent study Carole Fabricant supplies documentary evidence of conditions in Dublin at the time that make Swift's responses to life about him seem not especially perverse.19 To be Dean of St Patrick's was not a privileged situation to a man who had once had hopes of preferment in England, on Orwell's side of the colonial fence. London's streets might flow copiously, in 1710, as

Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood,

(“A Description of a City Shower”, Poems, I, 139)

but Dublin struck people used to ordinary eighteenth-century city filth elsewhere as particularly appalling. St Patrick's was in the oldest and poorest part of the city, among the Liberties, an area exempt from the city jurisdiction.20 A survey later in the century reported that, as Carole Fabricant quotes (pp. 27-28):

The streets … are generally narrow, the houses crowded together; the rears or back-yards of very small extent, and some without any accommodation of any kind. … I have frequently surprised from ten to sixteen persons, of all ages and sexes, in a room not 15 feet square, stretched on a wad of filthy straw, swarming with vermin and without any covering, save the wretched rags that constituted their wearing apparel. … This crowded population wherever it obtains is almost universally accompanied by a very serious evil—a degree of filth and stench inconceivable except by such as have visited these scenes of wretchedness.

This could easily be a passage from The Road to Wigan Pier; the scandal for the twentieth century is that the reports should be so similar. But Orwell had to go and look for squalor, sometimes offending his northern hosts by finding it, as Crick reports in his biography (pp. 281-82), whereas for Swift it was all on his own doorstep: closer, in fact, for his cathedral, built on very low ground, was periodically flooded to a depth of some seven feet. Such floods were not, of course, made up of clean water, in a district where, as Carole Fabricant reminds us (pp. 29-30), ordure was simply thrown out of the windows, or deposited directly in the street by its human donors, in the manner, but more offensive in matter, of Gulliver's admired Houyhnhnms.

With his eye firmly on the world as it is, since its improvements seem largely cosmetic, Swift's ideal of civilization might have been relatively available in London, were it not for other kinds of corruption in spheres less physical. To leave the court for a cultivated Horatian retreat, in the style of Sir William Temple (of course in England), and locate a pastoral or even a Tory landowner's utopia in some country estate, was a model sharply in contrast to the reality of Swift's own exile in an unhospitable Irish environment where (again according to Carole Fabricant's description of the typical Irish “cabin”) his own house was a poor thing he had largely to build for himself, and his church or churches were in ruins. W. B. Yeats, who admired Swift's spirit and elitist values, and who was himself an “Ancient”, (with a nostalgia for Swift's own time, at that), regretted the “high horse riderless, / Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode”. Sharing Swift's ambivalent feelings about his fellow Irishmen, he was nevertheless, as he claimed, one of “the last Romantics” as Swift was not (even in poetry), and could make much, in verse, of custom and ceremony while a protégé of the Gregorys. Swift's familiarity with great houses showed him only an aristocracy hardly worthy of the name, for he saw them as absentee landlords or as frivolous incumbents, with none of the traditional virtues of the outcast Lord Munodi in Gulliver's third voyage—their lands resembling more closely the Balnibarbian norm: “I never knew a Soil so unhappily cultivated, Houses so ill contrived and so ruinous, or a People whose Countenances and Habit expressed so much Misery and Want” (p. 175). Swift's “Market-Hill” poems best express his unillusioned irreverence towards his social superiors the Achesons, whose hospitality is described in thoroughly un Yeatsian fashion, and to whom the guest could best pay tribute by building a privy in their grounds, as though to teach them better manners.21

Orwell did find sources of trust and hope in nature, human and other. His adopted name asserts it, as does his choice of “Animal Farm” for the location of a utopian experiment; his period as contented rural shopkeeper and allotment-gardener confirms it; his final retreat to Jura stretches it to the limit. Even there, though making much of the complicated journey in a letter of travel itineraries to Sonia, he characteristically refers to daffodils planted, hoping for “quite a nice garden” next year—and Bernard Crick reminds us that the climate in those parts is quite mild.22 It is as though Orwell chose for himself, however, the utopian Spartan existence that Gulliver recommends, but privately, not with any zeal to impose it on society at large. His was self-consciously a working man's idyll, though one cannot imagine many real “working men” sharing his ideal. By contrast, Winston Smith's “Golden Country” seems classically pastoral, a recurring dream, a nostalgia for something he cannot be sure was ever real, until it materializes in the woodland scene with Julia at the novel's centre to sharpen our sense of treachery before and after, But the strength (more than hope) which Winston finds immanent in the proles could give rise to Gulliver's dream of Houyhnhnm aggression. “They needed only to rise and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies”, says Winston (p. 216), and Gulliver asks us to “imagine twenty Thousand [Houyhnhnms] breaking into the Midst of an European Army, confounding the Ranks, overturning the Carriages, battering the Warriors Faces into Mummy, by terrible Yerks from their hinder Hoofs” (p. 293).

The animal association brings fear, as well as hope, most strikingly in the rat (which was not only Winston's undoing but Orwell's own pet phobia: “If there is one thing I hate more than another”, he confessed in Homage to Catalonia, “it is a rat running over me in the darkness” (p. 81), as “the filthy brutes came swarming out of the ground on every side”). Orwell's socialism obliges him to envisage a classless utopia in Animal Farm, but there are barriers to overcome. The animals are presented in a natural hierarchy, and their attempts to change it are not entirely convincing. “‘Comrades, [asks Major] … the wild creatures, such as rats and rabbits—are they our friends or our enemies? Let us put it to the vote. … Are rats comrades?’ The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades”.23 This has about it an elementof 2 + 2 = 5, and is also reminiscent of the unashamed squeamishness with which the creatures of the Wild Wood are treated in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. Raymond Williams notices “the speed of [Orwell's] figurative transition from animals to the proletariat … showing as it does a residue of thinking of the poor as animals: powerful but stupid” (Orwell, pp. 71-72). In Nineteen Eighty-Four the proles are in fact reassuring in their passivity, lacking the noble violence inherent in the horse, and the treachery of the rat: “Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern” (p. 217).

Hope, on the other hand, seems captured in the washerwoman's singing, her words ironically those of a mechanically-composed song, on the theme of “it was only an 'opeless fancy”—but life-renewing (she has “powerful mare-like buttocks”) regardless of the words: “though it might be a thousand years, they would stay alive against all the odds, like birds, passing on from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill”, Winston thinks, a moment before Charrington's treachery is revealed (p. 348). He is remembering the thrush in the wood:

A thrush had alighted on a bough not five metres away. … It … began to pour forth a torrent of song. In the afternoon hush the volume of sound was startling. … The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as though the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity. Sometimes it stopped for a few seconds, spread out and resettled its wings, then swelled its speckled breast and again burst into song. Winston watched it with a sort of vague reverence. for whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?

(p. 263)

Orwell's source for this epiphanic passage (and if it is imitative the literary allusion brings extra support for its power) is surely in the work of a different kind of pessimist—and pastoralist—Thomas Hardy, in a post-millenial New Year poem (31 December 1900):

I leant upon a coppice gate
          When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
          The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
          Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
          Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
          The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
          The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
          Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
          Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
          The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
          Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
          In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
          Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
          Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
          Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
          His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
          And I was unaware.

(“The Darkling Thrush”)24

The optimism in Orwell's thrush, as in Hardy's, passes humanity by, enabling Orwell both to render acceptable the class distinctions which continually associate the proles with animals, and to avoid Swift's dismissal of all humanity (in the King of Brobdingnag's terms) as “the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth” (p. 132). The pessimism of Swift, savage rather than gloomy in its excesses, is not, as Orwell thought, life-denying, however. It offers not hope but energy, an energy Orwell recognized as anarchic: a radical energy of intolerant and intolerable ideals, and of the utopian nightmare.

Notes

  1. The Guardian, 6 December 1978, p. 2.

  2. References in the text are, unless otherwise stated, to the Penguin edition of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (CEJL), ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 4 vols, Harmondsworth, 1970, rpt. 1984.

  3. Gulliver's Travels is quoted from The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis and others, 16 vols, Oxford 1939-74, XI, rev. 1959.

  4. See Raymond Williams, “Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984”, in Orwell, Flamingo edition, London, 1984, pp. 95-126, and compare his Chapter 6, “Projection”, pp. 69-82.

  5. Marijke Rudnik's account of “Women and Utopia: Some Reflections” (to be printed among selected papers from the Amsterdam Conference in 1986) mentions a number of recent feminist utopias. Their authors would probably not subscribe either to the view that utopias are not meant to be realized, or to the classical definitions of the genre as I am using them.

  6. The term may originate with George Boas. For a detailed treatment see James E. Gill, “Beast over Man: Theriophilic Paradox in Gulliver's ‘Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms’”, SP, 67, 1970, 532-49, and “Theriophily in Antiquity: A Supplementary Account”, JHI, 30, 1969, 401-12.

  7. Utopia is quoted from the Yale Complete Works, Volume IV, ed. Edward Surtz, S.J., and J. H. Hexter, New Haven and London, 1965. I have discussed this point in “Utopia and ‘the Thing which is not’: More, Swift, and Other Lying Idealists”, University of Toronto Quarterly, 52, 1982, 40-62 (pp. 55-56). On ideas about language in Swift and Orwell, see Charles Scruggs “George Orwell and Jonathan Swift: A Literary Relationship”, South Atlantic Quarterly, 76, 1977, 177-89.

  8. See Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, Harmondsworth, 1982, pp. 387-89. On Animal Farm and its Swiftian fable form, see Scruggs, p. 178.

  9. J. A. van Dorsten, in “Recollections: Sidney's Ister Bank Poem” (pp. 231-44 below) argues for an interesting variation. For complexities in Stoic and Cynic views which filtered into the Renaissance and beyond, see again James E. Gill, “Theriophily in Antiquity”.

  10. “Dulce bellum inexpertis”, quoted from Margaret Mann Phillips, Erasmus on his Times: A Shortened Version of the Adages of Erasmus, Cambridge, 1967, pp. 111-12. Erasmus's “demons” perhaps partly absolve “natural” man.

  11. The fullest recent discussion is Ian Higgins's “Swift and Sparta: The Nostalgia of Gulliver's Travels”, MLR, 78, 1983, 513-31.

  12. Nineteen Eighty-Four, ed. Peter Davison, with a Critical Commentary and Annotations by Bernard Crick, Oxford, 1984, pp. 7, 50, 55. Quotations from the novel give page references to this edition hereafter. On “Swiftian satire” Crick is quoting Czeslan Mitosz, The Captive Mind, New York, 1953. For farce without comedy, Crick might aptly have included among his “bodysnatchers” Richard I. Smyer, Primal Dream and Primal Crime: Orwell's Development as a Psychological Novelist, Columbia and London, 1979. Smyer quotes C. M. Kornbluth, who in 1959 saw Room 101 as “the uterus … these numerals [being a] sketch of the female genitalia” (p. 159).

  13. See, for example, the tone of slight rebuke in the letter of 29 Sept. 1725, answering one from Pope of 14 September (Correspondence, ed. Harold Williams, 5 vols, Oxford, 1963-65, III, 102-03, 96). For Pope on Swift and Rabelais, see Spence's Anecdotes, ed. James M. Osborn, 2 vols, Oxford, 1966, I, items 133, 511, 512.

  14. The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, second edition, 3 vols, Oxford, 1958, II, 527.

  15. The Road to Wigan Pier, Penguin edition, Harmondsworth, 1962, rpt. 1984, p. 16.

  16. The sentiments expressed here have, for a British reader in 1984, a rather different poignancy from anything engendered by Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  17. Interestingly, he contrasts Swift's treatment of the body with Blake's, in his Swift essay (CEJL, IV, 259).

  18. Homage to Catalonia, Penguin edition, Harmondsworth, 1962, rpt. 1983, p. 72. The occasion referred to was an Extra-Mural Dayschool on “George Orwell: The View from 1984”, University of Birmingham, 11 February 1984, at which an earlier version of this paper was read, and at which Bernard Crick was introduced to Douglas Moyle. I have since confirmed details of the anecdote with Mr Moyle, and am grateful for his permission to relate it.

  19. Swift's Landscape, Baltimore & London, 1982.

  20. Swift's Landscape, p. 25.

  21. See “A Panegyrick on the D[ea]n, in the Person of a Lady in the North”, Poems, III, 886. Swift cultivated a certain boorishness when among friends, which contained an element of mock-insult, so it is never easy to know how seriously to take the apparent rudeness, even when the relationship is known to have been quarrelsome.

  22. CEJL, IV, 375; Orwell: A Life, p. 511.

  23. Quoted from Secker & Warburg “Cheap Edition”, London, 1949, rpt. 1955, pp. 13-14.

  24. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, ed. Samuel Hynes, Oxford, 1982, Volume I, pp. 187-88.

Bernard Grofman (essay date spring 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8212

SOURCE: Grofman, Bernard. “Pig and Proletariat: Animal Farm as History.” San Jose Studies 16, no. 2 (spring 1990): 5-39.

[In the following essay, Grofman examines aspects of Animal Farm, including its literary roots, its place in didactic literature, and its critical reception.]

This essay has a very simple aim: to rescue Animal Farm from the often repeated claim that it is merely a children's story and to demonstrate how closely its events are tied to the events of Soviet political history.1 In the process I hope to demonstrate that Animal Farm works at several levels, as a charming story about “humanized” animals, as an allegory about the human condition, and, most importantly, as a thinly disguised and biting political satire about Soviet totalitarianism. No reader can fully enjoy the book without knowing, for example, that the pig Snowball represents Trotsky and the pig Napoleon represents Stalin.

I. LITERARY ROOTS

The work to which Animal Farm is most often compared is Gulliver's Travels (see, e.g., 1946 reviews by Edward Weeks in The Atlantic and Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker), although comparisons with Candide are also common. It is true that for Animal Farm Orwell draws inspiration from many satirists, including, of course, Voltaire (whom Orwell greatly admired) and Swift (on whom he wrote a lengthy and penetrating essay in 1946: “Politics Versus Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels,” in CEJL, Vol. 4). But it is to the moralizing beast fable that Animal Farm owes its form.

The beast fable is an ancient and apparently culturally universal satiric technique, as illustrated by such examples as Aristophanes's plays The Birds and The Wasps; The Panchatantra, a collection of fables from India; Aesop's Fables; Reynard the Fox, 1481 in the English version; and Uncle Remus, 1880, Harris's reworking of traditional African folk tales into an American idiom and setting. Orwell was familiar with such tales of humanized animals, having read, among others, Beatrix Potter and Rudyard Kipling. In fact, one literary critic rather snidely says of Animal Farm:

This particular form of the nursery story has been borrowed from that cosy world prior to the first world war upon which … Orwell was so ready to dwell. Animal Farm specifically reminds us of Kipling's stories for children. The laws of the revolution that are painted on the wall of the cowshed and chanted by the animals clearly owe something to “The Law of the Jungle” in Kipling's Second Jungle Book. Indeed, the central device of Animal Farm, the convention of humanized animals, may also derive immediately from Kipling's Jungle Book. And Orwell's narrative tone is obviously modelled on that of the Just So Stories.

(Alldritt, 1969; 149)2

If, however, one is going to seek the inspiration for Animal Farm in Orwell's childhood reading, one could with at least as much justice turn to Beatrix Potter's Tales of Pigling Bland. According to Orwell's childhood friend, Jacintha Buddicom (1974:3a):

the genealogical tree of Animal Farm has its roots in Pigling Bland … Eric and I were far too old for it, but we adored it all the same. I remember his reading it to me twice over from the beginning to end, to cheer me up one time when I had a cold. And we used to call each other Pigling Bland and Pigling in moments of frivolity.

One other work that provides a direct model for Animal Farm has been neglected, quite strangely, by the critics, perhaps because its author is currently out of literary favor.3 I have yet to find a critic who mentions Anatole France's Penguin Island as possible inspiration for Orwell. Yet his familiarity with this work is shown in “As I Please,” June 23, 1944 (in CEJL, Vol. 3, pp. 172-175), in which Orwell praises Anatole France for his “passion for liberty and intellectual honesty,” calls “‘Crainquebille’ one of the best short stories I have ever read,” and refers to the author's “comic history of France.” Moreover, France's thinly disguised historical pastiche of the Frenchman as penguin, “a scathing satire of the entire course of French history” (Caute, 1968:v), offers striking parallels to Animal Farm in style and tone.

The two works share a pessimistic tone, an acerbic wit, and a wide-ranging historical scope. There are, of course, important differences between the two works: e.g., the beast fable element of Penguin Island is quickly dropped; its pessimism is less leavened by humor than that of Animal Farm; and its satire is often more in the nature of diatribe. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that Animal Farm owes at least as much to Anatole France as to Rudyard Kipling and that, as novelists and essayists, France and Orwell have much in common. Consider Orwell's comparison of Mark Twain and Anatole France in his essay on Twain. One could simply substitute Orwell's name for that of France with little loss of accuracy.

Both men were the spiritual children of Voltaire, both had an ironic, skeptical view of life, and a native pessimism overlaid by gaiety; both knew that the existing social order is a swindle and its cherished beliefs mostly delusions. Both were bigoted atheists and convinced … of the unbearable cruelty of the universe. But there the resemblance ends. Not only is the Frenchman enormously more learned, more civilized, more alive aesthetically, but he is also more courageous. He does attack the things he disbelieves in; he does not, like Mark Twain, always take refuge behind the amiable mask of the “public figure” and the licensed jester. He is ready to risk the anger of the Church and to take the unpopular side in a controversy. …

(“Mark Twain: The Licensed Jester.” In CEJL, Vol. 2:327)

II. ANIMAL FARM AS LITERATURE AND DIDACTIC

Animal Farm is the first work by Orwell which is other than grittily naturalistic. (See esp. DOPL, CD, RWP and HC.) Even Burmese Days, despite frequent lapses into purple prose, has descriptions of British colonial life which are carefully detailed and brutally precise. Animal Farm is subtitled “A Fairy Story,” which has misled some critics, for “we are accustomed to think of the fairy story as the escapist form of literature par excellence.”4 (Woodcock, 1966:7) Indeed, Animal Farm is written so simply and entertainingly that in many libraries it will be found in the juvenile section as well as (if not instead of) the adult section. (cf. Blount, 1974:66-68)

There are two common mistakes in reading Animal Farm. The first is to confuse simplicity of form with simplicity of idea; the second is to fail to understand the importance of the events in Animal Farm as a form of political history. One persistent oversimplification of Animal Farm is typified by Laurence Brander's claim (1954:171, cited in Greenblatt, 1974:106) that Animal Farm was written by Orwell in a state where “the gaiety of his nature had completely taken charge … writing about animals whom he loved.” There are two errors here. The first is to overestimate the importance of the animal nature of the protagonists in Animal Farm. The second is to view the fable as in any way a happy one.

That Orwell was an animal lover there is no doubt. “Most of the good things in my childhood and up to the age of about twenty are in some way connected with animals.” (SSWJ; cf. “Shooting an Elephant” in SE) However, although Animal Farm rests on an analogy between animals and the exploited underclass (echoed elsewhere by Orwell in his comparisons of the proles in 1984 to the beasts and of the plongeurs in Down and Out in Paris and London to imprisoned animals), it is quite absurd to attach undue importance to Orwell's love of animals as a key to Animal Farm.5 “What is essential to the success of the satirical beast fable,” as Ellen Douglas Leyburn observes, “is the author's power to keep his reader conscious simultaneously of the human traits satirized and of the animals as animals.” (Leyburn, 1962:215, cited in Greenblatt, 1974:106) I am in flat disagreement with Christopher Hollis's assertion that

The animal fable, if it is to succeed at all ought clearly to carry with it a gay and light-hearted message. It must be full of comedy and laughter. The form is too far removed from reality to tolerate sustained bitterness.

(Hollis, 1962:226)

Animal Farm contradicts Hollis's literary dictum that the animal fable cannot successfully encompass tragedy. Greenblatt is correct (1974:106-107) that Orwell uses the apparently frivolous form of the animal tale to convey a profoundly bitter message.

Animal Farm does indeed contain much gaiety and humor, but even in the most comic moments there is a disturbing current of cruelty or fear. … While Snowball … is organizing the Egg Production Committee for the hens, the Clean Tails Committee for the Cows, the Wild Comrade's Re-education Committee …, the Whiter Wool Movement for the Sheep, Napoleon … is carefully indoctrinating the dogs for his own evil purposes. Similarly, the “confessions” forced from the animals in Napoleon's great pages are very funny, but when the dogs tear the throats out of the “guilty” parties and leave a pile of corpses at the tyrant's feet, the scene ceases to amuse.

Keith Alldritt, one of several critics to commit the error of viewing Animal Farm as an unsophisticated work, writes that “the allegorical form in which Animal Farm is couched is a means for turning away from the disturbing complexities of experience rather than for confronting them.” (Alldritt, 1969:149) Likening Orwell to Kipling—and a Kipling suitable only for the nursery at that—Alldritt belittles both the seriousness of purpose and the literary achievement of Animal Farm, dismissing it as written in a fashion which “allows only simple ideal, easy responses, and obvious conclusions.” (Alldritt, 1969:149)

Alldritt gives as an example of Orwell's juvenile oversimplifying, “the emotional climax of the book, which comes when Boxer, the loyal and hard-working but unintelligent workhorse, emblematic of the ‘common people,’ is sold to knackers by the pig-commissars when he becomes too ill to work any more.” Alldritt then asserts that

The feelings of simple compassion and absolutely righteous indignation which this incident is calculated to evoke may be tolerable in a nursery tale that has no pretensions to being anything other than a nursery tale. But in one which lays claim to offer the adult intelligence some feeling for the realities of modern social and political life, they cannot, because of their crudity and sentimentality, merit serious attention …

He adds that “Whatever we may think of the Russian revolution or, for that matter of any revolution, we cannot but be aware that the crises of a society are much more complex than Orwell is here able to suggest.” (Alldritt, 1969:148-149)

Alldritt's charges are misleading. As a story, Animal Farm is straightforward, engrossing, witty, and memorable. As a political fable, it is insightful and frighteningly accurate in its broad historical overview. Any description of events, whether it be literary or historical, excerpts from the minutiae of existence some key elements. On these the narrative is hung. Selectivity is inescapable. A work is judged at least in part by its success in capturing the “essentials.” Furthermore, the fate of one individual animal (e.g., a Boxer or a Rubashov) may be more sympathetically portrayed than the most realistic picture of the deaths of thousands of “old Bolsheviks” or millions of Kulaks in the mass.6

In “Why I Write” (1947, in CJEL), Orwell says that “what I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. When I sit down to write a book I do not say to myself ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention. …” Orwell, a harsh critic, particularly of his own work, goes on to say “Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” In this, he achieved remarkable success.

The book generates that “willing suspension of disbelief” which allows full entrance into the world Orwell had created without a doubt of the animals's ability to communicate with each other or their ability to successfully rebel against humanity. (cf. Hollis, 1962:226) None of the animals ever acts in a way which seems, within the context of our suspension of disbelief, to be at variance with its animal nature. The characterizations: Boxer, the loyal Stakhanovite; Molly, the bourgeois luxury lover; the chickens, as Kulaks, unhappy with collectivization; the silly geese who confess to Trotskyite-inspired crimes of a preposterous nature are among those to ring delightfully true.

Orwell's choice of pigs as the “brain-worker” elite is biologically well-founded. Pigs are among the most intelligent of domestic animals. That pigs are also the villains of Animal Farm is consonant with common folk beliefs about the pig as a dirty, selfish, sluggish, brutish, refuse-eating animal. The terms “pig” and “swine” symbolize degradation in Christian parables (cf. “The Moral Pigsty” in Small, 1975: Chapter 4) and derivatives from these terms (e.g., “roadhog,” “male chauvinist pig,” “pig-headed”) are invariably terms of abuse in western culture.7

One of the great virtues of Animal Farm is the unforced nature of both its prose and its narratives. Although we can recognize the actual sequence of historical events, the story in Animal Farm has a life of its own which does not seem dictated by purposes external to it; further, the story is comprehensible without stepping out of the context of the fable and ascending to a higher order of understanding.

Alldritt, while erring in his judgment of Animal Farm's literary merit, is accurate in identifying the historical realities underlying the allegory:

We may identify old Major, the aged porker who has the dream and who provides the ideological impulse to the revolution, as Karl Marx, and we may recognize the quarrel between Napoleon and Snowball as representing the rift between Stalin and Trotsky. And we may like to find the allegorical counterparts of the treason trials, the emergence of the Soviet secret police, the drive for technological achievement, the perversion of the ideals of the revolution and the misuse of propaganda.

(Alldritt, 1969:148)

Other critics, some perhaps because pro-Soviet attitudes blinded them to Orwell's thrust or because of a literary penchant for the “work-in-itself” or most simply because of unfamiliarity with Soviet history, read Animal Farm as a general satire on “plus ça change plus c'est la même chose,” or on “the rule of the many by the few.” (cf. Beresford, 1945:3; Blount, 1968:66-681) This view misses the point, which is well stated by Leonard Woodcock, a writer of anarchist persuasion who became a close friend of Orwell in the 1940s:

There was no doubt in Orwell's mind about his intentions in writing Animal Farm. He felt that the English in 1943 were allowing their admiration for the military heroism of the Russians to blind them to the faults of the Communist regime, and he also believed that the Communists were using their position as unofficial representatives of Russia in England to prevent the truth from being known, as they had done in Spain. Animal Farm was meant to set his compatriots thinking again.

(Woodcock, 1966:193)

More generally, there is Orwell's statement in “Why I Write” (1947, in CJEL):

The Spanish War and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly, or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. … [T]he more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's esthetic and intellectual integrity.

But the clearest statement of Orwell's purpose in writing Animal Farm and his inspirations for it is his preface to the 1947 Ukrainian Edition. Because the original English test of this edition was lost, it was not till it was retranslated from the Ukrainian in 1968 that it became readily available. (In CEJL, Vol. 3, pp. 402-406.) No one who reads this preface can doubt that Animal Farm was intended as an exposé of Soviet Communism or that it is based quite explicitly on incidents in Soviet history. Writes Orwell,

On my return from Spain, I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages … Although the various episodes are taken from the actual history of the Russian Revolution, they are dealt with schematically and their chronological order is changed; this was necessary for the symmetry of the story. … I included some events, for example the Teheran Conference, which were taking place when I was writing.

Having strongly warned against the folly of reading Animal Farm as if Stalin, the banishment of Trotsky, the Moscow Purge trials, etc. are irrelevant to its understanding, I will now sound a cautious note by endorsing, at least in part, the views of B. T. Oxley on reading Animal Farm as allegory:

This book is not an allegory in which everything has to stand for something else. To read it this way reduces it to the level of a sophisticated crossword puzzle. Thus, there is no figure corresponding to Lenin (Major dies before the rising takes place); and the farm does take on a life of its own. The friendship between Clover and Boxer, or the cynicism of Benjamin do not need to be explained in terms of actual history.

(Oxley, 1967:81)

So far so good, but I part company with Oxley when he continues:

It may be that, for those who know their history, the rebellion of the hens seems parallel to the rebellion of the Russian sailors at Kronstadt in 1921, or that the two farmers Frederick and Pilkington represent Germany and England. But it is not really necessary to an understanding of the book (and may lead to incorrect history) to work at this level of detail.

(Oxley, 1967:81)

It is crucial to an understanding of Animal Farm to realize that Orwell was concerned not only with the internal dynamics of Soviet Communism but also with the hypocrisy underlying relations between states of purportedly antipathetic ideologies. To fail to draw the connections between, on the one hand, the timber sale to Frederick, Frederick's payment in counterfeit notes, and the subsequent attack on Animal Farm leading to the destruction of the windmill and, on the other hand, the zigs and zags in German-Soviet and Anglo-Soviet relations from the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939 to Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, is to miss the full irony of this section. So when another critic (Kubal, 1972:127) asserts, “The historical relevance, the fact that the author was satirizing the Soviet revolution is … of comparatively minor importance,” he is, in my view, quite wrong. Of course, Oxley is right when he claims that “Napoleon is presumably not given that name by accident, and the Russian Revolution is not the only one to have ended in dictatorship.” (Oxley, 1967:81) But Animal Farm is not about the French Revolution and its aftermath or the rise to power of Hitler or, for that matter, the rise to power of Genghis Khan. As Orwell himself has made explicit: however many lessons of universal applicability it may contain, Animal Farm is about the Soviet Union 1917-1943.

Few genres are as fleeting as satire, because satire so heavily rests on topicality and immediate relevance. Most satire written before 1920, and most satire not originally meant for an English-speaking audience, is in fact incomprehensible to us without such detailed annotation as to make reading it an exercise in pedantry not pleasure. (Here, I call your attention to the content of, say, Johnson [1945]—which was inflicted on undergraduates for a number of decades.) Works of satire that last must be capable of being read on several different levels and of being enjoyed even by those oblivious to historical or literary allusions. Even when the allusions are lost, a large part of the bite must remain. Animal Farm fully meets these tests.8

That Animal Farm recapitulates in condensed and symbolic form the history of the Soviet revolution does not prevent its being seized on as a general weapon in any antidictatorial or antitotalitarian cause; and Orwell's ghost would no doubt chortle with glee at such uses.9 Orwell was never an “anti-Communist” (as we currently use that phrase, often to describe a rabid zealot of the right); he was that rarer and quite different creature, an “anti-totalitarian.” The sole reason that Orwell concentrated the bulk of his fire on totalitarianism of a left-wing variety was that he thought that England (and English intellectuals in particular) had more to fear from the seductiveness of the communist illusion than from its fascist counterpart—a view borne out by the political history of intellectuals in the 30s and 40s in Great Britain (and the U.S.).

However history-laden the details of Animal Farm may be, the antitotalitarian lessons it conveys are universal. In a mixed review of 1984 (“Although George Orwell's 1984 is a brilliant and fascinating novel, the nature of its fantasy is so absolutely final and relentless that I can recommend it only with a certain reservation.”) Diana Trilling (1949:716-717) perceptively evaluates Orwell's broader themes in Animal Farm:

Even where, as in his last novel, Animal Farm, Mr. Orwell seemed to be concerned only with unmasking the Soviet Union for its dreamy admirers, he was urged on by something larger than sectarianism. What he was telling us is that all along the path the Soviet revolution has followed to the destruction of all the decent human values, there have stood the best ideals of modern social enlightenment. … In the name of a higher loyalty, treacheries beyond imagination have been committed; in the name of Socialist equality, privilege has ruled unbridled; in the name of democracy and freedom, the individual has lived without public voice or private peace. … [We] are being warned against the extremes to which the contemporary totalitarian spirit can carry us, not only so that we will be warned against Russia, but so that we will understand the ultimate dangers involved whenever power moves under the guise of order and rationality.

One last point: It is a grave error to see Snowball as the hero in Animal Farm, as does Laurence Brander, author of a full-length study of Orwell (Brander, 1954), who sees Snowball as “a symbol of altruism, the essential social virtue” and sees Snowball's expulsion as the defeat of “his altruistic laws for giving warmth, food and comfort to all the animals.” (Brander, 1954:175 cited in Greenblatt, 1974:109) But as Greenblatt points out, “This is very touching, but unfortunately there is no indication that Snowball is any less corrupt or power-mad than Napoleon.” (Greenblatt, 1974:109) As Orwell himself wrote, “Trotsky, in exile, denounces the Russian dictatorsip, but he is probably as much responsible for it as any man now living.” (CEJL, Vol. 1:38; cited in Williams, 1971:63)

III. ANIMAL FARM'S CRITICAL DEBUT

For a time it appeared as if the fate of Animal Farm would parallel that of Homage to Catalonia, in being rejected by Orwell's regular publisher and, upon publication, vilified by the Left. Homage at first sold only 900 copies and was eventually remaindered. Orwell attributed this reception largely to the left intellectuals's Russophile views which blinded them to the truth about the Communist party's role in the Spanish Civil War and led them to seek to suppress evidence unfavorable to the communists. He wrote:

I had discovered that it was almost impossible to get any publicity in the English press for a truthful account of what had been going on in Catalonia in May-June 1937 (mass imprisonments without trial, assassinations by the secret police, etc.). A number of people had said to me with varying degrees of frankness, that one must not tell the truth about what was happening in Spain, and the part played by the Communist Party, because to do so would be to prejudice public opinion against the Spanish government and so aid (the dictator) Franco. I do not agree with this view, because I hold the outmoded opinion that it does not pay to tell lies.

(“Letter to Editor of Time and Tide,” February 5, 1938, in CEJL, Vol. 1:297-298)

One influential figure, Kingsley Martin, editor of The New Statesman, epitomized for Orwell the person who acted on the point of view that “truth must bow to expediency and the Soviet Union can do no wrong”:

As soon as I got out of Spain I wired from France asking if they [The New Statesman] would like an article and of course they said yes, but when they saw that my article was on the suppression of the POUM they said they couldn't print it. To sugar the pill they sent me to review a very good book which appeared recently, The Spanish Cockpit, which blows the gaff pretty well on what has been happening. But once again when they saw my review they couldn't print it, as it was against editorial policy.

(cited in Pryce-Jones, 1971:144)

Victor Gollancz, publisher for the Left Book Club, and Orwell's regular publisher, had refused Orwell a book advance before he went to Spain, in anticipation of a probable rejection of Orwell's manuscript. Orwell's previous book for the Left Book Club, The Road to Wigan Pier, which had been commissioned by them, stirred a great deal of controversy upon its receipt. His outspoken views on the futility of intellectuals seeking to recruit workers to socialism by haranguing them with unintelligible and prolix Marxist rhetoric were not well received.

According to Philip Toynbee (Encounter, August 1959), The Road to Wigan Pier had been received “with considerable obloquy by Communists and fellow-travelers, but with enthusiasm by many”. … In The Daily Worker (which twice had reviewed earlier Orwell books quite favorably) Harry Pollitt discovered in Orwell “a disillusioned little middle-class boy” who had only to hear what Left Book circles would say about his work before resolving never to write again on any subject that he did not understand. From then on, it became standard practice on the far left to make some play about the Blair/Orwell change of name, and a mention of Eton and the Indian Imperial Police was almost obligatory.

(Pryce-Jones, 1971:145)

The Daily Worker, not surprisingly, was even less pleased with Homage to Catalonia. It referred rather nastily to

books produced by individuals who have splashed their eyes for a few months with Spanish blood. … The value of the book is that it gives an honest picture of the sort of mentality that toys with revolutionary romanticism but shies violently at revolutionary discipline. It should be read as a warning.

(cited in Pryce-Jones, 1971:146)

Although Gollancz had published Orwell's novel Coming Up for Air in 1939, he rejected the manuscript of Animal Farm. For him “the war-time alliance put the Russians beyond criticism.” (Pryce-Jones, 1971:146)

Three English and some twenty American publishers followed Gollancz's lead and turned the book down for fear of upsetting a military ally, although some thought it was too short at 30,000 words to make a book at all. T. S. Eliot, editorial director of Faber and Faber, was among those who rejected it, and for some months Orwell was gloomy about the book's prospects.

(Pryce-Jones, 1971:148)

Only one publisher, Secket and Warburg, was willing to accept Animal Farm, and even that publisher “dared not bring it out till the war was over.” (“Letter to Frank Barker,” September 3, 1945, in CELJ, Vol. 3:402) Thus the publication of Animal Farm was delayed for one year, to a point when in fact the Cold War had already begun and Russophile sentiments were muted or reversed. Until the publication of Animal Farm, Orwell had never been able to live on what he earned from writing alone; and indeed his literary earnings had been scant. After Animal Farm, Orwell was comfortably prosperous. The publisher with the wisdom to accept Animal Farm sold half a million copies within three years. (Pryce-Jones, 1971:148)

Reviews in the U.S. were largely favorable and in most cases enthusiastically so, judging by the abstracts in the 1949 volume of the Book Review Digest, which includes virtually all American political and literary journals of any circulation. The reviewers who liked it said things like: “Animal Farm is a wise, compassionate and illuminating fable for our times (A. M. Schlesinger, New York Times, August 25, 1946:1); Animal Farm is a neat little book. The writing is neat, too, as lucid as glass and quite as sharp” (Edward Weeks, Atlantic, Vol. 178, September, 1946); and “It is absolutely first-rate” (Edmund Wilson, The New Yorker, Vol. 22, September 7, 1946).

But there were negatives, too. The critics of a strong anti-communist bent said things like: “[T]he book saddened and puzzled me. It seemed on the whole dull. The allegory turned out to be a creaking machine for saying in a clumsy way things that have been said better directly.” (George Soule, The New Republic, Vol. 115, September 2, 1946). “Animal Farm should have been written years ago; coming as it does in the wake of the event, it can only be called a backward work.” (Isaac Rosenfeld, The Nation, Vol. 163, September 7, 1946) Some reviewers of a communist bent wrote for esoteric small circulation journals with pens dipped in venom: “To write Animal Farm, attacking the Soviet Union at the moment that the defenders of Stalingrad struck one of the decisive blows which won the war for the United Nations was for Blair/Orwell an act of integrity. Only incidentally did it bring him a fortune from reactionaries in this country and the U.S.A.” (Arthur Calder Marshall, Reynolds News, 1949; cited in Pryce-Jones, 1971:149) “For Orwell, life is a dunghill.” (Samuel Sillen, “Maggot-of-the-Month,” Masses and Mainstream, Vol. 2, August 1949; reprinted in Howe, 1963:210)

Kingsley Martin,10 previously mentioned as The New Statesman's editor, also came up with reasons for discounting Animal Farm. He admitted that the story had its truth and that the “shafts strike home.” But the logic of Orwell's satire, he believed, is ultimate cynicism, and that could not be permitted. Orwell, he thought, “has not quite the courage to see that he has lost faith, not in Russia, but in mankind.” (Pryce-Jones, 1971:150). To Martin's charge, Pryce-Jones rebuts:

It was beside the point that Orwell had never had faith in Russia or in mankind, whatever faith in mankind may mean. The argument enabled the Socialist left to go in for a bit of doublethink: to accept that Orwell was a truthful, admirable, and perhaps great writer, but simultaneously to discount him because he was a pessimist … offering neither hope nor solutions.

(Pryce-Jones, 1971:150)

This overview of the initial critical reception of Animal Farm will close with citation of the view of K. T. Willis in the Library Journal (Vol. 71, August 1946): “Stimulating reading but not imperative for all libraries.”

The whole story of Animal Farm and its delayed publication is filled with ironies of a sort that are humorous only in retrospect. For example, in 1947, Orwell gave permission for Ukrainian refugees in the American Zone in Germany and Belgium to translate Animal Farm into Ukrainian, charging them no fee. Of the 3500 copies of this edition, 1500 were confiscated by American authorities in Munich and handed over to Soviet officials. (“Letter to Arthur Koestler,” September 20, 1947, in CEJL, Vol. 4:379) Furthermore, the English language version of Orwell's preface to this translation, which provides a Rosetta stone to the events in Animal Farm, was lost until some two decades later. Had that preface been better known, it is inconceivable that any critic would have dared to claim that Animal Farm was not an allegoric account of events in Soviet history.11 However, the central irony surrounding Animal Farm is that “a book written against the grain of prevailing public opinion should have appeared, eighteen months later, at a time when the political situation had changed and it could be used, eagerly, in what was becoming the Cold War.” (Williams, 1971:69) Williams (1971:69) continues:

For a long time the book was inseparable from that ironic political context. Orwell was described on the left as having run “shrieking into the arms of the capitalist publishers” (Marxist Quarterly, January 1956) which was certainly not how it felt to him at the time (“I am having hell and all to find a publisher for it here though normally I have no difficulty in publishing my stuff.”). At the same time, the book was undoubtedly used by people with whom Orwell had no sympathy and when followed by 1984 which was even more extensively used, it fixed a vision of Orwell which he, at least, would have considered misleading.

IV. ANIMAL FARM AS HISTORY

The story of Animal Farm is so well-known that I shall assume the reader is familiar with it in basic outline. The annotations provided in Table 1 and in the footnotes thereto are based on statements in Orwell's own writings (particularly those in CEJL); comments made by various Orwell scholars (especially Atkins, 1954; and Oxley, 1967); the discussion in several books on Soviet history and international relations (e.g., Wren, 1968, Kennan, 1960, Laqueur, 1965); but rest primarily on two books, Dallin (1944) and Fischer (1952), which are critical of the Soviet Union. According to Atkins (1954:223), “Orwell had read both these books and he received one.” If so, he must have read the Fischer book in a preliminary manuscript form, since this book was not published till 1952 and refers to events in 1951 which took place after Orwell's death. In any case, both review Soviet history in terms which, I believe, Orwell would find familiar and not too distant from his own views (although, especially in the case of Fischer, probably too simplistically anti-communist for his taste).

To attempt to treat events in Animal Farm as literal history is, of course, absurd. Animal Farm is a fable and the correspondence between fable and reality involves metaphoric transformations, not one-to-one and onto mappings. Furthermore, as Orwell himself notes (see “Preface to Ukrainian Edition of Animal Farm,” in CEJL, Vol. 4), in Animal Farm, he has taken liberties with chronology, and certain important details (e.g., the slave labor camps) are missing completely. Moreover, it is impossible to match in a simpleminded way all the characters in Animal Farm with their historical equivalents since many (e.g., Molly, Boxer, the sheep, etc.) stand not for particular individuals but for types (e.g., Squealer is the spineless propagandist who parrots the party line in Pravda no matter how much it may zig or zag); and characters may also combine traits (e.g., Boxer is a Stakhanovite worker, but he is also a simple peasant who becomes a loyal-to-the-death convert to Animalism's revolutionary and utopian vision).

Nonetheless, to belabor a point already made in the discussion above, Animal Farm is based on Soviet history 1917-1943; and tracing the exact correspondences provides important insights into the irony, the wit, and the tremendous presence of the apt metaphor which underpin what, in my view, is Orwell's greatest work. Furthermore, it is foolish to assume that the post-revolution history of the Soviet Union is known even in broad compass (much less in detail) to most Americans, even those with a college education. Atkins remarked in 1954 that the average British “public library borrower does know whom Snowball, Squealer, and Boxer represent.” (Atkins, 1954:223) My own experience in teaching Animal Farm to college students in both New York and California is that the majority of students who read the book in high school were not taught that it is about Soviet history and that only a handful were clever enough or knowledgeable enough to make that connection on their own.

Notes

  1. This paper would have been impossible without the extraordinary assistance of my secretary Helen Wildman and that of Lillian White, Kathy Alberti, Nancy Kain, and other staff members of UCI's Word Processing Center in translating my handwritten scribbles into finished copy, and without the extensive library research performed by my research assistants Nancy Black and Beth McFadden at Irvine and by students in my course in “Political Propaganda” at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

    To the extent that this article proves a contribution to Orwell scholarship it will be because I, a political scientist, have simply performed the somewhat tedious labor of inventorying events and individuals in Animal Farm and mapping them onto their historical counterparts. Not being an expert in Soviet history, I particularly welcome emendations to my classifications from historians and Sovietologists.

  2. Kipling fell into what Orwell called the “good-bad” category, author of works which “reek of sentimentality …, yet … are capable of giving true pleasure to people who can see clearly what is wrong with them.” (“Rudyard Kipling” in CEJL, Vol. 2) For Orwell, likening his work to that of Kipling would not have been the ultimate insult it apparently is for Alldritt. Furthermore, the biblical “Ten Commandments” and the observed-only-in-the-breach clauses of the much-heralded Soviet Constitution of 1936 are much more direct sources for the “Laws of Animalism” than is Kipling's “Law of the Jungle.”

  3. Once an extremely celebrated author, France's work has been denigrated since before his death in 1924. In his essay on France, Orwell attributes the author's fall from grace partly to political motives, asserting:

    He may or may not have been a great writer, but he was one of the symbolic figures in the politico-literary dogfight which has been going on for a hundred years or more. … Anatole France had championed Dreyfus, which needed considerable courage; he had debunked Joan of Arc; he had written a comic history of France; above all, he had lost no opportunity of poking fun at the Church.

    (“As I Please,” in CEJL, Vol. 3:173)

    As Orwell catalogues France's traits, it is clear that, for him, this is a litany of virtues. A similar litany would be easy to generate for Orwell. It would be easy enough, too, to imagine events which would lead to the same virtually universal downgrading of Orwell's literary reputation as happened to France. Had Orwell lived somewhat longer, he might have made himself almost as unpopular with the Right who mistook him (on the basis of a misreading of Animal Farm and 1984) for an anti-communist of the same breed as they, and with the Labor Party hacks who still don't know what to make of someone who equated socialism with “honesty” and “decency,” and with the liberals who dislike being reminded that, if they really acted on their own professed beliefs, they wouldn't be having strawberries with cream while other human beings starve, as he still is with the dogmatic Left.

  4. Critics have variously interpreted Orwell's intent in using the phrase “fairy story” as a subtitle for Animal Farm. According to the most plausible hypothesis, offered by Oxley (1967:80; emphasis ours), Orwell subtitled his book “A Fairy Story” to call attention to the Soviet Revolution as something which “had proved to be a disappointing illusion. This to many people in the West was what one of the potentially greatest experiments in political engineering ever undertaken had turned into, as the Russia of the 1917 Revolution became the Stalinist Russia of the thirties and forties.” This interpretation of the intended meaning of “Fairy Story” is buttressed by Orwell's own statement in the preface to the Ukranian edition of Animal Farm (CEJL Vol. 3:405):

    Nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of Socialism as the belief that Russia is a Socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated. And so for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement. On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages.

  5. The analogy at the heart of Animal Farm arose from an incident witnessed by Orwell of “a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse 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.” (CEJL: 406)

  6. A number of scholars have claimed that surpassing evil is not an appropriate target of satire; e.g., Highet (1962:23) writes:

    If Leibniz's theory of optimism had not been merely a superficial and silly hypothesis which could lead to nothing more than folly and eventual disillusionment, Voltaire could not have written a satire (Candide) about it. … No one could write a successful satire on Attila or Genghis Khan or Hulagu with his pyramids of skulls. No one could satirize leprosy or cancer … Some villains are too awful for us to despise. We can only shudder at them and in horror turn away—or try to write a tragedy. Against such crimes, satire is almost impotent. Against lesser crimes and against all follies it is a powerful weapon.

    Animal Farm in large part belies this proscription. By focussing on the fates of individuals who are themselves clearly representative “types,” Orwell reduces the magnitude of evil to a scale which permits the relief of laughter, while at the same time continuing to engender horror and disgust.

  7. We might parenthetically note that the pig is much maligned. “Contrary to general opinion, the pig is a clean animal if given sanitary surroundings. Many pigs are forced to live in an unsanitary environment.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica, Vol. 17, 1968, “Pig”: p. 1070)

  8. For example, John Gay's Beggars' Opera is an attack on the 18th century prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, depicted as the highwayman MacHeath: but we don't need to know this to enjoy Gay's wit (or its 20th century incarnation as Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera). Swift's Gulliver begins with a belief that men and women are reasonably honest and wise, but “finds stage by stage, that they are ridiculous midgets, disgusting giants, eccentric lunatics, and apelike anthropods.” Of course, “Gulliver is not really voyaging to different countries, but looking at his society through distorting lenses.” (Highet, 1962:159) Gulliver's Travels involves what were at the time thinly disguised, though to latter-day readers unversed in 18th century history, quite opaque allusions to personages in the royal courts of several European countries of Swift's day. For example, Flimnap, the Royal Treasurer (in Book I) is almost certainly the much satirized Prime Minister Walpole; but Swift's description of Flimnap's skill as a tightrope walker (a prerequisite for office in the Land of the Lilliputs) is barbed wit whoever its target may be—and its sting will be felt as long as there are politicians to be mocked (which is to say, forever) (Cf. Oxley, 1967:82.)

    I don't wish to argue that the only satire that is worthwhile is that whose message is all on the surface. While Gulliver's Travels can be enjoyed without annotation, subtleties and even not-so-subtle points are lost through an inability to comprehend the author's intent. However enjoyable a satire may be when we read its surface meaning, it is difficult to appreciate irony when we aren't in on the joke; knowing the context helps us to appreciate the satirist's skills. An adult should not expect to read a Gulliver's Travels or an Animal Farm at the same level of understanding or, indeed, with the same innocent pleasure, as when first read as a young adult or child. For the adult rereading a classic work of satire, what was once merely comic may now be perceived as pathos or even tragedy.

  9. Oxley (1967:82) points out that “Animal Farm was apparently serialized some years ago in an opposition newspaper in Ghana under the Nkrumah regime, and for its readers then, Napoleon presumably took on another, more local meaning.”

  10. Edward Hyams, the author of The New Statesman's official history, writes that Orwell came back to Britain with a blistering series of articles attacking the Spanish government and that Martin did not disbelieve them. But “The New Statesman had become a committed paper while recognizing that, Fascism defeated, we might then have to fight for our principles against the worst elements in Communism.” Deciding that The New Statesman had “the mentality of a whore,” Orwell as an alternative published his views on Spain in The New English Weekly where his Homage to Catalonia would also receive one of its most perceptive reviews, from Philip Mairet: “It shows us the heart of innocence that lies in revolution; also the miasma of lying that, far more than the cruelty, takes the heart out of it.”

  11. One of the ironies concerning Animal Farm, which as far as I'm aware has not previously been pointed out, is that concerning a too facile equation of Orwell and Swift. Consider Orwell's judgment of Swift, “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels” (CEJL, Vol. 4:207; with some sentence reordering):

    Politically, Swift was one of those people who are driven into a sort of perverse Toryism by the follies of the progressive party of the moment. Part I of Gulliver's Travels, ostensibly a satire on human greatness, can be seen if one looks a little deeper, to be simply an attack on England, on the dominant Whig Party, and on the war with France, which—however bad the motives of the Allies may have been—did save Europe from being tyrannised over by a single reactionary power … [N]o one would deny that Gulliver's Travels is a rancorous as well as a pessimistic book, and that … it often descends into political partisanship of a narrow kind.

    Substitute Russia for England, Communist for Whig, and Germany for France, Orwell for Swift, and Animal Farm for Gulliver's Travels, and this could be a Left polemic against Orwell and Animal Farm!

Works Cited

Books by Orwell.

DOPL: Down and Out in Paris and London; London, 1933.

BD: Burmese Days; New York, 1934.

CD: A Clergyman's Daughter; London, 1935.

KAF: Keep the Aspidistra Flying; London, 1936.

RWP: The Road to Wigan Pier; London, 1937.

HC: Homage to Catalonia; London, 1938.

CUA: Coming Up for Air; London, 1939.

IW: Inside the Whale; London, 1940.

LU: The Lion and the Unicorn; London, 1941.

AF: Animal Farm; London, 1945.

NEF: Nineteen Eighty-Four; London, 1949.

SE: Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays; New York, 1950.

SSWJ: Such, Such Were the Joys; New York, 1953.

CEJL: Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell; 4 volumes, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus; London, 1968.

Alldritt, Keith. The Making of George Orwell. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969.

Atkins, John. George Orwell. New York: Ungar, 1954.

Beresford, J. D. “Review of Animal Farm.Manchester Guardian (August 24, 1945), p. 3. (Abstracted in Book Review Digest.)

Blount, Margaret. Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction. New York: Avon, 1974.

Brander, Laurence. George Orwell. London: Longmans, 1954.

Buddicom, Jacintha. Eric and Us: A Remembrance of George Orwell. London: Leslie Frewin, 1974.

Caute, David. “Introduction to Penguin Island.” In Anatole France, Penguin Island. New York: New American Library, 1968, pp. v-xvi.

Dallin, David J. The Real Soviet Russia. (Translated by Joseph Shaplen.) New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1944.

Fischer, Louis. The Life and Death of Stalin. New York: Harper and Row, 1952.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. “Orwell as Satirist.” In R. Williams (ed.), George Orwell: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974, pp. 103-118. (Excerpted from Three Modern Satirists. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965.)

Harris, Marvin, “Pig Lovers and Pig Haters.” In Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. New York: Vintage, 1974, pp. 35-57.

Highet, Gilbert. The Anatomy of Satire. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Hollis, Christopher. “Animal Farm.” In A. Kernan (ed.), Modern Satire. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962, pp. 221-228. (Excerpted from A Study of George Orwell. London: Hollis and Carter, 1958.)

Howe, Irving (ed.), Orwell's 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963.

Johnson, Edgar (ed.), A Treasury of Satire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945.

Kennan, George F. Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

Kubal, David L. Outside the Whale: George Orwell's Art and Politics. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972.

Laqueur, Walter. Russia and Germany. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1965.

Leyburn, Ellen Douglas. “Animal Stories.” In A. Kernan (ed.), Modern Satire. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962, pp. 213-220.

Oxley, B. T. George Orwell. London: Evans Brothers Ltd., 1967.

Pryce-Jones, David. “Orwell's Reputation.” In Miriam Gross (ed.), The World of George Orwell. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971, pp. 143-152.

Sillen, Samuel. “Maggot of the Month.” In Masses and Mainstream, Vol. 2, August, 1949. (Reprinted in Irving Howe, ed., Orwell's 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963, pp. 210-212.)

Small, Christopher. The Road to Miniluv: George Orwell, the State and God. London: Victor Gollancz, 1975. (Published in the U.S. by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.)

Trilling, Diana. “Review of 1984.” In Nation, Vol. 168 (June 25, 1949), pp. 716-717.

Voorhees, R. The Paradox of George Orwell. Indiana: Purdue University Studies, 1961.

Walsh, James. “George Orwell.” In Marxist Quarterly, Vol. 3, January 1956. (Reprinted in Irving Howe, ed., Orwell's 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963, pp. 212-216.)

Weeks, Edward. “Review of Animal Farm.” In Atlantic, Vol. 178, (September, 1946).

Wilde, Larry. The Official Democrat Joke Book. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1974.

Williams, Raymond. Orwell. London: Collins, 1971. (In the “Modern Masters” series.)

Williams, Raymond, (ed.), George Orwell: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974.

Wilson, Edmund. “Review of Animal Farm.” In The New Yorker, Vol. 22 (September 7, 1946).

Woodcock, George. The Crystal Spirit. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1966.

Woodhouse, C. M. “Introduction to Animal Farm.” New York: New American Library, 1956. pp. 5-15. (Excerpted from an article in the London Times Literary Supplement, August 6, 1954.)

Wren, Melvin C. The Course of Russian History. New York: Macmillan Company, 1968.

Samir Elbarbary (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4485

SOURCE: Elbarbary, Samir. “Language as Theme in Animal Farm.International Fiction Review 19, no. 1 (1992): 31-8.

[In the following essay, Elbarbary explores Orwell's use of language in Animal Farm.]

George Orwell's repeated insistence on plain, firm language reflects his confidence in ordinary truth. This is visible in the language of the narrator in Animal Farm, which is characterized by syntactic tidiness and verbal pithiness. “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes”; this is how the narrator begins the fable. Set in ironic juxtaposition to this terse phrasing is another distinct language: the crassly elitist, manipulative, unintelligible, and circumlocutory discourse of the pigs, through which the fictitious passes off as factitious and the animals' world is created for them. The magical agency in this fairy tale takes the form of language which becomes a distorting mirror rather than a clear pane.1 I suggest that the deliberate derangement of language, and linguistic exclusiveness which sustain the usurpation of power, stand out as one of the novel's central thematic concerns. In a sense, the revolution on the farm is a language-focused enterprise, a product of specifically aggressive linguistic energy, and language, which can effectively control reality, is at the root of the tragic experience rather than merely mirroring it. The animals are the negative other of the pigs. They—with an underdeveloped language, a para-language—are overpowered by the linguistic skill of the pigs; their ensnarement is less a matter substance than of generic linguistic impotence and deficient semantic memory. They are incompetent readers of the pigs' devious texts.

The beginning of the narrative quickly establishes the primacy of language. The character of old Major, who dominates the scene of this section, is reduced to a mouth. In a lengthy address to the animals, he engages in a verbal creation of what society might become. He is the “man on the white horse” who steps in with utopian discourse. A nocturnal time setting (Major “was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour's sleep in order to hear what he had to say”2) lends to the situation a layer of fantasy. Major speaks from above (“a sort of raised platform” [1]—perhaps a symbol of the sacred locus of revelation, distance also marks separation) and offers his text in the light of the received major prophecy. Attacks are heaped upon man. With his elocutionary style and the accent of exhortation, Major creates an atmosphere of paternalism; there is a disparity between the liberating stance and authoritative language structure. Beside the hammering imperative tone (“You cows”; “And you hens”; “And you Clover”; “get rid of Man”; “work night and day”; “Fix your eyes on that”; “pass on this message” 4-5) there is his willful persistence in the use of the first person (15 “I”s in one short paragraph; 3). He sets sights idealistically high about forming a happy collectivity with a manna economy. His general prescription that getting rid of man will bring an overnight change is delivered as gospel. The dramatic speech moves incrementally to a climatic point: “… only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we could become rich and free” (5). According to Major, the society of the future is marked by spontaneous fraternization: “All animals are comrades” (6). In a supreme cautionary irony, the dogs suddenly chase the rats, substituting a truth for the lie and deconstructing the preceding platitude. Yet, this is lost on the animals. Major, too, is not aware that the animals will suffer under the pigs what he predicts will come if revolution does not take place. There is a grim irony in this: “To that horror we all must come—cows, pigs, hens, sheep, everyone. Even the horses and the dogs have no better fate. You, Boxer, the very day that those great muscles of yours lose their power, Jones will sell you to the knacker, who will cut your throat and boil you down for the foxhounds” (5). The oration has cunningly generated an emotional momentum which carries the animals incarcerated along with it. Their experience as naive readers seduced by the text can be viewed in terms of pleasure. Major climaxes his linguistic construct with a patriotic hymn that finds a response in the animals' euphoria (7-8). His linguistic fantasy is virtually a deathbed utterance. “Three nights later,” we read, “Major died peacefully in his sleep”(9). The high ideals are as dead as Major himself. It is of significance for Orwell's deconstruction that the visionary potential is shrouded in darkness.

A rhetorical ploy that Major uses to lease ears is varying the type of sentence structure, and varying the usual declarative statement with questions, exclamations, exhortations, and other moods of discourse. Anaphoric repetition—the repeated word “And” at the beginning of consecutive paragraphs—is another device used, creating a bouncing rhythm. This helps form cross-correspondences and build the expansion of the discourse to a climax. More still are the refrainlike restatements of the same point: “Man is the only real enemy we have, “All men are enemies,” Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy,” “remember always your duty of enmity towards Man.” Ironical use of Oxymoron appears later in the novel in structures such as: “This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half” (40), “Napoleon, who was directing operations from the rear” (70), and “Napoleon had commanded that once a week there should be held something called a Spontaneous Demonstration” (77).

Major's control over language, over others, builds anticipation for further makers of words, for whom the play of tyrannical power is wordplay. The uncontested owners of language and its resources use their talent to serve strategies, with foregrounding attention to the teaching process, constructing student-animals as conformers to new ideologies: “The work of teaching and organizing the others fell naturally upon the pigs, who were generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals” (9). The pigs have a “good” claim to leadership and privileges; a hierarchy already existed among the animals. Squealer is the best game player, in him we see nothing but convoluted words. Like Major, he can project his own mental linguistic images onto the minds of the underprivileged or onto the fabric of reality itself. Endowed with the quickest tongue, he shows a remarkable disposition for diversionary oratory—its incommunicable quality notwithstanding. He shares the deconstructionist's sense of free play in putting into the text what he regards as meaning: “He was a brilliant talker … he could turn black into white” (9). He is the apologist par excellence for the new corps of leaders. He slyly legitimates the exclusive consumption of the milk and apples by one of his palliatives, and he assigns noble motives to the pigs: “It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples” (23). It is testimony to his efficiency that he succeeds. This should not surprise us, for he is aware of and delights in his capability to incite, and takes advantage of the animals' linguistic vulnerability. His “eloquence [carries] them away” (35), and makes it doubtful that anyone would have an opposing thought. And to circumvent the possibility of this, he plays upon their variously scaled stresses—they are apprised of Jones's danger to them: “Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! … surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?” (23).

Malevolent Napoleon, though in character “not much of a talker” (9), still he adequately fits words and articulatory dynamics to objects. He offers to the perplexed animals a scapegoat to soothe other anxieties; pitch raising is used for additional reinforcement of persuasion: “Comrades,’ he said quietly, ‘do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!’ he suddenly roared in a voice of thunder, ‘Snowball has done this thing!’”. With the absence of Snowball which leaves no resistive voice, Napoleon establishes his reign by coercion. He retires into elitist isolation and rules by remote control. Squealer most effectively helps him by the instantaneously available speeches stating untruths throughout; language stands as a substitute for the status quo: “Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! … No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal … And as to the Battle of the Cowshed, I believe the time will come when we shall find that Snowball's part in it was much exaggerated … One false step, and our enemies would be upon us … Once again this argument was unanswerable” (37). Ailing recognition of irrelevancy and inadequacy weighs the masses down. Squealer is a master manipulator of his approving listeners and his oratorical competence continues unabated throughout the novel. As economic shortages pile one on another, he placates them with fictionality making as factuality. To the dunderheaded fools hearing is believing—particularly of scarcely remembered things—and familiarity has bred “understanding”: “On Sunday mornings Squealer, holding down a long strip of paper with his trotter, would read out to them lists of figures proving that the production of every class of food-stuff had increased by two hundred per cent, three hundred per cent, or five hundred per cent, as the case might be. The animals saw no reason to disbelieve him, especially as they could no longer remember very clearly what conditions had been like before the Rebellion” (61-62). The reader gasps with wonder at Squealer's blatant absurdities. Claims and plain truth, signifiers and concrete reality, are widely disparate. The mass dis-informationist wraps himself in the cloak of statistics. His freely inventive handling of numbers, woven in the very fabric of his discourse, dodges and goes unchallenged. Numbers have almost magical powers; they dissolve any doubt.

Squealer's quite heated verbalization, expanding into a narrative, about the death of Boxer banishes any disbelief over outrageous incongruities (83). He has had much practice in verbal acrobatics. In using hard vocabulary, distractors, he makes the content of the text as intransparent and distancing as possible: “This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. The animals were not certain what the word meant” (39). He never feels obliged to prove the case for legibility or for logical justification. animals are caught in his semantic nets; they cannot decipher the complexities of arcane jargon and meaningless sound structures:“… it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations (Squealer always spoke of it as a ‘readjustment’, never as a ‘reduction’) … Reading out the figures in a shrill rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had in Jones's day … The animals believed every word of it” (75). The finite minds of the animals are inherently incapable of the linguistically rich mind of Squealer; words do not fail him to take them further in: “You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds? … The rule was against sheets, which are a human invention” (45-46). Squealer is typically quick with indigenous diction that is not part of the animals' lexicon. Language becomes so opaque that it parodies its communicative purpose: “The other animals were too ignorant to understand. For example, Squealer told them that the pigs had to expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called ‘files,’ ‘reports,’ ‘minutes’ and ‘memoranda’” (86). If the animals are left guessing about what happened, Squealer strikes out into further explanation that leaves them mute—their memory is viewed askance. On the issue of trading with the neighboring farms, Squealer “assured them that the resolution against engaging in trade and using money had never been passed, or even suggested” (43).

The propagandist's ability to transmute reality into linguistic artefacts, with such certainty of composure, is displayed in further situations. One such scene is that in which Squealer inflatedly attacks Snowball, tarnishing his name. He is baulked by Boxer who cannot grasp what he hears—Snowball “fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed. I saw him myself. Did we not give him ‘Animal Hero, First Class’?” But Squealer is adamant; with customary ease he can write or unwrite a text, and Boxer's remark is brushed aside: “That was our mistake, comrade. For we know now—it is all written down in the secret documents that we have found—that in reality he was trying to lure us to our doom” (54). And if Boxer responds to sense rather than to the untruth-filled words, his unbending trust in the infallible Napoleon immediately impels him to silence: “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” When Snowball speaks falsely of the outcome of the battle, Boxer once again interrogates—he cannot see a victory as the windmill was demolished. Squealer's riddling phrases, however, confiscate disbelief (71). The passage from “Beasts of England” to the song of Minimus is unjustifiable to animals, but the commentator-at-large is “perspicacious” and interprets raison in this: “‘Beasts of England’ was the song of the Rebellion. But the Rebellion is now completed” (59).

In addition to the labyrinthine flow of words in which the rhetor indulges, he employs a language of physical gestures, bearing a false freight of emotional overtone. This emerges conspicuously in his explanation of the death of Boxer, where, amid a breakup of utterance, he affects sadness in a seemingly partisan manner: “Lifting his trotter and wiping away a tear … Squealer's demeanor suddenly changed. He fell silent for a moment, and his little eyes dated suspicious glances from side to side before he proceeded … he cried indignantly, whisking his tail and skipping from side to side” (83). This wordless language of communication has been used rather more crudely earlier by Major. Too conscious of making a speech he solemnly clears his throat twice (3,7), which raises an expectation of a high point in the paternalistic exhortation.

A secondary character who also drugs the masses with words beyond their ability to fathom is Moses. Like Squealer, he is what he is because of what he says than what he does. The clerically attired black raven gladly follows any leader, claiming a future happiness beyond the grave. He flies after an exiled Jones, then returns to the farm to be rewarded with “a gill of beer a day” (79) for his palliatives to the problems of real life circumstances—devaluing the here-and-now in favour of the everafter. His presence provides a scathing satire on religion. Being a raven, he is attracted to the odor of carrion on which he feeds, a verbal pun showing us the extent of Orwell's antipathy to religious symbolic expressions as organs of mass deception. As is the case with other successful orators, his use of a special diction and style, lacking semantic clarity, conveys a sense of authoritarian paternalism, which then puts his addresses in a credulous frame of mind.

The inflated rhetoricity of porcine texts is reinforced by the implications of the gradual lexical reformulation of Commandments, statutory, and inscriptions, in which the pigs, the appropriative authors and determinants of this text of texts, initially placed so much faith. Their success in scrambling it stems from their linguistic talent which deludes and obfuscates. As the Commandments are largely incomprehensible to the animals, Snowball “solves” the problem by conjuring a reducibly comprehensive label: “four legs good, two legs bad,” an oversimplification, like the rest of the pigs' ideology, which disguises the evil intentions of the unscrupulous. Abridgement is the first step towards perversion. Birds find it hard to concur with Snowball's “judicial” analysis of their identity. Snowball exploits his linguistic superiority and silences their subtle questioning by his unintelligible proof that a wing “should therefore be regarded as a leg” and not as a “hand, the instrument with which he [man] does all his mischief” (22). By a verbal sleight of hand, he misreads the signifier and makes the bird appear quadruped. The pigs void the Commandments of their determinate and objective content—rendering the constant variable and the impermissible permissible by interpolating new tags: “‘No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,’ ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause,’ ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess,’ ‘Four legs good, two legs better!’ ‘ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS’” (45, 61, 73, 89, 90). This textual variation can be seen in the light of Paul Ricoeur's observation: “… a linking together of a new discourse to the discourse of the text.”3 The pigs exploit their listeners' lack of facility for recall, and their textual-comparison ineptitude. They emphasize the rhetorical basis of interpretation and discredit the denotative, univocal, and hermeneutical. In effect it would appear that they are deconstructors: they put in question the assumption that interpretation defines a stable and unquestionable truth about the Commandments.

It is remarkable that whilst most of the animals are able to make out letters and words, they cannot make the move toward meaning and semantic perception. Their learning disabilities are articulate in the reading and writing priming passage: “The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments. Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs … Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty. So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading. Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together. Boxer could not get beyond the letter D … Mollie refused to learn any but the five letters which spelt her own name … None of the other animals on the farm could get further than the letter A” (20-21). The passage charts the extent of the primates' verbal learning repertoire, their variable pacing, and endemic inequality. Some are less or more able than others. Classes prepare the dogs, who act as a punishing squad, for a particular reading task: to watch over the seven fundamental dogmas in which they have been indoctrinated. It is doubly ironic that the dog, well armed with powerful physique and canine teeth, is in fact the proverbial man's best friend. As the pigs eventually turn into “men,” tyrannical humans, this largely offers itself as a verbal pun on the proverb. Benjamin has achieved poorly owing not to mental laziness to read texts but to his self-protective obtuseness. He is the linguistic anti-Squealer. The status quo seems to justify his pose of noninvolvement. His attitude which supposes the vacuity of the text (or life) comes close to the claim of deconstruction, the most radical of skepticisms about the text. This is evident from his quip “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey” (19). His own silent text will remain basically unchanged until Boxer is taken off to his death. A mood of defiance takes hold of him: “It was the first time that they had ever seen Benjamin excited—indeed it was the first time that anyone had ever seen him gallop. ‘Quick, quick!’ he shouted. ‘Come at once! They're taking Boxer away!’” (81). Here Benjamin also speaks through nonverbal forms. This is a moment of revelation when a flat character suddenly, as a result of a more positive concern, outgrows his flatness. It is ironic that he reads without fail the sign on the knacker's van, since he prefers not to read. But his reaction is one that makes the whole situation more tragic. Realistic enough to see the writing on the wall for the rebellion before it starts, and always tongue-tied, it must therefore be an immense tragedy to bring him out of his cynical silence and to make him genuinely saddened. His subsequent response is definitive, it vents all the hate pent up for years of oppressed life. He abandons self-preservation in the face of this disaster. Benjamin thus seems to be a representation of Orwell himself. Orwell is the outspoken critic of communism after an intolerable, close view of the inner working of the system. On the other hand, Orwell could be seen as a betrayed Boxer, belatedly kicking his legs against the walls of the knacker's van, having been robbed of his power by his loyalty to the pigs.

Boxer's learner's ability stops at the infancy stage. His talent is taken up with ebullient physical activities emanating from a determinedly high sense of responsibility to the community and dedication to the work ethic. He suffers from great deficiencies in both episodic and semantic memory as well as in perceptual recognition. His illiteracy, we know, will be his undoing as he is carted off in the van and is ignorant of the markings on its side. Mollie, although not categorized low in words, but vain as she is, stops at decoding the five letters forming her name. The rest of the animals—the sheep, hens, and ducks—rank very low in achievement, almost unteachable. It cannot be matter of surprise that the sheep identify with a communal ideology which makes them merge with the mass at the expense of individual autonomy. Put through a catechism, they become mere prattlers, finely tuned to pigs' ways. They loudly proclaim their unshakable loyalty by ritually breaking into “Four legs good, two legs bad” drowning any possibility of antiphonal thought.

This allows us to conclude that animals' learning disabilities will impede all efforts to improve their lot. They have the common man's responsibility in propping up tyrannies, and inviting their own victimization, through a trio of handicaps: a linguistic and cognitive deficiency, gullibility in acceptance of maneuverings at face value, and historical amnesia. However, there are a few oblique hints that the animals are not merely mindless beasts. They do have minds, they do think as we read that “they reasoned” (78), and that they have “the thought that at least he [Boxer] had died happy” (84), they also remember the issue of the pension field (85). This makes their betrayal all the more poignant since they are aware (if only obliquely) of what is happening to them.

One may ask whether it makes any sense to represent all animals as a single community. Can a mass society divided by a wide range of linguistic variation and differences in intelligence, among others, be said to hold a single doctrine? Pan-animalism cannot be a reality. It becomes apparent at the end of the novel that the pigs have firmly secured their position. The inference is that a shadow of doubt is thrown on a second insurrectionary round as long as the linguistic oligarchy will sustain their exploitation of the animals through the monopoly of language. If animals are ever to be liberated, they should be raised up into language and provided with semantic space to enable them to be conversant with the pigs and to engage them on their own ground with a counter discourse and gestures of their own.

The reader is indeed not wholly dependent upon the narrator's discourse for access to the characters. We should not be at all astonished to see that the narrator is totally coldly uncritical where tragic happenings take place. At Boxer's betrayal and at the cataclysmic massacre, extremely emotional contexts, his language is notably restrained. He ventures nothing, and soon after each event Squealer appears, attuning animals to mutability, constructing his versions of events, and explaining that what happened was justified, or what they just say was not what really occurred. Indeed, there is a comic element in all of Squealer's presentations. The comic also appears in Orwell's attention to details. Out of context the idea that a pig on hind legs, wiping “hot” tears from his eyes in memory of a “departed” friend, is absurd. But here juxtaposed against an act of extreme betrayal, it assumes a very sinister note. Orwell's very silence and detachment would seem to carry much weight here, it is in such marked contrast to the agitation that crowds about. To add insult to injury, the pigs get drunk on whisky, paid for by Boxer's killing, on the night of his death. Though this is to be expected from the callous pigs, what makes this situation so black is that the animals do not connect Boxer's death with the pigs' drinking. Orwell's silence mirrors the animals' inability to discern truth.

A final point remains. Of some interest is Orwell's intertextual perspective which draws on his familiarity with and taste for Oriental materials. Language abets religious association which is, of course, burlesque. One detects nuances of the maximum number of wives permissible by Islam in Napoleon's “four sows [that] had all littered about simultaneously, producing thirty-one young pigs between them” (75). There is a clear injunction in the Holy Qur'an: “… marry women of your choice, two, or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one.”4 In a similar vein, the lush farm of the afterlife, where earthly suffering will be recompensed, shows intertextual possibilities and Orwell's attraction to Islamic epistemology. A heavenly “Sugarcandy Mountain” as envisioned by Moses is plentiful of material benefits for all animals: “It was situated somewhere up in the sky, a little distance beyond the clouds, Moses said. In Sugarcandy Mountain it was Sunday seven days a week, clover was in season all the year round, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges” (10-11). This evokes the description of Paradise in the Holy Qur'an: “[There is] a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits” (XLVII:15). Furthermore, Moses “even claimed to have been there on one of his higher flights, and to have seen the everlasting fields of clover and linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges” (78)—a clear parody of Prophet Muhammad's ascent through the seven heavens [the night journey]: “Glory to [God] who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless” (XVII:I). This contextual echo helps to keep us aware of the religious dimensions of Moses's titillating language.

Notes

  1. In his essay “Why I Write,” Orwell states that “good prose is like a window pane.” The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968) I:7.

  2. George Orwell, Animal Farm (Penguin, 1989 edition) I. All subsequent references will be to this edition and will be made parenthetically in the text.

  3. See David M. Rasmussen, Mythic—symbolic Language and Philosophical Anthropology: A Constructive Interpretation of the Thought of Paul Ricoeur (The Hague: Maritnus Nijhoff, 1971) 144.

  4. The Glorious Qur'an, translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (The Muslim Students' Association of the United States & Canada, 1975) IV: 3.

Michael Peters (essay date August 1995)

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SOURCE: Peters, Michael. “Animal Farm Fifty Years On.” Contemporary Review 267, no. 1555 (August 1995): 90-1.

[In the following essay, Peters considers the continuing relevance and influence of Animal Farm on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.]

Few books are as well-known as Animal Farm. Published fifty years ago, in August 1945, as the Cold War was about to begin, the novel with its mixture of simple fairy-tale and historical allegory, still has the power to charm and provoke, even though that war now seems to be part of a previous age. The novel, while frequently taught in schools to thirteen and fourteen year olds, is rarely to be found in sixth form or university syllabuses. Like the author, the book occupies an ambiguous place in the literary world. Yet its fame amongst the reading and, to an extent, the non-reading public is indisputable; the slogan, ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’, is one that has become part of the language.

Orwell was very clear about his intentions in writing the book. During the Spanish Civil War, he had seen the effects of the repressions and deceptions of Stalinism at first hand. He wished to open people's eyes to the reality of the Soviet regime ‘in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone’, even when that regime had become an ally to Britain and the USA in the fight against German fascism. Such an exposure was essential, Orwell believed, if a true and democratic form of socialism was to be created. Working in London, first as a BBC journalist, and then as the literary editor of Tribune, Animal Farm was written whilst the bombs dropped; one bomb even damaged the manuscript when it fell on the street where Orwell and his wife lived. Certainly the process by which the book saw the light of day was a tortuous one, with publisher after publisher finding reasons for refusing or delaying publication. For Gollancz, who had first option, and Faber, in the person of T. S. Eliot, the novel was too much of an attack on Russia, which had suffered so hugely at Stalingrad. Cape first consulted the Ministry of Information, who were concerned that the Russian leaders would take offence at their depiction as pigs, before turning the book down.

At the other end of the spectrum, even the Anarchist, Freedom Press, took exception to the novel. In America, the Dial Press thought it ‘impossible to sell animal stories’. When, eventually, Warburg agreed to take the book, publication was delayed for almost a year, until the end of the European War. The question of whether this was due to a shortage of paper—the official explanation—or to political necessity, is still unresolved. From Paris, to which he travelled in February 1945, to report the War for The Observer at closer quarters, Orwell checked the proofs, making one last change. When the Windmill is attacked Napoleon stays standing, instead of dropping to the ground, as a tribute to Stalin's courage in remaining in Moscow during Hitler's advance; even to his enemies Orwell is determined to be fair.

Inevitably Animal Farm, when it was finally published, created controversy, although not of the kind originally envisaged. With the end of the struggle against fascism, a new conflict had begun to develop—the Cold War. Once effectively banned because of its politics, the book started to become an instrument of propaganda in the West's campaign to claim the moral high ground. Many new translations were produced, some with the assistance of the US State Department, and were circulated in places where Soviet influence prevailed—for example, the Ukraine and Korea. In 1947 the ‘Voice of America’ broadcast a radio version to Eastern Europe. The success of the novel in propaganda terms may be gauged by the Soviets' fear and loathing of the book, expressed by the seizure of copies in Germany, as well as by the cancellation of proposed radio dramatisations in Czechoslovakia. This occurred just before Soviet crackdowns in 1948 and again in 1968 on regimes which seemed to be dangerously libertarian.

Whilst Orwell was happy to see his book used to attack the Soviet myth, he did become increasingly worried about the way it was being used by the Right as a means of demonstrating that all revolutionary change was bound to fail. Picking out as central the moment when the pigs keep apples and milk for themselves, he makes the point that if ‘the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then it would have been all right’. Major's dream could have been realised. The masses should be ‘alert’, ready to ‘chuck out their leaders as soon as they have done their job’. This is rather a different message than that found in the anti-Communist propaganda which so frequently surrounded, and surrounds, the novel.

For Orwell personally, Animal Farm marked his entry into the halls of literary fame. With the first impression of 4,500 copies soon sold out, sales in the UK reached 25,000 within five years, and over half a million in the US within four years. From being a marginal left-wing figure, Orwell became one of the most celebrated writers of the day, with periodic radio and television adaptations of both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. In 1954, the first animated version of a literary text—a cartoon of Animal Farm—was made. However, in the last few years of his life, with a newly adopted son to bring up alone after his wife's unexpected death, and with his tuberculosis becoming increasingly serious, the success of what Orwell called his ‘little squib’ may have been some small comfort.

George Orwell, as many readers have done, recognised that the book's great achievement was to ‘fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’. For this reason, fifty years on, in spite of the collapse of the Soviet system, in spite of the dilution of democratic socialism into liberalism, and in spite of the habit of literary critics to favour complex texts for deconstruction, Animal Farm may still be read with pleasure and profit, inside and outside the classroom, as one of the most imaginatively compelling satires on what Orwell called, in another of his fine phrases, the ‘gramophone mind’.

John V. Knapp (essay date June 1996)

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SOURCE: Knapp, John V. “Creative Reasoning in the Interactive Classroom: Experiential Exercises for Teaching George Orwell's Animal Farm.College Literature 23, no. 2 (June 1996): 143-56.

[In the following essay, Knapp discusses his methods for teaching Animal Farm.]

                                    Simplification is vexation,
                                             Work sheets are as bad;
 Then the old ennui just crushes me,
                         And practice drives me mad!
                                 So give me argumentation!
                                 More give and take agrees,
                                 Helps me in my education,
                         Then Orwell seems a breeze.

(“The Bald-headed Bard” 1996)

Most of us enjoy a change now and then, whether to a different brand of ice cream or to a method by which we teach the “classic” works of literature. One older method, lecturing, has well-known limitations, especially for younger students and those not especially motivated to do close readings of literary texts. While lecturing works in some places and for some students, those of us who teach literature are always interested in alternative procedures to accomplish some fairly typical goals: we want our students to understand the text through close reading and real engagement with the printed page; we want them to have some grasp of the fictional work's historical and cultural contexts; and most of all, we want them to have some of the appropriate emotional responses through a process of their own discovery—the classic interactive processes among readers, texts, and fellow learners first articulated by Louise Rosenblatt back in the 1930s (Literature; The Reader).1

More recent research, employing several of Lev. S. Vygotsky's ideas, has reiterated Rosenblatt's thinking and has suggested that “comprehension activity is simultaneously a collective, inter-mental process and an individual, intra-mental process.”2 Since individual students “rarely generate and revise their knowledge based on propositional logic,” merely “presenting information [lecturing] guaranteed to be correct by authorities is not sufficient for the construction of knowledge” even though individuals possess knowledge structures” (Kobayashi 233-34). Rather, Kobayashi says, the active use of such knowledge structures

is highly dependent on social conditions—both immediate conditions, such as with whom a problem is solved, and remote conditions, such as a society's educational system. As a result, comprehension activity can be regarded as a progressive development rather than a complete or final product. In other words, individuals tend to seek provisional consistency [when constructing knowledge structures].

For many teachers of literature, the most obvious social condition for increasing individual knowledge structures is whole-group class discussion (Cone 466); yet good discussions require class training for this pedagogical technique to succeed. And, in some of the better class conversations, students need to learn that consensus is not always possible and that agreeing to disagree is oftentimes the best one can hope for. Hence, the most rewarding type of individual literary learning within a social matrix is often less about winning or losing an argument and more about establishing the boundaries of dissent. The game described below not only helps students understand Orwell's novel, but provides both fun and an entry into the dynamics of good classroom conversations.

Several scholars of classroom interaction distinguish between two kinds of whole group discussion: conversation, where the teacher asks (and also responds to) authentic questions, those without pre-specified answers; and drill, where the teacher and class partake of a stereotypical classroom exchange. In drill, the teacher asks a question whose answer she already knows, the student responds, seeking to give the correct answer, and the teacher then evaluates the answer, pronouncing it acceptable or not. No matter how politely or indirectly the teacher evaluates an incorrect answer, both she and the student know in this context that the answer is “wrong.”

In most classrooms, whole-group discussion consists of a mix of conversation and drill with the more experienced (or talented) teachers focusing on the conversational elements whereas the novice teacher may initially confuse conversation and drill, wondering why in such confusion classroom discussions focused on drill just do not seem to “cook.” Indeed, the novice's skill development in conducting successful whole-group question-and-answer sequences can be marked by the relative movement from preponderately drill-type questions to conversation. One way of developing both the teacher's skill in classroom conversation and the students' interactive processes with the material is to play an interactive game, in this instance a game that teaches the text by combining collaborative learning, conversation, drill, and the students' own life experiences.3

For a range of students from high school to college, I have experimented with a classroom exercise I call “Animal Farming,” or, for an older group of students, “Animal Farm Hegemony.”4 I employ the word hegemony as a deliberate echo of the board game, Monopoly, one most of my students have played from time to time. The difference here is that Animal Farm Hegemony is aimed at the acquisition of power as much as wealth; and, unlike Monopoly, the real learning comes both during the exercise and after the game is over. At that point students begin to reflect upon and discuss as a class one another's ethical values and procedures as well as those issues in Orwell's political satire.5

As part of a larger study of politically oriented literature generally and political satire specifically, I want my students during this unit to: a) read Animal Farm and understand the political and social ideas and conditions the novel parodies: that is, they must feel how some revolutions, like the great Soviet experiment, often destroy themselves from within despite their widespread initial idealism; b) understand the genre characteristics of Swiftian satire and Aesop's beast fables, particularly the parody of specific political figures, movements, and issues (such as totalitarianism, Stalinism, the Russian Revolution), and the figures of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and so on. To do this, students must learn to blend beast and human attributes along the lines mentioned by Edwin Honig in the reading strategy he calls the allegorical waver, the movement on a continuum from allegory to realism. Thus the complexity of Orwell's text is not reduced to mere illustration of a specific historical process while, simultaneously, the historical process enriches their reading in concrete ways.6 In addition, I want them to see the thematic parallels to historical phenomena,7 including the social advantages of learning to read carefully with attention to nuance, just as the Pigs did.

When the reading and the games are completed, my students will express their understanding through whole-group conversations as well as through a number of successful and hardly innovative types of feedback. These include such writing projects as essays, paragraphs, reflective journal entries, and sketches following such standard fare as small group discussions, and even pop quizzes and tests. However, the key to getting all of this under way is the completion of the experiential exercises. Particularly with whole-group question-and-answer sequences, this game allows students to “figure out things they think they don't know—and are not expected to know until the moment arises” (Haroutunian-Gordon 50).

For a good experience, students should complete the exercise within one to two class periods. The game ends, quite simply, when those who remain free while enslaving others “win.” Students must then apply learning gained from these exercises by expressing themselves to all during subsequent whole-group discussions in later class periods, or in their writings to be read to the class. The key value to Animal Farm Hegemony is the development of students' felt insights as well as their reasoning into the mechanisms of totalitarianism and the destruction of political idealism through discussion of and reflection upon their own behavior during the game.

Before we begin the game, I give a brief lecture on Thomas Hobbes and the influence of Leviathan on Animal Farm (Appendix 1). What I do not say directly is that playing the game requires them to understand some of Hobbes's political philosophy in order to comprehend and to feel the dilemmas found in Orwell's novel. Such understanding will, I hope, arise from the direct experience of the game as well as from reading the novel and listening to my lecture.

I begin, for example, by telling them that in Hobbes's view, human beings are less motivated by reason than by their desires and appetites. In a densely populated and competitive world, most people seek pleasure and avoid pain either through brute strength or cleverness. But, when they cannot out-muscle or out-wit their fellow human beings individually, many will agree to band together in groups, giving up their individual rights for the greater gains, glory, and protection afforded them by belonging to a commonwealth. This collective is headed by a sovereign, one whose power is absolute, being institutionalized by all as the peaceful alternative to the “perpetual war of every man against his neighbor” (Hobbes 2.18).

As with every human action, however, individuals lose something through collective action as well. By giving up individual power to their sovereign, they have made artificial chains, called civil laws, which bind them absolutely since they are themselves the creators of its covenants. This is far better than the war of all against all, since where there is no common power, there is no law; and where there is no law, there is no injustice anyway. Their allegiance to their sovereign should be nearly absolute so long as he is able to defend them from enemies; indeed, Hobbes says that “the end of obedience is protection” (2.21).

Although I do not then make explicit the connection between Hobbes and Animal Farm in the lecture, I do hope that my students will come to understand the limitations of Hobbesian thinking as dramatized in the novel. Through the action of the game, students will feel the dangers of trading protection for political acquiescence. The animal's desire for protection from Mr. Jones through the sovereignty of the pigs and particularly through the collectivized strength of Snowball and Napoleon was only half of the tragic equation; the other half was that idealistic impulse of the pigs that wanted to protect their fellow animals. Since, however, their idealism itself became infused with personal competitiveness, they gradually moved from motivations of comradely protectiveness to the kind of autocratic dismissiveness that sent Boxer to the knackers when he was no longer useful.

In the same way, students playing the game become quickly aware of class differences and some may well be motivated to “protect” their less fortunate brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, after several rounds of the game, the students' natural competitive urges generally overwhelm their humanistic attitudes and most find themselves unable to resist taking advantage of their relatively easily beaten opponents. Only after the game is over and I require the “lower classes” to explain in detail to the “winners” what they felt at the time will the dangers of trading sovereignty for protection become emotionally clear to both losers and winners.

In any event, during the delivery of the Hobbesian material, I do not indicate why such a lecture might be important. My assumption is that students will react to the lecture as students do to many lectures on political philosophy—with relatively modest attention. That is ok by me for now; indeed, one of the points of the game is learning that interesting ideas are not always immediately seen, and, even if they are, sometimes take awhile to digest. In Appendix 1, I have reproduced the brief lecture on the reasons for collectivization that I use from part of Leviathan.8 Ultimately, during the pressure of the game, I want my students to return to the lecture and to the novel to find any nuggets of information they might use in pursuit of victory. Following the lecture, I read to them the rules of the game. Below are some guidelines for teachers to keep in mind.

ANIMAL FARM HEGEMONY (NOT MONOPOLY):9 INFORMATION FOR THE TEACHER

There are two objectives to this game, the first announced by the teacher, the second unannounced: the first objective is for the whole class to learn as much as possible about Animal Farm specifically and political satire generally; the second objective of the game is for students to experience the dangers of political action, where the primary goal is ostensibly equality for all, in the absence of political balancing structures in place to keep the all-too human desire for power under control. During the game, a student's desire to “win” (answer the most questions correctly) will conflict directly with her generally strong desire for everyone in the class to learn as much as possible. This conflict often occurs even among idealistic students.

Students will quickly see that Napoleon, Snowball, and the other pigs (the ones) might try to “enslave” the rest of the animals by taking their tokens (apples and milk) during the competition and leaving everyone else weakened and hungry. Other animals must then resist whenever and however they are able by keeping as many of their tokens and rental spaces as is possible. A single winner (or a winning team with one “ruler”) must 1) remain “free;” and 2) “enslave” the others. Since all animals are equal, initially, their political equality begins with all students reading the same text (Animal Farm). The teacher's preparation, that is, his questions for whole-group discussion, now becomes material to use during the game. In Appendix 2, I have listed some sample questions, ranging from what Nystrand and Gamoran have elsewhere called report-type questions to the authentic type where the teacher does not pre-specify answers.10

The winner then gets The Hobbes, an award given to those who win the battle of “all against all.” After the award ceremony, the other students are allowed (indeed, required) to tell the winner in detail what they think of his or her award and methods of winning, both orally and in writing (perfered). One of the crucial issues to be resolved during this de-briefing concerns the possibility of ameliorating human (or animal) suffering through political action without betraying that initial idealistic impulse. The questions debated during the game and the de-briefing are the heart and soul of the students' learning.

Each student in the class will assume a role during the game. Active roles (for the several major characters) include the following (ideally, the game includes 10 to 15 students or roughly half to two-thirds of a class):

Teacher = Mr (or Ms or Mrs) Jones.

Student A = old Major.

Student B = Clover (one of the Threes).

Student C = The Bank Representative (one of the Twos).

Student D = Napoleon (one of the Ones).

Student E = Snowball (initially an One), etc.

The remainder of the 10 to 15 students in the game is divided into three groups (the high (1), the middle (2), or the low (3), by randomly drawing bits of paper marked with one (pigs), or two (horses, mules, and dogs) or three (everyone else); thereafter, each student must consult the text to develop appropriate behavior, voice, values, and so on for his or her character. At least two examples of every animal mentioned in the novel (i.e., pigs, not just Napoleon; horses, not just Boxer) should be included whenever possible in every exercise.

Students in class who are not part of the game become members of the Thought Police (question experts) and must “help” the teacher either by adjudicating answers among the active members of the game or by submitting written questions (on Animal Farm or Hobbes) to be asked as the game is in progress. Ideally, following a question initially posed by the teacher, the Thought Police would follow it up with an even tougher or more thought-provoking question. The goal here is gradually to add yet another layer to the game and get the members of the audience (the rest of the class) trying to stump or outwit the players.

Students giving correct answers are rewarded for their hard work and given one or more tokens. Tokens are to be divided as follows:

  • 1) upper classes (approx. 15 - 16٪ of class) get 50٪ of tokens;
  • 2) middle classes (approx. 20 - 21٪ of class) get 25٪ of tokens;
  • 3) lower classes (the rest) get the remainder.

Any animal with extra capital (tokens) may rent a “Free Space Rental” (by using his or her accumulated tokens) and so avoid answering one round of questions. Renters also may hire guards with their extra money to keep off trespassers or to raid other free spaces. Any action by the guards is done through questions only. That is, the guard may effect any action (protective or aggressive) by asking a question the guard's target cannot successfully answer. Any guard's question must supersede any question asked by the teacher.

The Bank will lend money (tokens) to any good credit risk, provided that the applicant shows “adequate” means of repayment. The Bank's representative may act as do Mr. Pilkington or Mr. Frederick.

Spontaneous demonstrations may be risked at any time whenever some members of a group (usually the Threes) believe that rational argument will not work. These demonstrations may be stopped by the ones through the use of their guards' questions. One demonstrator (only) is selected to suffer a Penalty: his or her tokens are removed and deposited in the bank for the benefit of the one whose guard asked the question. The demonstrator is then sent to the knackers (is out of the game) as an object lesson for all those who might consider flouting The Seven Commandments.

DEFINITIONS (HANDOUT FOR STUDENTS)

  1. Tokens are anything of local exchange value: candy bar bits, pennies, time segments, paper bits indicating work release, and so on. The total number of tokens amounts to three times the number of class members.
  2. A Character may be defined as any entity exhibiting one or more of the following:
    • a) mimetic—real or potential human-like attributes (eg, Boxer is hardworking);
    • b) thematic—attributes belonging to ideas, concepts, goals (Molly represents the selfishness of the Nobility);
    • c) synthetic—attributes belonging to the artifice of the story (Frederick and Pilkington are characters who set in motion the final corruption of the pigs).11
  3. The Point of View is the position from which either narrative voice speaks or focalizer sees.12
  4. Proper vocabulary should be used at all times. Students should be encouraged to employ only the vocabulary used in the book, from lectures, or in Hobbes when attempting to express concepts appropriate to Animal Farm's ideas and its characters.
  5. Key rules include no violence, touching, or loud verbal coercion. All players must follow The Seven Commandments, unless a powerful “ruler” changes the Commandments. Ideally, students will come to feel what it is like to belong to the 1) higher; 2: middle; or 3)lower orders. As Mr. Pilkington choked out: “If you [Pigs] have your lower animals to contend with, … we have our lower classes.”

ANIMAL FARM HEGEMONY

The following are the procedures [rules] the teacher recites to the students while distributing tokens:

  1. I want game players to clear a space in the middle of the room. After successfully answering a question, the student must then walk slowly with book in hand to the left from 1) Rebellion Place, to 2) Cowshed Corner, to 3) Manor Mansion, to 4) Jones's Livingroom (see Figure 1). Please, no one must move until after he or she has successfully answered the question I will ask of the group generally. After each successfully answered question, the respondent will get the token(s) appropriate to one's class—that is, assuming the Banker has not been corrupted and is willing to pay the Threes as quickly as she would the Ones. All animals must follow The Seven Commandments during disputes. The teacher by law must not interfere with the Animal Farm society; doing so would be in violation of the “prime directive.”
  2. Answers are judged correct by the teacher and the Thought Police; however, either may be overruled by a “popular vote” of those who point to evidence in either Animal Farm, in Leviathan, or in The Seven Commandments. Animals given specific character designations (Boxer, Snowball, and so on) must stay in character and answer as that character probably would do so. Each character is, however, free to invent a new attribute if doing so works to his or her advantage, but said attribute should be reasonably appropriate to that character.
  3. For each correct answer to the teacher's questions, Ones, if successful would get three (3) tokens; on the other hand, should a Two answer correctly, then he/she would get two (2) tokens; and Threes, if successful, would get one token. This “class” differential is built into our Animal Farm society to insure stability, social tranquility, and an orderly social fabric. The only way a member of the lower orders may receive a portion of tokens greater than that allotted to his class is by “proving” that the answer of a One was wrong. In such a case, the tokens go to the person who successfully corrects the One.
  4. Starting with Rebellion Place, a student will walk to the next area after successfully answering the question I have asked (for example, “Why did the Pigs bury the hams?”). One must answer by raising one's hand before another student raises his or hers. Of course, the Ones always go first, Twos go second, and Threes go last. Incorrect answers are penalized in reverse order from Procedure 2 above; that is, Ones lose one token, Twos lose two tokens, and Threes lose three tokens for each incorrect answer. After two incorrect answers, any individual “goes to the Knackers,” unless living in a protected “rental” space.
  5. Any “animal” with extra tokens may “bribe” another to answer for him or her. Any animal may dislodge another by paying the Bank more money for “rent,” and so may live in several rental spaces at once. One who owns a rental space need not answer a question while inside that space.
  6. The first animal to get around the circle once may then “let” spaces in the rental areas and “hire” guards (like “enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars”) to protect his or her investment. Such guards function only by asking questions which the target cannot answer correctly. A correct answer to a guard's question indicates that the target need not obey the guard that time.
  7. The first animal to “control” enough of the others may choose to rewrite any or all of The Seven Commandments; a “popular vote” decides passage of the new draft.
  8. The Game ends when all tokens are won, or by the end of one or two class periods.
  9. All disputes among students are to be settled by reference to the Seven Commandments or Animal Farm generally, or to the lecture on Hobbes. All animals vote on disputes; the majority “wins.”

Remember, in most societies, members “negotiate” for what they want, whether long or short term, by collectivizing, by argumentation, by persuasion, and by propaganda. One is limited only by one's imagination and by the (current) Seven Commandments.

FIGURE 1

All students are to begin by standing near Rebellion Place and respond in orderly fashion to the teacher's (or Thought Police's) questions according to Rule 4. After successfully answering a question, that student may move either to a Rental Space or the next numbered part of the farm. Movement is continuous to end of game.

                                                1. REBELLION PLACE
               RENTAL SPACE                    RENTAL SPACE
2. COWSHED CORNER        4. JONES'S LIVINGROOM
               RENTAL SPACE                    RENTAL SPACE
                                                3. MANOR MANSION

APPENDIX 1

Introduction (Lecture material covered before exercise begins; see explanation above): to be read aloud as students follow from handout. Students must have a copy of the material below for future consultation.

[from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, “Of the Natural Conditions of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery.” (Collier's Books, 1651; 1962)].

1. Nature hath made men [and women] … equal, in the faculties of the body, and the mind [so that] the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself. (98)

2. From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men [or women] desire the same thing, which they nevertheless cannot both enjoy, they become enemies, and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation … [they] endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.

3. [Hence, from this state of all against all] there is no way for a [person] to secure himself … [except] by force or wiles to master the persons of all men he can … till he see no other power great enough to endanger him. … Also there be some that [take] pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires.

4. So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel: 1) competition (or gain), 2) diffidence (or safety), 3) glory (or reputation)

5. Out of civil states, there is always war of every one against every one … wherein men [and women] live without other security, than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such a condition, there is no place for industry, … no culture of the earth, no navigation, no commodious building, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

6. In such a war, nothing is unjust … where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice.

7. The passions that incline men [and women] to peace: 1) fear of death; 2) desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; 3) reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace.

APPENDIX 2

Sample Questions—Animal Farm Hegemony.13

  1. Why do the characterizations of Boxer, Mollie, and Benjamin remain stable in these pages? (Analysis)
  2. Do you believe Squealer's explanation about the pigs and the apples? (Record)
  3. What might happen to Boxer if he doesn't learn how to read past the letter “H.” (Speculation)
  4. During the discussion leading up to the Battle of the Cowshed, Orwell seems to undercut his own fictional illusion by making the human beings circulate stories about the animals rebelling against the “laws of nature.” How does Orwell keep his human characters from destroying the fictional representation the author has already built up? (Analysis)
  5. Why is Boxer so upset at the thought of killing a human being? (Analysis)
  6. After the battle, why do all the animals sing, Beasts of England again? (Analysis)
  7. What aspect of the Russian revolution specifically and human nature generally does Molly and her behavior represent? (Generalization)
  8. After Molly disappears, where is she last seen, and what is she doing? (Report)
  9. Why is she allowing that to happen? (Analysis)
  10. Where did Molly get the ribbons and sugar cubes found by Clover? (Report)
  11. Why can't the animals make up their minds between the policies of Snowball and Napoleon? Which one is “right”? (Analysis)
  12. Is Snowball a “criminal”? If so, why did he fight so bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed? (Analysis)
  13. What does Napoleon do to Snowball's plans? (Report) Why does he do so? (Analysis)
  14. Of what larger issues is the hen's rebellion symptomatic? (Analysis)
  15. Is Napoleon right about his decision to sell the eggs to Whymper? (Analysis)
  16. Through whom does Napoleon issue most of his orders? (Report) Why? (Analysis)
  17. What is the last image of the “fairy story”? (Report) Why does Orwell end the work this way? (Analysis)

Notes

  1. In both works, Rosenblatt is straightforward in rejecting not only New Critical “objectivity,” but the equally undesirable polar opposite: locating the literary experience in near-complete subjectivity. As she says in The Reader, the “transactional theory expounded here repudiates recent efforts to make the reader all-important” (xiii, 4). In Literature, she is very explicit:

    Though a free, uninhibited emotional reaction to a work of art or literature is an absolutely necessary condition of sound literary judgment, it is not, to use the logician's term, a sufficient condition. Without a real impact between the book and the mind of the reader, there can be no process of judgment at all, but the honest recognition of one's own reaction is not in itself sufficient to insure sound critical opinion.

    (75)

    I would add to her sense of “real impact” the necessity of interactions among peers (other minds/readers) as well. The direction the game here takes is to begin with individual student response and then move to other, more literary and historical directions, by combining ideas from the text and the immediate student experiences with the game.

  2. Note that Vygotskian thinking emphasizes both inter- and intra-mental efforts at comprehending, in this instance, a literary text, whereas many reader-response critics focus primarily on the second (intra) element. Understanding this bias is important because the school of reader-response oriented criticism has come to dominate much of literary education in North America as did its predecessor, the (old) New Criticism.

  3. Sorenson and Lunde, for example, emphasize that “collaborative instruction calls forth … interpersonal skills such as active listening, questioning, explaining, paraphrasing, and summarizing” (23-24).

  4. See my basic explanatory essay on Animal Farm in “George Orwell.” For a sense of Orwell's thinking about allegorical fiction in his early writing, see my “Dance.”

  5. This sense of self-reflection is crucial for students to understand the real importance of the game. In the language of speech act theory, students become able, by virtue of playing the game, to distinguish “the propositional content [of the arguments in Animal Farm as well as those of their colleagues] from the illocutionary force of [their] assertion[s].”

  6. Honig says that the “allegorical waver” is

    [an oscillating movement continually held in balance between two levels of correspondence—one realistic, the other symbolic. … In contrast to analogical baiting, the allegorical waver serves to stabilize the allegory as a self-contained mystery. With all its meanings impacted in the narrative, the propriety of the story is such that by no extrinsic reference to logic, history, or dogma can one reach outside the story to reassure oneself as to what has taken place and what has been evoked inside of it. Rather, the matter of what the story means is one that exists solely between the reader and the story; the reader takes it as he will or can, making of it what is possible to him.

    (129)

  7. John Rodden has discussed the former Soviet Union's ambivalent response to Orwell during the last fifty years. During that time period, one Soviet critic, citing Orwell's preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, transforms Orwell's “exposing the Soviet myth” to a diagnosis of the “syndrome of present-day capitalism.” Rodden charts such manipulations and outright reversals of Orwell's ideas in Soviet literary publications—examples of modern day Squealer behavior in human form.

  8. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. N.Y.: Colliers, 1651/1962. Although I have focused on the Hobbesian reference early in the novel, one could, presumably, take almost any of the historical/political references in Animal Farm and use it in the game for its own effect. Another obvious choice is the information found in Arendt.

  9. Although Animal Farm Hegemony is meant to be a “walking” game somewhat analogous to Monopoly, one could, with a little improvisation, make it into a paper and pencil or board game. That might, however, take half the fun away from an exercise meant to get students up, and moving, and arguing. One influential study of this type of argumentation, combining rhetoric and social psychology, is Billig's.

  10. According to Nystrand and Gamoran (1991), the extent to which the students have control over classroom discourse decides the type of question: if the teacher asks test questions, the teacher already knows the answer, is looking for specific information, and will evaluate any answer accordingly. This type of question is contrasted to authentic questions where the teacher has no pre-specified answers in mind and the students know that they are not expected to respond in any pre-specified way. Finally, the teacher may also ask quasi-authentic questions, those whose answers have several components, allowing the student to answer according to his or her own organizational plan; a quasi-authentic question may be responded to by at least two correct answers. See also note 13.

  11. Mimetic, thematic, and synthetic concepts are taken from Phelan.

  12. Briefly, I explain to my students that the narrator speaks while the focalizer sees. In this, I am following the work of Gerard Genette and Mieke Bal as discussed in Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan.

  13. These questions were labeled according to their cognitive level, a scheme first discussed by the late James Britton and further developed by Nystrand and Gamoran.

    1. Record—a statement of the student's thinking at the moment. What is happening?

    2. Report—a statement of the student's past thinking, reading, or feeling. This is the most common type of response to a teacher's question in class. What happened?

    The next three cognitive levels are associated with authenticity—where the teacher asks questions to which answers are not preselected; although a question's authenticity does not necessarily determine its cognitive level, the following types of questions are regularly associated with higher order thinking, or the novel organization or application of prior knowledge.

    3. Generalization—the derivation or induction of a general concept from particulars. What happens when … ?

    4. Analysis—the determination of the nature and relationship of parts in a whole entailing two or more concepts. Why does it happen?

    5. Speculation—theoretical generalizing beyond mere classification by making such generalization the very topic of the discourse. What might happen?

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. New York: Harcourt, 1970.

Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts: Theory and Method for a Reading and Writing Course. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1986.

Billig, Michael. Arguing and Thinking. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.

Britton, James. The Development of Writing Abilities. London: Macmillan, 1975. 11-18.

Carpay, Jacques. In the Footsteps of Lev Semionovich Vigotsky: A Reader. Amsterdam: Free University, 1994.

Cone, Jean Kernan. “Appearing Acts: Creating Readers in a High School English Class.” Harvard Educational Review 64 (1994): 450-473.

Haroutunian-Gordon, Sophie. Turning the Soul: Teaching Through Conversation in High School. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991. 16-19.

Haste, Helen. “The Thinker as Arguer: An Interview with Michael Billig”. New Ideas in Psychology 12.2 (1994): 169-181.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. 1651. New York: Colliers, 1962.

Honig, Edwin. Dark Conceit: The Making of an Allegory. 1959. Hanover: UP of New England, 1982.

Karolides, Nicholas J., ed. Reader Response in the Classroom: Evoking and Interpreting Meaning in Literature. White Plains, NY: Langman, 1992.

Knapp, John V. “Classy Questions: Raising Student Achievement Through Authentic Discourse.” Illinois English Bulletin 78 (Winter 1991): 42-55.

———. George Orwell Vol. 5. Critical Survey of Long Fiction. 8 vols. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem, 1983. 2055-2064.

———. “Dance to a Creepy Minuet: Orwell's Burmese Days, Precursor to Animal Farm.Modern Fiction Studies 21.1 (1975): 11-29.

Kobayashi, Yashikazu. “Conceptual Acquisition and Change Through Social Interaction.” Human Development 37 (1994): 233-241.

Langer, Judith A. Literature Instruction: A Focus on Student Response. Urbana: N.C.T.E., 1992.

Nystrand, Martin and Adam Gamoran. “Instructional Discourse, Student Engagement, and Literature Achievement.” RTE 25.3 (1991): 261-290.

Olsen, David R. and Janet Wilde Astington. “Thinking About Thinking: Learning How To Take Statements and Hold Beliefs.” Educational Psychologist 28 (1993): 7-23.

Phelan, James. Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. London: Methuen, 1983.

Rosenblatt, Louise. Literature as Exploration. 1938. New York: Noble and Noble, 1976.

———. The Reader, The Text, The Poem. Carbondele: Southern Illinois UP, 1978.

Rodden, John. “Soviet Literary Policy, 1945-1989: The Case of George Orwell.” Modern Age 32.2 (1988): 131-139.

Schon, Donald. “Coaching Reflective Teaching.” Reflections in Teacher Education. Ed. Peter P. Grimmett, Gaalen L. Erickson. New York: Teachers College, 1988. 19-29.

Sorenson, R.C. and J.P. Lunde. “Self Rating of Students Engaged in Collaborative Learning.” NACTA Journal 37 (1993).

Vygotsky, Lev S. Mind in Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.

Robert Pearce (essay date February 1998)

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SOURCE: Pearce, Robert. “Orwell, Tolstoy, and Animal Farm.Review of English Studies 49, no. 193 (February 1998): 64-9.

[In the following essay, Pearce determines the influence of Tolstoy's What I Believe on Animal Farm.]

Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell are sometimes contrasted as two figures with totally opposite attitudes to life, the one an other-worldly believer and the other a this-worldly humanist. In a celebrated essay, published in 1947,1 Orwell defended Shakespeare's King Lear against the Russian's intemperate attack and, moreover, also criticized his whole outlook on life. Tolstoy, he wrote, was an imperious and egotistical bully, and he quoted his biographer Derrick Leon that he would frequently ‘slap the faces of those with whom he disagreed’.2 Orwell wrote that Tolstoy was incapable of either tolerance or humility; and he considered that his attack on the artistic integrity of Lear arose partly because it was too near the knuckle. Lear's ‘huge and gratuitous act of renunciation’ bore an uncomfortably close resemblance to Tolstoy's similarly foolish renunciation in old age of worldly wealth, sexuality, and other ties that bind us to ‘the surface of the earth—including love, in the ordinary sense of caring more for one human being than another’.3 But this, according to Orwell, was what love was all about, and he characterized Tolstoy—and other would-be saints like Gandhi—as forbiddingly inhuman in their attitudes.4 He himself cared strongly about ‘the surface of the earth’ and was with Shakespeare in his interest in the ‘actual process of life’. The main aim of the puritanical Tolstoy, Orwell believed, was ‘to narrow the range of human consciousness’,5 a process which he himself, in Nineteen Eighty-Four and other later writings, was struggling valiantly to counteract. It is very easy therefore to see the two men as polar opposites, in both their temperament and their artistic aims.

Yet this view is quite mistaken. Orwell's criticisms have sometimes been misunderstood; Orwell and Tolstoy had far more in common than is generally realized; and indeed the Russian influenced this peculiarly English writer in several important ways, not least in that—almost certainly—he furnished him with material for one of the most significant episodes in Animal Farm. The parallels between this book and Russian history are well known, but the debt owed to Tolstoy's What I Believe has never been acknowledged.

In his biography of Tolstoy, A. N. Wilson praises Orwell's image of Tolstoy-as-Lear but insists that this unforgettable depiction of ‘the reason’ for the attack on Lear is misleading because it distracts our attention from Tolstoy's more deep-seated motivation, which Wilson sees as an ‘unconscious envy’.6 But this is a misreading of Orwell's essay. The likeness between Tolstoy and Lear was, according to Orwell, only one reason for the diatribe against Shakespeare; and towards the end of his essay he pointed to another source of inspiration, the rivalry which the great Russian novelist felt towards perhaps his only rival in world literature.7 Elsewhere, Orwell referred directly to Tolstoy's jealousy of Shakespeare.8 Wilson has therefore stolen Orwell's clothes. Indeed too often Orwell's views on Tolstoy have been treated superficially. In fact he felt tremendous admiration for Tolstoy, and his 1947 attack was unrestrained only because he had found an ‘opponent’ worthy of his mettle. Hence it was, in many ways, a sign of respect. In a broadcast in 1941, he insisted that if ‘so great a man as Tolstoy’ could not destroy Shakespeare's reputation, then surely no one else could.9

Orwell read War and Peace several times, first when he was about 20. His sole quarrel with the book, despite its three stout volumes, was that it did not go on long enough. Its characters, he later recalled, ‘were people about whom one would gladly go on reading for ever’.10 He judged that Tolstoy's creations had international appeal and that therefore one could hold imaginary conversations with figures like Pierre Bezukhov. Such men and women seemed to be engaged in the process of making their souls, and therefore Tolstoy's grasp was ‘so much larger than Dickens's’.11 This was high praise indeed, and even when criticizing Tolstoy's attack on Shakespeare he paid a passing tribute to War and Peace and Anna Karenina.12 Nor was Orwell familiar only with these classics. He also read The Cossacks, Sebastopol, and other works, including the later short stories, written with parable-like simplicity. Indeed, such was his regard for Tolstoy that he went to considerable trouble to read several of his more obscure works. He even judged that Tolstoy would still be a remarkable man if he had written nothing except his polemical pamphlets, for no one could read him and still feel quite the same about life.13

There is no evidence that Orwell read all of Tolstoy's translated writings. We do not know, for instance, whether he read a compendium of Tolstoy's religious writings translated by Aylmer Maude and published by Oxford University Press in 1940 as A Confession: The Gospel in Brief and What I Believe. Certainly there was no copy among Orwell's books at his death. Yet this is the book which, I wish to argue, influenced Animal Farm. It may be that Orwell came to it second-hand, by the extracts quoted in Derrick Leon's biography of Tolstoy, which Orwell read on publication early in 1944, referred to in his ‘As I Please’ column in Tribune and reviewed for the Observer, describing it as ‘an outstanding book’.14 He was reading it just as he was working hard to complete Animal Farm.

Everyone is familiar with the parallels between Russian history and the plot of Animal Farm. Perhaps indeed we are over-familiar with them, for the details of the book had a wider totalitarian relevance than to any one country, and Orwell borrowed from Italian history (‘Mussolini is always right’) and from German, as well as from Russian. But there is one issue in the book for which there seems no real-life equivalent: this is the rewriting of the original revolutionary aims, the principles of Animalism. Admittedly revolutionary idealism in Russia and elsewher was betrayed and perverted, but there was no outward repudiation of Marxist rhetoric. Although Stalin ignored such theory in his actions and imposed his will by force of arms and propaganda, he never ceased to pay lip-service to the original ideals. Even when he was arraigning the Old Bolsheviks in the Show Trials of the 1930s, he was at pains to assert that it was they—not he—who had sinned against the holy writ of Marxist-Leninist ideology. So what inspired Orwell's brilliant and hard-hitting reformulations?

First, we must look at the precise ways in which the Commandments of the first chapter of Animal Farm were perverted in the course of the book. ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed’ became ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets’. ‘No animal shall drink alcohol’ changed into ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess’. ‘No animal shall kill any other animal’ became ‘No animal shall kill another animal without cause’. Most famously of all, ‘All animals are equal’ became ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’. In short, each commandment received a coda, a reservation which effectively reversed its meaning.

There is no parallel to this in Russian political history. But Leo Tolstoy had observed a very similar perversion, in Russian religious history, as Leon recounts in his biography. What Tolstoy considered the essential precepts of the Sermon on the Mount had become almost their opposites in the mouths of Russian Orthodox clerics. The original ‘Do not be angry’ had become ‘Do not be angry without a cause’.15 The phrase ‘without a cause’ was, to Tolstoy, the key to an understanding of the perversion of scripture. Of course everyone who is angry justifies himself with a cause, however trivial or unjust, and therefore he guessed, correctly as he soon found, that the words were a later interpolation designed to devalue the original injunction. Similarly the instructions not to promise anything on oath, not to resist evil by violence, and not to judge or go to law had all been overturned, and had become their opposites, when the church had sought accommodation with the civil power.

Orwell's reading of the extracts from Tolstoy in Leon's biography, as detailed above, may well have inspired his rewriting of the principles of Animalism. This, of course, is not to denigrate Orwell's achievement. It was he who had, first, to see the appositeness to his own work of the banal—but contextually brilliant—‘without a cause’ and, then, to invent similar reservations. But it is to insist that the provenance of the details of Animal Farm is far wider than the painful period of history through which Orwell lived. It is also to contend that Tolstoy was an important influence on Orwell.

Although this may be considered more speculative, it is quite possible that Orwell actually read the original Tolstoy, either before Leon's book was published or as a result of seeing its brief extracts. We do know that Orwell was prepared to search ‘all over London’ to track down a Tolstoyan quarry;16 and as a bibliophile he was always well aware of new material being published, even in the dark days of 1940. The fact that, for effect, Orwell italicized his codas as did Tolstoy, though Leon's quotations were all in roman script,17 is added evidence for this. If he did consult the original translation by Aylmer Maude, Orwell would have found other neat reformulations by Tolstoy which may well have influenced his own. To say ‘do not be angry without a cause’, Tolstoy decided, was like urging someone to ‘Love the neighbour whom thou approvest of’.18 He also drew attention to the 1864 edition of the Catechism which, after quoting each of the Ten Commandments, then gave ‘a reservation which cancelled it’. For instance, the commandment to honour one God had an addendum to the effect that we should also honour the angels and saints, ‘besides, of course, the Mother of God and the three persons of the Trinity’. The second commandment, not to make idols, was perverted into an injunction to make obeisance before icons; the third, not to take oaths, became a demand to swear when called upon to do so by the legal authorities. The command to honour one's mother and father degenerated into a call to honour also the Tsar, the ministers of the church, and all those in authority—specified on three long pages! ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was interpreted ingeniously. One should not kill ‘except in the fulfilment of one's duties’.19

The similarity between the methods employed in the relevant passages of Tolstoy and Orwell is astonishing. The most obvious way of accounting for this is by direct influence. There are indeed other indications that Orwell's reading and rereading of Tolstoy left its mark on his work. May not the character of Boxer in Animal Farm have been influenced by the long-suffering talking horse who was carried off to the knacker at the end of Tolstoy's short story ‘Strider: The Story of a Horse’? Orwell's concept of Doublethink may also have owed something to a superb example from Vronsky's code of principles, in Anna Karenina, ‘that one must pay a cardsharper, but need not pay a tailor; that one must never tell a lie to a man, but one may to a woman; that one must never cheat anyone, but one may a husband; that one must never pardon an insult, but may give one, and so on’. The arresting opening of Homage to Catalonia may also owe a debt to Tolstoy. Orwell took an ‘immediate liking’ to an unnamed, tough-looking Italian, whose face somehow deeply moved him. This episode, whose authenticity historians must doubt, bears a close resemblance to the passage in War and Peace where Pierre and Davôut gaze at each other and, in so doing, see each other's essential humanity. Similarly the execution, in the same book, contains details resembling those Orwell included in ‘A Hanging’. Orwell's Burmese prisoner steps aside to avoid a puddle, despite the fact that he will soon be dead. In the same way, Tolstoy's Russian prisoner adjusts the uncomfortable knot of his blindfold just before the execution squad put an end to his life. Finally, Tolstoy is undoubtedly relevant to the nightmare world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Russian wondered when the priests would understand ‘that even in the face of death, two and two still make four’;20 Orwell knew that some priests would never admit any such thing and that, after Room 101, even Winston Smith might accept that ‘2 + 2 = 5’.21

Of course it may be merely a coincidence—or a series of coincidences—that Orwell's rewriting of the Seven Commandments bears such a strong resemblance to Tolstoy's exposure of the perversion of the Ten Commandments, and that there are, in addition, other parallels in their writings which seem best explained by direct, if perhaps unconscious, influence. But if so, then this is good evidence that the two men had far more in common than anyone has ever pointed out. Certainly their self-presentations were similar. Tolstoy once called himself ‘a quite enfeebled, good-for-nothing parasite, who can only exist under the most exceptional conditions found only when thousands of people labour to support a life that is of no value to anyone’.22 Orwell did not go quite as far as that; but he was the British equivalent. ‘I am a degenerate modern semi-intellectual who would die if I did not get my early morning cup of tea and my New Statesman every Friday.’23 On the surface, the two men seem so different, but the fact is that there were many similarities between them.24 (Who realizes, without looking up the dates, that their deaths were separated by only forty years?) Orwell may have castigated Tolstoy as other-worldly, but both men seemed essentially puritanical to others. Whereas the one insisted on making his own shoes, the other would try to make his own furniture, and both went to considerable pains to grow their own food. Each was an enemy of the machine age. Both were dedicated writers, both moralists and humanitarians, and both polemicists. After writing discursive books early in their careers, each of them was an ‘engaged’ writer later in life. They needed a mission, or purpose, in life and shared the opinion that man could not live by hedonism alone. In addition, they berated mere intellectuals. Neither would passively accept what he was told: each had to work ideas out for himself, displaying great intellectual self-confidence—and considerable unorthodoxy—in the process. Should we compare them as religious thinkers? Certainly there are religious aspects to Orwell's thought.25 Should we, as George Woodcock argues, even compare Orwell's repudiation of his education and his quitting of his career in the imperial civil service with Tolstoy's renunciations,26 or his migration to Jura with Tolstoy's flight from Yasnaya Polyana to Astapovo? If so, then Orwell's criticisms of Tolstoy in 1947 were similar to Tolstoy's of Shakespeare in 1906, in that both were motivated by ‘a half-recognized similarity’.27 Obviously such comparisons may be pushed too far. What does seem clear, however, is that the connections between these two figures are worth recognizing, and also worth further study.

Notes

  1. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (hereafter CEJL) (Harmondsworth, 1970), iv. 331-48: ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’.

  2. Ibid. 339.

  3. Ibid. 339, 344.

  4. Ibid. 527.

  5. Ibid. 338; ibid. i. 28.

  6. A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy (London, 1988), 480.

  7. CEJL iv. 347: ‘The more pleasure people took in Shakespeare, the less they would listen to Tolstoy.’

  8. Ibid. ii. 154.

  9. Ibid. 157.

  10. Ibid. iii. 129.

  11. Ibid. i. 500.

  12. Ibid. iv. 348.

  13. CEJL ii. 156, 223; Observer, 26 Mar. 1944.

  14. Ibid. iii. 129; Observer, 26 Mar. 1944: I am grateful to Professor Peter Davison for providing me with a photocopy of Orwell's review.

  15. D. Leon, Tolstoy: His Life and Work (London, 1944), 200.

  16. CEJL ii. 156.

  17. Leon, Tolstoy, 199-200; Leo Tolstoy, A Confession: The Gospel in Brief and What I Believe (Oxford, 1940), 372.

  18. Tolstoy, Confession, 373.

  19. Tolstoy, Confession, 496-7.

  20. For these and other parallels, see my editions of The Sayings of George Orwell (London, 1994) and The Sayings of Leo Tolstoy (London, 1995).

  21. P. Davison, George Orwell, A Literary Life (London, 1996), 134.

  22. Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?, trans. A. Maude (Oxford, 1935), p. xvi.

  23. George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth, 1962), 184.

  24. R. Rees, George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (London, 1961), 114: ‘It seems to me that Orwell was a good deal nearer to the other-worldly Tolstoy and Gandhi and a good deal further from the average humanistic progressive than he himself was prepared to recognise.’

  25. For interesting comments on this issue, see S. Ingle, George Orwell: A Political Life (Manchester, 1993), 21-35, 108-11.

  26. G. Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit (London, 1967), 242.

  27. Ibid.

Christopher Hollis (essay date 1998)

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SOURCE: Hollis, Christopher. “Animal Farm Is a Successful Animal Fable.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 43-9. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1956, Hollis regards Animal Farm as a successful animal fable.]

Whatever the advantages or disadvantages of the German invasion of Russia, at least it saved Britain from the risk of immediate invasion and defeat, and thus such a man as Orwell, who was alarmed at the ultimate consequences of the Russian alliance, was able to live his life under a lesser strain in the last years of the war than in the first. He was able to give his mind once more to creative writing. Yet the problem what to write was not simple. The crying need to his mind was to arouse public opinion to the dangers of the Russian alliance. Yet the mood of the country at the time when Stalingrad was being defended was not such that it would tolerate a straightforward and bitter attack on Russia—the kind of attack which he had already launched in his essay in the composite volume, the Betrayal of the Left, which he had published in 1941, when of course public opinion in Britain was willing to tolerate it because Russia was still bound in hostility to us by the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Now direction could only be found out by indirection. The consequence, immediately and apparently inconvenient to Orwell as a writer, turned out in the event to be brilliantly fortunate. For it caused Orwell to make his point by the indirect, roundabout, whimsical road of an animal fairy-story and thus led him to experiment with a new form of writing of which he proved himself magnificently the master. Whereas his previous books had never had more than small and struggling sales, Animal Farm at once caught the public fancy in almost every country of the world—particularly in the United States—was translated into every one of the leading languages, established him as one of the best-selling authors of the day and incidentally gave him for the first time in life a tolerable income. …

THE FABLE'S MEANING

The interpretation of the fable is plain enough. Major, Napoleon, Snowball—Lenin, Stalin and Trotzky—Pilkington and Frederick, the two groups of non-Communist powers—the Marxian thesis, as expounded by Major, that society is divided into exploiters and exploited and that all the exploited need to do is to rise up, to expel the exploiters and seize the ‘surplus value’ which the exploiters have previously annexed to themselves—the Actonian thesis that power corrupts and the Burnhamian thesis that the leaders of the exploited, having used the rhetoric of equality to get rid of the old exploiters, establish in their place not a classless society but themselves as a new governing class—the greed and unprincipled opportunism of the non-Communist states, which are ready enough to overthrow the Communists by force so long as they imagine that their overthrow will be easy but begin to talk of peace when they find the task difficult and when they think that they can use the Communists to satisfy their greed—the dishonour among total thugs, as a result of which, though greed may make original ideology irrelevant, turning pigs into men and men into pigs, the thugs fall out among themselves, as the Nazis and the Communists fell out, not through difference of ideology but because in a society of utter baseness and insincerity there is no motive of confidence. The interpretation is so plain that no serious critic can dispute it. Those Russian critics who have professed to see in it merely a general satire on bureaucracy without any special reference to any particular country can hardly be taken seriously.

Yet even a total acceptance of Orwell's political opinions would not in itself make Animal Farm a great work of art. The world is full of animal fables in which this or that country is symbolized by this or that animal, and very tedious affairs the greater number of them are—and that, irrespective of whether we agree or disagree with their opinions. To be a great book, a book of animal fables requires literary greatness as well as a good cause. Such greatness Animal Farm surely possesses. As Orwell fairly claimed, Animal Farm ‘was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’—and he succeeded.

The problems that are set by this peculiar form of art, which makes animals behave like human beings, are clear. The writer must throughout be successful in preserving a delicate and whimsical balance. As Johnson truly says in his criticism of Dryden's Hind and the Panther, there is an initial absurdity in making animals discuss complicated intellectual problems—the nature of the Church's authority in Dryden's case, the communist ideology in Orwell's. The absurdity can only be saved from ridicule if the author is able to couch his argument in very simple terms and to draw his illustrations from the facts of animal life. In this Orwell is as successful as he could be—a great deal more successful incidentally than Dryden, who in the excitement of the argument often forgets that it is animals who are supposed to be putting it forward. The practical difficulties of the conceit must either be ignored or apparently solved in some simple and striking—if possible, amusing—fashion. Since obviously they could not in reality be solved at all, the author merely makes himself ridiculous if he allows himself to get bogged down in tedious and detailed explanations which at the end of all cannot in the nature of things explain anything. Thus Orwell is quite right merely to ignore the difficulties of language, to assume that the animals can communicate with one another by speech—or to assume that the new ordinance which forbids any animal to take another animal's life could be applied with only the comparatively mild consequence of gradual increase in animal population. He is justified in telling us the stories of the two attacks by men for the recapture of the Farm but in refusing to spoil his story by allowing the men to take the full measures which obviously men would take if they found themselves in such an impossible situation. The means by which the animals rout the men are inevitably signally unconvincing if we are to consider them seriously at all. It would as obviously be ridiculous to delay for pages to describe how animals build windmills or how they write up commandments on a wall. It heightens the comedy to give a passing sentence of description to their hauling the stone up a hill so that it may be broken into manageable fractions when it falls over the precipice, or to Squealer, climbing a ladder to paint up his message.

THE ANIMAL FABLE MUST BE LIGHT-HEARTED

The animal fable, if it is to succeed at all, ought clearly to carry with it a gay and light-hearted message. It must be full of comedy and laughter. The form is too far removed from reality to tolerate sustained bitterness. Both Chaucer and La Fontaine discovered this in their times, and the trouble with Orwell was that the lesson which he wished to teach was not ultimately a gay lesson. It was not the lesson that mankind had its foibles and its follies but that all would be well in the end. It was more nearly a lesson of despair—the lesson that anarchy was intolerable, that mankind could not be ruled without entrusting power somewhere or other and, to whomsoever power was entrusted, it was almost certain to be abused. For power was itself corrupting. But it was Orwell's twisted triumph that in the relief of the months immediately after the war mankind was probably not prepared to take such dark medicine if it had been offered to it undiluted. It accepted it because it came in this gay and coloured and fanciful form.

The film version gives to Animal Farm a happy ending. The animals all the world over, hearing how Napoleon has betrayed the animal cause, rise up against him at the end and in a second revolution expel him. After this second revolution, we are left to believe, a rule of freedom and equality is established and survives. But of course this ending makes nonsense of the whole thesis. It was the Orwellian thesis, right or wrong, that power inevitably corrupts and that revolutions therefore inevitably fail of their purpose. The new masters are necessarily corrupted by their new power. The second revolution would necessarily have failed of its purpose just as the first had failed. It would merely have set up a second vicious circle.

Animal Farm possesses two essential qualities of a successful animal fable. On the one hand the author of such a fable must have the Swift-like capacity of ascribing with solemn face to the animals idiotic but easily recognized human qualities, decking them out in aptly changed phraseology to suit the animal life—ascribe the quality and then pass quickly on before the reader has begun to find the point overlaboured. This Orwell has to perfection. Thus:

Snowball also busied himself with organizing the other animals into what he called Animal Committees. He was indefatigable at this. He formed the Egg Production Committee for the hens, the Clean Tails League for the cows, the Wild Comrades' Re-education Committee (the object of which was to tame the cats and rabbits), the Whiter Wool Movement for the sheep, and various others, besides instituting classes in reading and writing. On the whole these projects were a failure. The attempt to tame the wild creatures, for instance, broke down almost immediately. They continued to behave very much as before and, when treated with generosity, simply took advantage of it. The cat joined the Re-education Committee and was very active in it for some days. She was seen one day sitting on a roof talking to some sparrows who were just out of reach. She was telling them that all animals were now comrades and that any sparrow who chose could come and perch on her paw; but the sparrows kept their distance.

Or:

When the laws of Animal Farm were first formulated, the retiring age had been fixed for horses and pigs at twelve, for cows at fourteen, for dogs at nine, for sheep at seven and for hens and geese at five. Liberal old-age pensions had been agreed upon. As yet no animal had actually retired on a pension, but of late the subject had been discussed more and more. Now that the small field beyond the orchard had been set aside for barley, it was rumoured that a corner of the large pasture was to be fenced off and turned into a grazing-ground for superannuated animals. For a horse, it was said, the pension would be five pounds of corn a day and, in winter, fifteen pounds of hay, with a carrot or possibly an apple on public holidays.

LOVE OF ANIMALS

But what is also essential—and this is often overlooked—is that the writer should have himself a genuine love of animals—should be able to create here and there, in the midst of all his absurdity, scenes of animal life, in themselves realistic and lovable. In that Chaucer, the first and greatest of Orwell's masters in this form of art, pre-eminently excelled. It was in that that Orwell himself excelled. He had always been himself a lover of animals, intimate with their ways. ‘Most of the good memories of my childhood, and up to the age of about twenty,’ he wrote in Such, Such were the Joys, ‘are in some way connected with animals’, and it was the work with animals which attracted him in maturer years to agricultural life. There is a real poetic quality, mixed whimsically in with absurdity, in his picture of the first meeting of the animals in the barn with which the book opens.

Spencer Brown (essay date 1998)

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SOURCE: Brown, Spencer. “Mealymouthed Critics Ignore Animal Farm's Anticommunist Flavor.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 70-81. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1955, Brown contends that Animal Farm is one of the best anticommunist books ever written and was written specifically about the communist government in the Soviet Union.]

Published in 1946, George Orwell's Animal Farm remains to this day, in my opinion, the best of anti-Communist books. If we had to do without all the others, fine as some of them are—Koestler, Dallin, Silone, Borkenau, Serge, and the rest—and were left with Orwell alone, we could still get by. For no other writer has shown us so clearly the worst tragedy of our age, worse in one respect at least than the crimes of the Nazis, for the Soviet tyranny combines with its terror the utter perversion of man's highest ideals.

The story is a detailed parallel with the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, from 1917 to 1945. The drunken farmer Jones flees from his mistreated and aroused animals, who, following the teachings of the late boar Major, set up an egalitarian commonwealth and attempt to run the farm by and for themselves. Few of them, unfortunately, are intelligent enough to do anything but heavy labor, and the direction of things gradually devolves upon the pigs, who lead a successful defense against Jones's armed intervention. A struggle for power develops between the two leading pigs, Napoleon (Stalin) and Snowball (Trotsky). Napoleon, by means of his Chekist (GPU, NKVD, MVD) dogs, exiles Snowball, seizes absolute power, and sets about building a windmill (the Dnieper Dam, symbol of Russia's industrialization) originally planned by Snowball.

The hardest work is done by the horse Boxer, who represents the long suffering, toiling, loyal Russian people. Because of faulty construction, the windmill collapses and, when rebuilt, is again destroyed by a neighboring farmer, Frederick (Hitler), who attacks Animal Farm shortly after swindling Napoleon in a timber deal. Frederick's men are at last routed, at terrible cost. Wounded in the war but still working to rebuild the mill, the superannuated Boxer is sent to the Knacker's to be boiled down for glue. Napoleon has by this time revised all the egalitarian principles of Animalism, originally enunciated by Major and codified by Snowball, to read: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Having assumed human vices, Napoleon gives a banquet for another neighbor, Pilkington (the English ruling classes), at which they drink each other's health colossally and cheat each other in a card game. The bewildered animal slaves, watching from outside the windows, can no longer tell which is man and which is pig.

PARALLELS TO THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION

The parallels with the Russian Revolution are three and four to the page. Indeed, some critics wholly friendly to Orwell and his anti-Communism find this plain, point-by-point historical correspondence an artistic defect. I cannot agree. I find Animal Farm a tour de force, but one of such extraordinary ease and realism in every phrase and incident that it is a masterpiece apart from the satire, and also a masterpiece of satire in which moral purity and breadth of human sympathy are combined with crushing wit.

At the center of Animal Farm is Orwell's sadness, and our sadness, as the hope of our century transforms itself before our eyes into total evil:

Never had the farm—and with a kind of surprise they remembered that it was their own farm, every inch of it their own property—appeared to the animals so desirable a place. As Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears. If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major's speech. Instead—she did not know why—they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing shocking crimes.

This is George Orwell at his best, and our century at its best. Being unable to make a wreath of my own, I lay his wreath on his grave.

Now Animal Farm has been made into a full-length cartoon film by the English husband-and-wife team of John Halas and Joy Batchelor. Released by Louis de Rochemont Associates, it opened at the Paris Theater in New York on December 29. And thereby hangs more of a tale than the hopes and disappointments of animals.

Much of the satire of Orwell's novel—or for that matter of such similar works as Gulliver's Travels and Penguin Island—must remain inaccessible to this or any film. The wry, laconic understatement, the backlash of wit, can be selected from but not rendered entire, for the pace of the motion picture is incomparably slower than that of prose fiction. Nevertheless the film has many merits, stemming chiefly from Orwell's ingenuity in incident and his marvelous knack of securing the suspension of disbelief by sympathetic and detailed realism.

It has certain defects, too, worst among which is the animators' revision of the ending: the sorrow of Orwell's animals is unrelieved, intensified finally by the realization that their revolution and suffering have been in vain, that their pig-exploiters are no different, even in appearance, from Mr. Pilkington. In the Halas-Batchelor film, however, it is not human exploiters who attend Napoleon's orgy, but other pig-bureaucrats from pig satrapies elsewhere. They all get drunk, the animals of the world unite in revolt and converge on Animal Farm, Napoleon whistles to his dogs for help, but they too are sodden in liquor and unable to prevent the overthrow of the tyrant. 'Tis the final conflict—a truly Trotskyite touch, but notably out of keeping with Orwell's melancholy view of world politics.

Another detail that might be objected to is the excessive prettying up of the animals' toil. When they are getting in the harvest and when Boxer prances as he pulls stone for the windmill, one almost expects the Seven Dwarfs to pop round the barn, singing “Hi-Ho” and pitching in with right good will. The temptation to Disneyize must have been irresistible, but Disney is not Orwell.

Yet with its flaws, the film has not seriously damaged Orwell and may have the merit of bringing his satire to those who do not know the novel. In the promotion of the film, however, and in the response of the critics, something happened that is worthy of note.

MEALYMOUTHED MARKETERS

What, according to critics and advertisers, is Orwell's anti-Communist classic Animal Farm?

It is, says Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, “a pretty brutal demonstration of the vicious cycle of tyranny”; it presents “the leaders of the new Power State as pigs” and conveys “a sense of the monstrous hypocrisy of the totalitarian leader type.” In a lengthy review, Mr. Crowther never comes closer than this to mentioning Russia.

It is, says Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., in the Herald Tribune, “a political parable satirizing the various isms in a story about animals taking over a farm and founding their own society. … It tells how an animals' revolution is converted into a pigs' Fascism with the passage of time and the corruption of democratic ideals.”

“The main point about Animal Farm,” says Archer Winsten in the New York Post, “is that it has something to say about dictatorships, democracy, and the conflicts between those who toil and those who rule. It says this without pulling punches.” It is “intelligence week” at the Paris Theater, says Mr. Winsten, providing “egghead ecstasy.” For the program also includes an old March of Time [newsreel] on Huey Long and is “of extraordinary, inter-related quality.” …

Even in the Daily News, where one might expect something else, Wanda Hale writes, truly but vaguely: “Like Orwell's fable, the film is a vitriolic satire on dictatorship, uncomfortably realistic in the comparison of man to the lower form of animal and a frightening example of the oppressed masses under tyrannical rulers drunk with power.” She does not mention Russia.

In the Herald Tribune's advance story on the making of the film, we learn that “In Animal Farm Orwell was satirizing the Dictator State in terms of Animals vs. Man. … The parable follows close to the history of twentieth-century totalitarianism.”

As late as January 16, Mr. Crowther wrote in the Sunday Times: “These two highly facile young artists have converted the Orwell parody of a totalitarian political system into a clever and sardonic cartoon that is touched with bits of tearful pathos and barbed with trenchant points of caricature. …”

Still no word about Russia.

The promotion of the film had been in the same general vein. In a publicity handout before the opening, Irving Drutman, of Louis de Rochemont Associates, says: “Orwell's world-renowned satirical fable, which lampoons the modern Power State, deals with the revolt against the tyrannical Farmer Brown [sic]. … The parable ironically parallels the history of the 20th century.” …

TRUTH OF THE SATIRE IS WHITEWASHED

All this is embarrassing to me, since as a teacher I have for some years been recommending Animal Farm to my students. Frequently one of them reports in class on the novel, usually with enthusiasm, for the story of the animals who in their inept innocence try to solve problems that the human race has failed to solve is both humorously and deeply pathetic. All the students except those completely ignorant of modern history recognize that the story parallels the Russian Revolution. Without assistance they identify Napoleon as Stalin, Jones as the Czar, and Frederick as Hitler; if they have ever heard of Trotsky, they recognize him at once as Snowball. Other niceties of Orwell's satire, such as the changes of line, the ban on singing the “Internationale,” the rewritings of history, are spotted only by the sophisticated. In all these years, no student has yet come up with the notion that the fable is about either the Nazis or Senator McCarthy (of whom they have heard).

Fortunately, if any of my students should ever reproach me for having misled them on the meaning of Animal Farm, there will be one or two authorities to whom I can appeal. Delmore Schwartz, in the New Republic, does say quite clearly that Animal Farm is about Russia, though he thinks the film frequently clumsy and generally unsatisfactory. Time's reviewer, too, had by January 17 either heard what was happening or figured the thing out for himself, for he discusses “George Orwell's political fable, the famous animallegory about Communism.” Rose Pelswick, in the Journal-American of December 30, begins her review with: “Based on the powerful anti-Communist fable of George Orwell, the picture is an interesting adaptation. …” And Alton Cook, in the World-Telegram and Sun, says: “If you were attentive to your homework on the book pages back in 1946, you will recall that the novel was a biting satire on the rise of the Communist dictatorship. Animals revolted against their farmer owner and events paralleled the course of the Russian Revolution.” Mr. Cook concludes: “The Communists never had it so rough.”

It is interesting that three out of these four reviews appeared in “right-wing” publications. Has truth become a luxury no longer available to liberals? …

A middle course was taken when it came to Louis Berg, of This Week. Back in August 1953, Mr. Berg wrote a piece on Animal Farm. It was illustrated with drawings from the film-in-progress, including a marvelous sketch (unfortunately omitted from the finished film) of the Politburo Pigs on the reviewing stand watching their animal slaves march past. Mr. Berg called Animal Farm a “devastating satire on Russian Communism,” and commended the forthcoming film as a faithful adaptation of the book. Mr. Berg's piece was called “The Fable That Rocked the Kremlin.” But the early ads for the film, for example in the Times for December 31, read: “‘A devastating satire—an important film!’ (Berg, This Week Magazine).”

As a matter of fact, the publication and advertising history of the novel Animal Farm in this country might have prepared us for the kind of promotion by selective quotation that has been given to the film.

Before its acceptance by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Animal Farm was turned down by eighteen or twenty American publishers—notable among them Little, Brown and Company, whose then editor, Angus Cameron, wielded his hatchet on many an anti-Communist book while pushing Howard Fast and Albert E. Kahn. (Equally notable, perhaps, is the publisher who turned it down because “there's no market for animal stories.”) When Harcourt, Brace at last published the book, the advertising material on the dust-jacket did not mention Russia or Communism, but proclaimed, instead: “About this little book there is the same kind of reality one concedes to Alice in Wonderland.” The author of that sentence is like Homer in one way—in being unable to read.

Of course, one might say, that was in 1946 when we were still in the afterglow of the wartime alliance with Russia and there might still have been a Communist under a bed here and there. However, as it happened, even at that time some of the literary critics were not so nervous as the publishers. Animal Farm was a Book of the Month Club selection in August 1946. Harry Scherman, president of the Club, made an almost unprecedented appeal to members not to make use of their substitution privilege that month, and commended to their attention the review by Christopher Morley in the same issue of the Club's News. Mr. Morley's review begins: “In a narrative so plain that a child will enjoy it, yet with double meanings as cruel and comic as any great cartoon, George Orwell presents a parable that may rank as one of the great political satires of our anxious time. … It is plain enough that the satire is explicitly turned on Russian Communism, yet I also wish that the reader might see in it a parable even larger than that.”

The point was made more fully by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who in the Times book section for August 25, 1946, concluded his acute and admiring review thus: “Appreciation of the precision and bite of the satire increases with knowledge of the events in Russia. The steadiness and lucidity of Orwell's merciless wit are reminiscent of Anatole France and even of Swift. The exact and deadpan transposition of the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, the fight over industrialization, the Moscow trials, the diplomatic shenanigans with Britain and Germany, the NKVD, the resurrection of the state church, and so on, will be a continuing delight to anyone familiar with recent Soviet developments. The story should be read in particular by liberals who still cannot understand how Soviet performance has fallen so far behind Communist professions. Animal Farm is a wise, compassionate and illuminating fable for our times.”

Now it is 1955, when all America has had the disillusioning lessons of ten years of postwar experience with the Soviet rulers, and when domestic Communist influence, we understand, no longer exists. So how account for the fact that, when Harcourt, Brace now decides to reissue Animal Farm to accompany the film, Mr. Morley and Mr. Schlesinger are quoted on the dust-jacket in curiously adapted versions? On the front cover is the quotation from Christopher Morley: “A parable that may rank as one of the great political satires of our anxious time.” Inside the cover is a long quotation from Mr. Scherman, fortunately innocuous but demonstrating that space was not lacking, and the same quotation from Mr. Morley. Then this from Mr. Schlesinger: “A wise, compassionate and illuminating fable for our times. … The steadiness and lucidity of Orwell's merciless wit are reminiscent of Anatole France and even of Swift.”

This, too, has some of the “reality one concedes to Alice in Wonderland.

UNMENTIONING RUSSIA

Am I only trying to stir up a tempest in a samovar? After all, you may ask, what's the harm if the critics see Animal Farm as a “universal” satire on all tyrannies everywhere? Anyway, isn't it obvious that the satire applies to Russia? Why labor the obvious?

Well, it is not, as it happens, a “universal” satire. No doubt Animal Farm has “universal” implications. So does Swift's A Modest Proposal. But A Modest Proposal is about British oppression of the Irish peasantry, and Animal Farm is about the Bolshevik betrayal of the people of Russia. Do we add to our sense of the “universal” by omitting these facts? If so, then perhaps we might enrich our sense of American history by forgetting the issues involved in the Civil War, omitting the names of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, and remembering only that the war was an example of the eternal aggressiveness of the human spirit.

Can the parable of Animal Farm be applied equally to all forms of totalitarianism? My “reinterpretation” of this fable as it would apply to Nazi Germany should, I think, stand as a sufficient answer. Those who unmention Russia are asking us to believe that so sophisticated an anti-Communist as George Orwell wrote a book in which by mere accident every event and every character can be shown to correspond exactly to some fact, general or particular, of Soviet history. Moreover, it is clear that the demagogy in Animal Farm can only be the demagogy of a dictatorship whose origin was egalitarian and pacifist socialism: Comrade Napoleon—when was it ever Comrade Hitler or Comrade Mussolini? The Nazis and Fascists specifically condemned equality and socialism and denounced democracy as corrupt. Only the Communists claimed to be more democratic than anyone else; only to the Communists could one satirically attribute such a slogan as “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

As for laboring the obvious: in reviewing a film about Sister Kenny, for example, would critics avoid using the word “polio”? Would they refer instead to “a controversial disease”? Would they find “a clear and unmistakable reference to a scientific problem of interest to every patient and doctor”? Would they commend the film, in spite of defects, as “having something to say about medicine, suffering, and therapy”? Would they fail to mention Sister Kenny by name, and make only elliptical references that might apply as well to Koch or Pasteur? Or, politically speaking, when Chaplin made The Great Dictator, did these critics fail to indicate, by outright statement and unambiguous leer, that the butt of Chaplin's satire was Hitler?

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the Communists themselves seem to know very well what the book is about. Mr. David Platt, in the Sunday Worker of January 9, writes: “This list would not be complete without a mention of Louis de Rochemont's feature-length cartoon based on George Orwell's anti-human novel ‘Animal Farm’ which was intended to frighten people out of any belief in the possibility of social progress. The point of the cartoon was that the overthrow of capitalism can bring only ruin to the world, that a society based on the people's rule carries within it the seeds of its eventual destruction.” Mr. Platt, obviously, is not a liberal, and he has given the game away: Animal Farm is an attack on Russian Communism.

ADVERTISING TURNAROUND

This, however, is not quite the end of our story of the liberal mind's visit to Animal Farm. About two weeks after the picture opened, a change took place, not suddenly but yet with fair rapidity. On January 7, there appeared in the ads a quotation from Mr. Cook (but an innocuous one); and Mr. Berg's phrase, “The Fable That Rocked the Kremlin,” not only appeared but headed the list of endorsements. And there are other signs that from now on the film will be presented and advertised for what it is—a fable about Russian Communism. On January 16, the ad for the film in the Sunday Times was a reprint from the review in Time. Apparently someone has discovered that the fable isn't really so “universal” after all.

How was that discovery made? And why did it take so long to make it? Why do people spend three years of painstaking labor on an anti-Communist film only to deny, when the job is finished, that it is anti-Communist? I have no answers to these questions. Advertising is a mysterious business, and liberalism these days seems to be a mysterious business too; when you put the two mysteries together, you get something like the kind of story I have been telling. Perhaps Mr. Crowther, Mr. Guernsey, Mr. Winsten, et al., and Mr. de Rochemont and his associates, might help to clarify what happened and why.

I think the whole story would tickle George Orwell's satiric sense, though no doubt it would also depress him to see how long some people have taken to learn so little.

Daphne Patai (essay date 1998)

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SOURCE: Patai, Daphne. “Animal Farm Exposes Orwell's Sexism.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 116-26. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Patai provides a feminist interpretation of Animal Farm.]

Although Animal Farm is mentioned in scores of studies of Orwell, no critic has thought it worth a comment that the pigs who betray the revolution, like the pig who starts it, are not just pigs but boars, that is, uncastrated male pigs kept for breeding purposes. Old Major, the “prize Middle White boar” who has called a meeting to tell the other animals about his dream, is initially described in terms that establish him as patriarch of this world: “He was twelve years old and had lately grown rather stout, but he was still a majestic-looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance in spite of the fact that his tushes had never been cut.” In contrasting his life with those of the less fortunate animals on the farm, Major says: “I am one of the lucky ones. I am twelve years old and have had over four hundred children. Such is the natural life of a pig.” Orwell here repeats the pattern we have seen in his other fiction, of stressing paternity as if the actual labor of reproduction were done by males. Authority comes from the phallus and fatherhood, and the sows, in fact, are hardly mentioned in the book; when they are, as we shall see, it is solely to illustrate the patriarchal control of the ruling pig, Napoleon. Leaders, then, may be good (Major) or bad (Napoleon)—but they must be male and “potent.”

Contrasting with the paternal principle embodied in Major is the maternal, embodied in Clover, “a stout motherly mare approaching middle life, who had never quite got her figure back after her fourth foal.” Clover is characterized above all by her nurturing concern for the other animals. When a brood of ducklings that had lost their mother come into the barn, Clover “made a sort of wall round them with her great foreleg,” and they nestled down inside it. Though Clover works along with Boxer—the enormous cart horse “as strong as any two ordinary horses put together” whom Orwell uses to represent the working class, unintelligent but ever-faithful, to judge by this image—she is admired not for her hard labor but rather for her caring role as protector of the weaker animals. Orwell here attributes to the maternal female dominion over the moral sphere but without any power to implement her values. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, this “feminine” characteristic, though admirable, is shown to be utterly helpless and of no avail. In addition, this conventional (human) division of reality restricts the female animal to the affective and expressive sphere and the male to the instrumental.

AMBIVALENT IMAGERY

Orwell at times utilizes the same imagery in opposing ways; imagery relating to passivity, for example, is presented as attractive in “Inside the Whale” and repulsive when associated with pansy pacifists. This ambivalence is demonstrated as well in Orwell's use of protective maternal imagery. Clover's protective gesture toward the ducklings, viewed positively in Animal Farm, is matched by Orwell's ridicule of a similar image in his verse polemic with Alex Comfort in 1943, about half a year before Orwell began composing Animal Farm. Falling into his familiar tough-guy rhetoric, Orwell angrily defended Churchill against pacifist gibes. … The protective environment must be rejected if manly status is to be preserved. But the protective gesture itself, in its inevitable futility, is admired in Animal Farm, and it is through Clover that Orwell expresses the sadness of the failed revolution after the ‘purges” occur, as the stunned animals huddle around her:

As Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears. If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the last brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major's speech.

Clover is here contrasted with Boxer, who is unable to reflect on these matters and simply resolves to work even harder than before. Though Clover too “would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given to her, and accept the leadership of Napoleon,” she has the moral awareness to know that “it was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled.” But she lacks the words to express this awareness and instead sings “Beasts of England.”

Clover stands at one of the poles of Orwell's conventional representation of female character. The other pole is represented by Mollie, “the foolish, pretty white mare who drew Mr Jones's trap” and is shown, early in the book, to have a link with human females. When the animals wander through the farmhouse, Mollie lingers in the best bedroom: “She had taken a piece of blue ribbon from Mrs Jones's dressing-table, and was holding it against her shoulder and admiring herself in the glass in a very foolish manner.” A less important female character is the cat who, during Major's speech, finds the warmest place to settle down in and does not listen to a word he says. Both Mollie and the cat, we later learn, avoid work; and Mollie is the first defector from the farm after the revolution, seduced by a neighboring farmer's offerings of ribbons for her white mane and sugar.

Orwell's characterizations of old Major, Boxer, Clover, Mollie, and the cat all appear, clearly packaged and labeled, in the book's first three pages. The animal community thus forms a recognizable social world, divided by gender. This world is presented to us complete with stereotypes of patriarchal power, in the form of male wisdom, virility, or sheer strength, and female subordination, in the form of a conventional dichotomy between “good” maternal females and “bad” nonmaternal females. It is difficult to gauge Orwell's intentions in making use of gender stereotypes in Animal Farm. Given the evidence of his other texts, however, it seems unlikely that the possibility of a critical, even satirical, account of gender divisions ever crossed his mind. Perhaps he simply incorporated the familiar into his animal fable as part of the “natural human” traits needed to gain plausibility for his drama of a revolution betrayed. But in so doing he inadvertently reveals something very important about this barnyard revolution: Like its human counterparts, it invariably re-creates the institution of patriarchy.

SEXUAL POLITICS ON THE FARM

Not only does Orwell's satire of a Marxist (“Animalist”) revolution fail to question gender domination while arguing against species domination, it actually depends upon the stability of patriarchy as an institution. This is demonstrated by the continuity between Mr. Jones, the original proprietor of the farm, and Napoleon (Stalin), the young boar who contrives to drive out Snowball (Trotsky), the only competing boar on the premises, and assumes Jones's former position as well as that of Major, the old patriarch.

In her study of feminism and socialism [The Curious Courtship of Women's Liberation and Socialism], Batya Weinbaum attempts to explain why socialist revolutions have tended to reestablish patriarchy. Describing this pattern in the Russian and Chinese revolutions, Weinbaum utilizes the terminology of kin categories: father, daughter, brother, wife. These categories allow her to point out that revolutions have expressed the revolt of brothers against fathers. Though her analysis relies on a Freudian model of sexual rivalry, agreement about motivation is not necessary in order to see the value of the kin categories she proposes. While daughters participate along with brothers in the early stages of revolution, they are increasingly left out of the centers of power once the brothers realize they can occupy the positions formerly held by the fathers, thus gaining privileged access to the labor and services of women.

It is intriguing to note how closely this scheme fits Animal Farm. Although Orwell describes a generalized revolt of the animals, inspired by a wise father's message of freedom, this revolt against the human exploiter Jones is quickly perverted into a struggle between two of the brothers, each eager to occupy the father slot and eliminate his competitor. Orwell makes it explicit that the struggle goes on between the only two boars among the pigs. The male porkers (castrated pigs) are not contenders for the father role. There is even an especially nasty portrayal of Squealer, the public relations porker who, in keeping with Orwell's other slurs against the press, is depicted as devoid of masculinity (in Orwell's terms): He stays safely away from the fighting. Once Napoleon wins out over Snowball, we see just what the father role means in terms of access to females. As the sole potent male pig on the farm, Napoleon is of course the father of the next generation of elite pigs: “In the autumn the four sows had all littered about simultaneously, producing thirty-one young pigs between them. The young pigs were piebald, and as Napoleon was the only boar on the farm, it was possible to guess at their parentage.”

In addition, the relations among the sows, competing for Napoleon's favor, are hinted at near the story's end, when Napoleon is on the verge of complete reconciliation with the human fathers, the neighboring farmers. Orwell informs us that the pigs (males) began to wear Mr. Jones's clothes, “Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favourite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wearing on Sundays.” Perhaps because these details seem to be beside the point in terms of the allegory, they are all the more intriguing as instances of Orwell's fantasy at work. Intentionally or not, Orwell has re-created the structure of the patriarchal family. As in human families, power among the pigs is organized along two axes: sex and age.

MALES SHOWN AS SUPERIOR

Though we are told that the pigs as a whole exploit the other animals (by keeping more and better food for themselves, claiming exemption from physical labor because they are doing the “brainwork” of the farm, and finally moving into the farmhouse and adopting all the formerly proscribed human habits), it is only the male pigs whom we see, in the book's closing line, as indistinguishable from human males: “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.” Piggish adaptation to the human world involves not only the general class discrimination evident in the rewritten Commandment: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” It also appears more specifically in the gender hierarchy that culminates in this last scene, so different from the account of the revolution itself in which virtually all the animals and both sexes had participated.

Even as the animal allegory duplicates Orwell's gender assumptions, it also liberates him to some extent from the confines of his own androcentric framework. This is apparent in the unfolding of old Major's speech early in the book. He begins with general comments about the animals' lot: “No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.” But as he continues to speak, his emphasis shifts slightly:

Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of our produce is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word—Man. Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits.

Here, for the first and only time in his writings, Orwell recognizes female reproductive labor as part and parcel of a society's productive activities and as a form of labor that gives females the right to make political and economic demands. In old Major's speech, it is this female labor, specifically, that becomes the most dramatic focal point. The passage quoted above continues:

Yet he [Man] is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself. Our labour tills the soil, our dung fertilizes it, and yet there is not one of us that owns more than his bare skin. You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies. And you hens, how many eggs have you laid this year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens? The rest have all gone to market to bring in money for Jones and his men. And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age? Each was sold at a year old—you will never see one of them again. In return for your four confinements and all your labour in the field, what have you ever had except your bare rations and a stall?

In this passage Orwell is finally able to make the connection between “public” and “private”—between the male's (typical) work of production and the female's (typical) work of reproduction. He sees that both forms of labor can be expropriated and that the “private” sphere in which relations of caring and nurturing go on is very much a part of the overall system of exploitation that old Major protests. Thinking about animals, Orwell notices that females are insufficiently rewarded for the labor stolen from them by men.

EXPLOITING FEMALES

As the revolution decays, there occurs an episode in which Napoleon forces the hens to give up more of their eggs, so that they can be used for export to a neighboring farm. At first the hens sabotage this plan by dropping their eggs from the rafters of the barn. But they are quickly brought into line by the cessation of their rations (the acquisition of food still not being under their direct control). After holding out for five days, the hens capitulate. This increased expropriation of the hens' products is viewed by Orwell in precisely the same terms as the increased labor time extracted from the other animals. In contrast, when Orwell wrote about the human working class, he never noticed the economics of reproduction or objected to women's exclusion from direct access to decent livelihoods—an exclusion justified by reference to their status as females and supposed dependents of males. It is as if, since his farm animals are not divided into individual family groupings, Orwell was able to break through the ideology of “typical family” that had earlier blinded him to the reality of women's work and position in capitalist society.

In Animal Farm, furthermore, Orwell touches on the problem of political expropriation of female reproductive capacity. Napoleon provides himself with a secret police force by separating a litter of newborn puppies from their mothers and rearing them himself, and these puppies, when grown up, drive out the rival brother, Snowball, and inaugurate Napoleon's reign of terror. Orwell here seems to protest against the breakup of the “natural” pattern by which the pups are suckled and raised by their mothers. This theme is reiterated when Napoleon seizes the thirty-one young pigs—his offspring—and appoints himself their instructor, so as to prepare the continued domination of pigs over the other animals in the future. Such “unnatural” expropriations stand in sharp opposition to the traditional patterns of family life so strongly supported by Orwell. The same sort of “state” interference in family life occurs, in more detailed form, in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Although his fiction suggests a strong distaste for these examples of state expropriation of female reproductive labor, Orwell was actually urging the adoption in England of population policies that, if put into practice, would have openly treated women as mere vehicles for fulfilling state priorities. In “The English People,” written in 1944 (that is, shortly after Animal Farm) though not published until 1947, Orwell, in the throes of a panic about the dwindling birthrate, exhorts the English to have more children as one of the necessary steps in order to “retain their vitality.” Interpreting the declining birthrate primarily as an economic problem, he urges the government to take appropriate measures:

Any government, by a few strokes of the pen, could make childlessness as unbearable an economic burden as a big family is now: but no government has chosen to do so, because of the ignorant idea that a bigger population means more unemployed. Far more drastically than anyone has proposed hitherto, taxation will have to be graded so as to encourage child bearing and to save women with young children from being obliged to work outside the home.

In addition to economic and social incentives, Orwell says, a “change of outlook” is needed: “In the England of the last thirty years it has seemed all too natural that blocks of flats should refuse tenants with children, that parks and squares should be railed off to keep the children out of them, that abortion, theoretically illegal, should be looked on as a peccadillo, and that the main aim of commercial advertising should be to popularise the idea of ‘having a good time’ and staying young as long as possible.”

“BREED FASTER, WORK HARDER”

In brief, what the English must do is, among other things, to “breed faster, work harder, and probably live more simply,” a program ominously reminiscent of Napoleon's exhortation to the other animals: “The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally.” In Orwell's concern with socially adequate human breeding there is no more consideration for the choices of women than Napoleon shows for the desires of the hens or bitches whose eggs and puppies he removes. Orwell seems to assume that the “natural” desires of women will precisely coincide with the lines he sets out—if, that is, he has paused to look at the matter from their point of view at all. Several years later, Orwell still viewed the “population problem” in the same terms. In a newspaper column in 1947, he voices alarm that, if England does not quickly reach an average family size of four children (instead of the then existing average of two), “there will not be enough women of child-bearing age to restore the situation.” He wories about where future workers will come from and again recommends financial incentives. Though Orwell was hardly alone in expressing such concerns at that time, it is instructive to note the limited perspective he brings to the problem. And yet in Nineteen Eighty-Four he satirizes the Party's control over Outer Party members' reproductive behavior through the character of Winston's wife, Katharine, who chills Winston's blood with her commitment to regular sexual intercourse as an expression of “our duty to the Party.” It seems obvious that Orwell's opinion of such state interference in sex and procreation has nothing to do with any sympathy for women as individuals but depends entirely upon his judgment of the merits of the state that is being served.

Nothing in Orwell's earlier writings reveals an awareness of the economic contributions made by women as reproducers, rearers, and caretakers of the labor force, not to mention as ordinary members of the work force. It is therefore all the more surprising that in letting his imagination translate human conflicts into animal terms this aspect of female roles at once sprang to his attention. At the same time, his female animals are still rudimentary in comparison with the more subtly drawn portraits of the male animals on the farm. The hens and cows, for example, appear primarily as good followers, prefiguring Orwell's description of Outer Party female supporters in Nineteen Eighty-Four. With the exception of the maternal Clover and, to a lesser extent, Mollie, the female animals are unimportant as individual actors in the fable. …

As the pigs duplicate the human model of social organization, they not only reproduce the pattern of patriarchy already familiar to the animals (judging by Major's status early in the book) but add to it those human characteristics that Orwell found most reprehensible—especially softness. They slowly adopt Mr. Jones's manner of living, complete with cushy bed and booze. This is contrasted with the heroic labor of the immensely strong Boxer, who literally works himself to death. Relations between the pigs and the other animals follow the patriarchal model also in that they are hierarchical and discipline-oriented; submission and obedience are extracted from the worker animals as the price of the supposedly indispensable pig leadership.

MALE BONDING

In addition to the touching solidarity evident among the worker animals, some individual relationships also emerge. One of these is the nonverbal “masculine” friendship between Boxer and Benjamin, who look forward to their retirement together. There is no female version of this friendship, however. Instead, Clover plays the role not only of maternal mare to the other animals but also of “wife”—to use Weinbaum's kin categories again—in that she has a heart-to-heart talk with Mollie. Cast in the role of the rebellious “daughter” who refuses to adhere to the farm's values, Mollie disbelieves in the communal cause and prefers to ally herself with powerful human males outside the farm, thus assuring her easier life as a kept and well-decorated mare. Orwell signals his disapproval of Mollie by showing her cowardice as well as her vanity and sloth. Given the revolution's eventual outcome, however, Mollie's behavior, though egocentric, is not as misguided as it may seem. Orwell makes it explicit that under the rule of Napoleon the animals (except the pigs and Moses, the raven, who represents the church) have an even more arduous work life than animals on the neighboring (i.e., capitalist) farms. Mollie might better be viewed as having some spontaneous understanding of the rules of patriarchy, characterized by Weinbaum in these words: “Brothers may step across the line to become fathers; but daughters face a future as a powerless wife.” …

It is fascinating to see Orwell describe the betrayal of the animals' revolution in terms so suggestive of women's experience under patriarchy. It is women who, more than any other group and regardless of the race and class to which they belong, have had their history obliterated, their words suppressed and forgotten, their position in society confounded by the doublethink of “All men are created equal,” their legal rights denied, their labor in the home and outside of it expropriated and controlled by men, their reproductive capacities used against them, their desire for knowledge thwarted, their strivings turned into dependence—all of these under the single pretext that they are not “by nature” equipped to do the valued work of society, defined as what men do. When read as a feminist fable, however, Animal Farm has another important message. The origins of the Seven Commandments of Animalism lie in Major's warnings against adopting Man's ways: “And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices.”

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 3, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

BIOGRAPHY

Crick, Bernard. George Orwell: A Life, Boston: Little Brown, 1980, 473 p.

Authorized Orwell biography; Crick was the first biographer to be granted access to Orwell's personal papers by his widow.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fenwick, Gillian. George Orwell: A Bibliography, New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1998, 426 p.

Extensive bibliography of Orwell criticism.

CRITICISM

Barton, Geoff. “Nature Tale.” Times Educational Supplement, no. 4134 (22 September 1995): vi-vii.

Consider the fiftieth anniversary edition of Animal Farm, its illustrations by Ralph Steadman, and the contemporary relevance of the story.

Brunsdale, Mitzi. Student Companion to George Orwell, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000, 173 p.

Provides support and instruction for those studying Orwell's works.

Byrne, Katharine. “Not All Books Are Created Equal: Orwell and His Animals at Fifty.” Commonweal, no. 123, (17 May 1996): 14.

Examines Orwell's Animal Farm on its fiftieth anniversary, Orwell's politics, and whether the story continues to be relevant.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters, New York: Basic Books, 2002, 211 p.

Considers Orwell's work and its relevance.

Hopkinson, Tom. George Orwell, London: Longmans, Green, 1962, 36 p.

Describes Animal Farm as Orwell's masterpiece, a successful satire of dictatorship written with unaccustomed good humor and detachment.

Karel, Thomas A. “George Orwell: A Pre-1984 Bibliography of Criticism, 1975-1983.” Bulletin of Bibliography 41, no. 3 (September 1984): 133-47.

Extensive bibliography of Orwell criticism between 1975 and 1983.

Kearney, Anthony. “Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984.Explicator 54, no. 4 (summer 1996): 238-40.

Considers an alternate reading of Orwell's famous phrase from Animal Farm concerning the equality of animals.

Newsinger, John. Review of Animal Farm. Europe-Asia Studies 48, no. 7 (November 1996): 1264-65.

Examines how perceptions of Animal Farm have been changed over the years by historical conditions.

O'Neill, Terry, ed. Readings on Animal Farm, San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998, 144 p.

Collection of essays on Animal Farm.

Pyle, Steve. “George Orwell's Animal Farm: The Little Book That Could.” Antigonish Review 111 (1997): 31-7.

Recounts the difficulties Orwell had in getting Animal Farm published.

Rodden, John. “Appreciating Animal Farm in the New Millennium.” Modern Age 45, no. 1 (winter 2003): 67-76.

Considers Animal Farm's origins, its attitude toward revolutionary change, Orwell as a “literary Trotskyist,” and comments that Ralph Steadman's illustrations in the 1995 edition do not do justice to the text.

Additional coverage of Orwell’s life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 5; British Writers, Vol. 7; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 68; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1945-1960; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 15, 98, 195, 255; DISCovering Authors: British Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Novels Literature and Its Times, Vols. 4, 5; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1; Literature Resource Center; Novels for Students, Vols. 3, 7; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 2; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 4; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Twayne's English Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 6, 15, 31, 51, 128, 129; World Literature and Its Times, Ed. 4; and World Literature Criticism.

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