Discussion Topic

The depiction of power and corruption in George Orwell's Animal Farm

Summary:

In Animal Farm, George Orwell depicts power and corruption through the rise of the pigs who, after overthrowing the human farmer, gradually become indistinguishable from the oppressors they replaced. The pigs, particularly Napoleon, manipulate language, alter commandments, and use propaganda to maintain control, illustrating how power can lead to corruption and the betrayal of revolutionary ideals.

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How are power and corruption depicted in Animal Farm?

Power is expressed a number of ways in Animal Farm. Sometimes it is physical intimidation, such as when Napoleon's dogs ran off Snowball. Sometimes it's psychological manipulation, such as when Napoleon suggests that Jones comes back at night. Sometimes it's fact revision; since the pigs know how to read and write, they control what is written, and they can re-shape previous ideas or slogans to fit their needs. Then they psychologically bully the other animals into accepting the changes.

Corruption is likewise expressed in different ways during the story. At first, the animals' "revolution" seems driven by sound principles and a unified vision. Slowly, though, the pigs corrupt revolutionary ideals as they seize power. They become more and more like the previous human landlords. The iconic slogan from Animal Farm succinctly expresses this corruption. The pigs change a founding revolutionary slogan, "All animals are equal," by adding a clause: "...but some are more equal than others."

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How are power and corruption depicted in Animal Farm?

The corrupting effect of power is one of the central themes of Animal Farm. At the beginning of the book, Old Major describes the oppression that the animals experience, and predicts that the day will come when they overthrow their human masters and build an equitable society. When the animals of Manor Farm drive off Jones, it appears that day has come. But we quickly see that the pigs, by virtue of their leadership of the revolution, quickly become corrupted by power. Napoleon continues to pay lip service to the principles of the revolution through most of the book, but his actions are far removed from the principles of Animalism. He and the other pigs begin to claim privileges for themselves, and eventuallly he uses the dogs to purge those who question his authority. Snowball is driven from the farm for dissent, and gradually, the pigs become more like the humans they fought to overthrow. The corruption of the principles of the revolution is illustrated by the changing Seven Commandments, which are perverted over the course of the book to the point where, at the end, they read only "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS." The book's final passage, when some of the animals witness the pigs arguing and playing cards with Pilkington and the other humans in the farmhouse, makes the corruption of power most clear:


Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. 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.

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How are power and corruption depicted in Animal Farm?

In Animal Farm, power almost always leads to corruption and exploitation, and we see evidence of this in both humans and animals.

Through the character of Mr Jones, for example, we find that his successes as a farmer have done little to soften his feelings towards the animals. When he loses a lawsuit, he becomes miserable, turns to alcohol and begins to mistreat the animals. This reaches a climax in Chapter Two when he leaves the animals hungry all day and they revolt against him. Arguably, had he not abused his position and given in to temptation and corruption, the revolution of the animals might never have taken place. 

Once Jones is overthrown, the pigs quickly assume control of the farm, but, once again, we find many instances of exploitation and corruption. The pigs take possession of the milk and apples, start sleeping in the farmhouse and begin drinking alcohol at night, for instance. These actions directly contravene the principles of Animalism, a doctrine which the pigs themselves developed, and this signifies their corrupt and self-interested nature.

The only exception to this rule is Snowball. While he becomes one of the leaders on the farm, he uses his position in a positive and constructive manner. He tries to teach the other animals to read and write, for example, and learns how to build a windmill, a device which he intends to use for labour-saving purposes. His desire to maintain equality, however, is what brings about his own downfall. Napoleon sense that Snowball is becoming popular with the other animals and he uses his guard dogs to drive Snowball from the farm in a brutal display of power in Chapter Five.

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How does George Orwell's Animal Farm make us think about power corruption?

Throughout the novella, Orwell depicts how positive ideology can be twisted and manipulated by power hungry individuals. Initially, Napoleon studies and helps create the tenets of Animalism, but shortly after finds an opportunity to usurp power by getting rid of Snowball. Napoleon enjoys receiving special treatment for being a pig and wants to be in control of the entire farm. Napoleon does so by using brute force. He secretly trained several savage dogs in the loft of the barn to act as his personal assassins and protectors. These dogs strike fear in the animals and force them to accept Napoleon's reign as leader. Napoleon also employs Squealer to spread propaganda which influences the animals to act in Napoleon's favor. Orwell warns his audience that anytime power is consolidated among a small group of individuals, there is a likely possibility that at least one person will become corrupt which could lead to tyranny. Once individuals experience a sense of control and privilege, they can easily become corrupted by the power they possess.

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