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George Orwell's Animal Farm, an Outcry against False Revolutionary Leaders

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             It goes without saying that literature, in general, not only mirrors life in all its aspects, but it also opens a multitude of possibilities for imagination; for everything we see in literature is very likely to be true. George Orwell's short novel, Animal Farm, is a great example of how literature records the ups and downs of life. Besides, this novella tries to show how absolute power with which leaders are invested results in gross corruption because it makes leaders believe they are absolved from responsibility and accountability. In addition, it seems that, in principle, George Orwell agrees with the English historian Lord Acton who, in 1887, stated, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority (Martin H Manser, 2007, 229). Through his artistic use of an allegorical animal farm to stand for the whole world at large, George Orwell depicts a true-to-life picture of how human beings behave towards their fellow human beings once they assume power. Orwell makes it clear that his ultimate purpose of writing at all is ‘to make political writing into art’ (Edward Quinn, 2009, 24). In this respect, Animal Farm shows clearly that the very revolutionaries who used to criticize power and the corruption that accompanies it turn into ruthless, megalomaniac dictators once they have access to absolute power. In doing so, George Orwell suggests that leadership and power should involve accountability and responsibility which act as a safety valve for corruption and the misuse of power.

 

              George Cromwell was a communist in his early youth, but he gave up communism later on when he felt that the noble goals and promises for which it was established had been like pie crust made to be broken. In response to this turnover of the goals and promises of communism, Orwell's overwhelming love for communism was replaced by equally bitter hatred and despise for power and leaders hungry for power. In one of his letters, Cromwell expressed this attitude saying, ‘For quite fifteen years I have regarded that regime with plain horror’(Miriam Gross,1979, 120). In Animal Farm, George Orwell makes use of allegory in depicting the shocking truth of the corruption and degeneration of the revolutionaries who come to power after a long, painful struggle with so-called dictators. Napoleon, the revolution leader against dictatorship and oppression, undergoes drastic changes after succeeding to power with the help of his fellows. Orwell underpins these changes in his portrayal of Napoleon before the revolution, after the revolution and when he is the ruler of the farm. Napoleon starts his life with the other pigs as a highly cooperative team player when he and Snowball always seek each other's advice and act in the best interest of all their fellow animals. They both change the name of the farm from Manor Farm into Animal Farm, hence giving an extraordinary example of great friendship and team work. Soon after the name of the farm has been changed, the ‘new unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live forever after’(George Orwell, 2004, 20) is posted on the wall by both friends, Napoleon and Snowball. This law consists of seven commandments which read as follows:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

3. No animal shall wear clothes.

4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.

5. No animal shall drink alcohol.

6. No animal shall kill any other animal.

7. All animals are equal. (Ibid, 20-21)

 

These commandments, especially the last two ones, reveal the utilitarian aspect of the new regime under a new leadership which promises to abide by these permanent rules. Soon enough, the animals start acting in perfect harmony and setting up  committees in an attempt to organize and distribute work and duties. Later on, most of these committees turn into failures because no animal sticks to their duty. Here it seems that George Orwell wants to say that committees in general do not organize work as they are supposed to, but they freeze work and help people shirk responsibility and waste time preparing for titular, futile meetings. Later on in the novel, things start changing as pigs, headed by Napoleon, start to have some privileges over the other animals in terms of drinks and food; they start eating apples and drinking milk under the pretext that these are nutritive and good for the body and that ‘pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back!’ (Ibid, 31) This is a clear indication that even in the most communist and utilitarian community, some people will be given preferential treatment at the expense of other people under very false and silly pretexts which only aim at misleading the masses. Again, it seems that leadership entails privileges only, not responsibilities. Orwell here makes clear the intentions of the new leaders who seem to live in luxury while the masses should always tighten the belt and lead an ascetic life, and if the masses object, then the old, overthrown regime will take over and give them hell. This is a cunning way of ruling and silencing the masses, too.

 

             As the novella proceeds, disputes between the two leading pigs, Snowball and Napoleon flare up from time to time, especially when there are meetings to discuss important plans and strategies. These superficial disagreements are in fact indicative of the cut-throat competition between these two leading figures who do their best to have a competitive edge over each other. Moreover, each one of them wants to show that he is smarter and better than the other one in order to be the sole leader. Of course, the differences between the leaders of any leading party will absolutely enfeeble the unity of the party and throw it into chaos and separation. It also seems that when absolute power is concerned, there must be one ruling leader, not two. From now on, team work is no longer an option or a strategy that permeates through the farm. Instead, jealousy, rivalry and self-interest prevail, hence making room for the early seeds of corruption and destruction. The differences between Napoleon and Snowball grow out of proportion until Napoleon, the more resourceful, plan to get rid of Snowball and become the only leader of the animals. It seems that George Orwell is in favor of the telling proverb that says ‘if two ride a horse, one must ride behind.’ As a result, Napoleon succeeds in forcing Snowball out of the farm and becomes the only ruler of the farm. Surprisingly enough, when the other animals wonder why Snowball, who has been Napoleon's close partner and friend, is banished in such a humiliating way, the answer is ‘That, he said, was Comrade Napoleon’s cunning. He had SEEMED to oppose the windmill, simply as a manoeuvre to get rid of Snowball, who was a dangerous character and a bad influence.’ (Ibid, 52)

 

           With Napoleon as the sole leader of the farm, the possibility of abusing this power invested with him becomes greater. Soon he begins violating the unchangeable law which he, along with the other animals, has vowed to abide and live by to multiply his wealth, terrorize the other animals and satisfy his power lust. The first commandment is the first one Napoleon breaks for he has decided to do business with man, the professed enemy of the animals. ‘Napoleon announced that he had decided upon a new policy. From now onwards Animal Farm would engage in trade with the neighbouring farms.’ (Ibid, 55) Then follows another violation of the commandments when Napoleon's title changes from "Comrade" into "Leader" who now moves to live in the house as the sty no longer suits his new title as the leader of the farm. Of course, Napoleon, along with the other pigs, sleeps now in beds, which is again another violation of the commandments. Of course, there is always an excuse for such behavior. The mass media represented by Squealer in the novella is never short of any cogent excuse for the violations committed by the leaders. Squealer keeps justifying Napoleon's corrupt policies and fraudulent behavior by reminding the other animals that the mental work which Napoleon and the other pigs do is so demanding that they need a comfortable place to rest in. ‘I can tell you, comrades, with all the brainwork we have to do nowadays. You would not rob us of our repose, would you, comrades? You would not have us too tired to carry out our duties? Surely none of you wishes to see Jones back?’ (Ibid, 60) This is it; the other animals have to adapt to their new leader's corrupt policies and the new system, or else the old system and tyrant will be restored to wreak havoc on the farm. If any of the animals shows any sign of dissatisfaction or disobedience, they will definitely meet their nemesis. At this point, Napoleon takes off his mask and shows his true colors by wiping the floor with everyone who might even think of going against his orders. To teach the rest of the animals a memorable lesson, Napoleon asks his dogs to drag four pigs to a general meeting and place them at Napoleon's feet and ‘Napoleon now called upon them to confess their crimes. Without any further prompting they confessed that they had been secretly in touch with Snowball ever since his expulsion, that they had collaborated with him in destroying the windmill, and that they had entered into an agreement with him to hand over Animal Farm to Mr. Frederick. They added that Snowball had privately admitted to them that he had been Jones’s secret agent for years past.’ (Ibid, 75) This is what most dictators and tyrants do; they falsify history, fabricate stories, wrongfully accuse innocent people of treason and coerce them to confess their uncommitted crimes and finally kill them in cold blood. ‘When they had finished their confession, the dogs promptly tore their throats out, and in a terrible voice Napoleon demanded whether any other animal had anything to confess.’ (Ibid, 81) By killing these innocent pigs in such a blood-thirsty manner, Napoleon violates the sixth commandment of the law which he and the other animals have established to help them run the farm justly. It is crystal clear that through the cruel atrocities committed by Napoleon, George Orwell wants to expose false revolution leaders who succumb to the corruptive influence of absolute power which makes them wrongly believe that they are not subject to accountability because they think they are above the law. Napoleon then issues a decree in which he also changes the national anthem without even having consulted the other animals about this important change. Driven by the glamour, charm and delusion of absolute power, Napoleon goes to extremes in his behavior and actions and keeps acting as though he were God. More importantly, with absolute power and megalomaniac dictators, sycophants become very common, and they start currying favor with the leader or ruler by calling him different names and composing eulogistic poetry lauding his so-called great efforts in serving his nation. The same happens to Napoleon whose head is now swollen with the craze for power. In this respect, Orwell observes ‘Pigs liked to invent for him such titles as Father of All Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector of the Sheep-fold, Ducklings’ Friend, and the like.’ ( Ibid, 81 ) All achievements are attributed to the despotic leader, Napoleon, and establishments and institutions are also named after him. Wisdom, generosity, flamboyance, tactfulness, and greatness are but some of the countless attributes to be ascribed to Napoleon undeservedly. Apparently, George Orwell wants to satirize most political leaders who try to change history so that they look like the ones who are making the history of their nations, and therefore they should be honored duly by having schools, streets and other public utilities named after them.

 

           The violations of the law Napoleon and the other animals have enacted and approved of continue until the last article or commandment is broken when Napoleon and some other pigs celebrate a false victory and drink alcohol excessively. This is the last straw which has in fact brought the communist revolution which the animals led in protest against man's oppression and tyranny to an early end. It seems that the farm under Napoleon's despotic leadership is even worse than what it was like under Mr. John's leadership because shocking atrocities and injustices seem to be the strategies and tactics by which Napoleon rules the animal farm. When the animal farm is announced to be a republic, unfortunately there is only one sole candidate who is the self same dictator, Napoleon. ‘There was only one candidate, Napoleon, who was elected unanimously.’ (Ibid, 101) It seems that George Orwell is leveling a severe attack on democracy which should be practiced in any republican regime if this regime is honest and fair. It can be suggested that Orwell is categorically opposed to false republics which only practice oppression and commit atrocities against humanity under the name of democracy. In this particular respect, Orwell says, ‘Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been written against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.’ (Edward Quinn, 2009, 24) Under Napoleon's corrupt leadership, reward and dessert never keep company because he does not see any one worthy of credit and honor but himself. For example, Boxer who has always been a loyal follower of Napoleon and who stands for diligent workers all over the world is mercilessly put to death when he is injured in a battle defending the farm and the system instead of being duly treated at the best hospitals. However, to always polish Napoleon's image, rumors and lies spread that Boxer is not slain at the slaughterhouse, but rather dies peacefully at the hospital, and as he is dying he whispers ‘Forward in the name of the Rebellion. Long live Animal Farm! Long live Comrade Napoleon! Napoleon is always right. Those were his very last words, comrades.’ (George Orwell, 2004, 108)

 

           Now towards the end of the short novel, George Orwell depicts Napoleon as an absolute ruler who is filled with the feeling of self-aggrandizement as he is now a carbon copy of the former regime. In fact, he behaves far worse than the old regime, and Orwell watches Napoleon's transformation into a demigod very carefully. ‘Out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling round him.’ (Ibid, 115) As Napoleon makes his appearance in this god-like manner, Orwell observes ‘It was as though the world had turned upside-down.’ (Ibid, 116) It is such a disappointment that leaders who once said they were equal to the rest of the other people and that they would serve their fellow human beings and treat them equally without fear or favor should be so corrupted and defiled that they no longer feel they are flesh and blood as their feelings are now ossified. At this point, the seven commandments which form the constitution of the animal farm at the beginning of the new regime are now truncated and altered into one single commandment that reads:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN

OTHERS  (Ibid, 117)   

This is the essence of the whole story. As there are no more excuses for the violations committed under the tyrannical rule of Napoleon, it must be borne in mind that though human beings are created as equal people, some people regard themselves as more equal than others due to the power invested with them. So, it is power and the hunger for power which corrupts people and makes them commit the most unthinkable crimes in the name of humanity, peace and love. The short novel ends with the name of the animal farm being changed into ‘The Manor Farm’ (Ibid, 123) which is the original name of the farm before the revolution and before Napoleon's rule. By coming into this sad end, it seems that the novel comes full circle. In fact, it sounds as if George Orwell wants to say that, in essence, human beings are corrupt if they are given full reign to behave as unaccountable, unprincipled rulers with absolute power, regardless of the titles given to their political regime.  Orwell himself states the real purpose of this short novel by telling us his opinion of revolutions and power:

‘that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job…. What I was trying to say was, ‘You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.’(Harold Bloom, 2007, 154) Unfortunately, the novella ends almost exactly where it really begins, with the animals or masses struggling under oppression, tyranny and dictatorship on account of corrupt leaders' insatiable hunger for absolute power. In this regard, Stephen Ingle observes that in Animal Farm ‘Orwell showed that the kind of revolution undertaken by the animals (violent, conspiratorial, and led by a consciously power-hungry élite) could only result in one group of leaders replacing another.’ (Stephen Ingle, 2006, 82)

              

              In conclusion, it can safely be argued that George Orwell's Animal Farm is an attack on megalomaniac revolutionary leaders who come to power by virtue of their brotherly cooperation with the public along with their noble goals and aspirations but fall victim to the charm and lure of absolute power. Under the influence of such tempting power which is above any law, revolutionary leaders tend to forget their promises of making their countries better places for their country fellows and unfortunately start behaving like the former leaders whom they have revolted against and overthrown. Orwell might want to suggest that people are people all over the world and throughout history because when they are invested with absolute power they are most likely to commit the most unimaginable atrocities and crimes against their fellow human beings. Napoleon in Animal Farm stands for a revolutionary leader  who transforms into a ruthless dictator, corrupted by absolute power, which he enjoys by dint of his self-appointed post as the one and only leader of the farm. As such, he violates not only the constitution he once vowed to adhere to, but also all kinds of human codes only to satisfy his insatiable hunger for power and sustain his position as the sole leader. In the course of the novella, Napoleon is depicted as a despotic ruler who distorts facts, falsifies history, fabricates stories and has all public utilities named after him just to satisfy his brutal desires for fame, power and personal aggrandizement. 

 

 

References

  1. Bloom, Harold (Ed) (2007) Bloom's Modern Critical Views: George Orwell- Updated Edition. New York: Inforbase Publishing.
  2. Gross, Miriam, (1971) The World of George Orwell. New York: NY: Simon and Schuster.

3.      Ingle, Stephen, (2006) The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell:  A Reassessment. New York: Routledge.

4.      Manser, Martin H, (2007) The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. New York: Inforbase Publishing.

5.      Orwell, George, (2004) Animal Farm. Coradella Collegiate Bookshelf Editions at: http://collegebookshelf.net)

  1. Quinn, Edward, ( 2009) Critical Companion to George Orwell. New York: Inforbase Publishing

 

 

 

 

 

 


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