Animal Farm: The Nature of Power
Describe at least one idea that was worth learning about. Explain why the idea was worth learning about in the text.
In George Orwell’s book Animal Farm an idea that was worth learning about was the corruptive nature of power, and the effects it has on those who wield it. “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -Lord Acton. This is important because it gives the reader an insight on Orwell’s theory on why most communist revolutions and regimes fail. In the beginning of Animal Farm the tyrant farmer Jones is overthrown and the animals are filled with visions of a farm where were all animals are equal and were animals work together to create a better world for all animals, the base principles of communism, or the so called “animalism” in the book. Although this is a good ideal in theory, it runs against the nature of humans (or animals in the case of the book) and we soon see things heading downhill. Because of the nature of power we aren’t all equal. We don’t have the same drives and same compassion as a group, and therefore it is unlikely we can create a society of true equality.
The way Orwell portrays the pigs suggests he believes that any vacuum of power will be filled quickly by those who take the chance to seize it. In the book, from the very point Jones is overthrown, the pigs assume leadership roles. In the first harvest on the farm, “The pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.” The pigs have already asserted themselves because of their “superior intellect”. None of the animals seem to have a problem with this, perhaps because the pigs have suggested its natural, even though it is already running against one of the key principles of animalism – all animals are equal. Napoleon and Snowball have already set themselves up with superiority to the un-educated animals. The pigs begin to take things for themselves, always convincing the animals that it is for the good of the whole farm. Taking milk and apples for themselves to be mixed into their mash. This is covered up by the pigs “propaganda machine” Squealer, a highly manipulative pig with a way in words. “‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples.” Squealer plays on the trust given to the pigs, and manipulates reality so as the pigs can take for themselves. This runs completely against the idea of equality, the vision of equality does not mean someone taking privileges for themselves.
The pigs use their higher intellect to their advantage, and use control over language to keep the power in their hands and out of the hands of the masses. They also use this control over language to assign themselves privileges and allow themselves to edit the rules. “The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart. “Four legs good, two legs bad.” This maxim, which serves as a controlling device, arises because of the working animals’ inability to understand or learn the seven commandments, a set of “rules” set after the rebellion. Its simplicity allows it to be easily altered and manipulated. Napoleon uses his control of language to his own advantage, and the pigs edit the seven “unchangeable” commandments. “There was yet another of them that the animals had remembered wrong. They had thought that the Fifth Commandment was ‘no animal shall drink alcohol’, but there were two words which they had forgotten.
Actually the commandment read: ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.’” They allow themselves the luxury of the farmhouse beds, and drinking alcohol, all which was agreed against after the rebellion. Because the animals believe that the commandments are unchangeable, and because of their blind trust in the pigs, and now also because of fear of the pigs, they do not question them, their “superiors”. Squealer, Napoleons “propaganda machine” is the main culprit of this twisting of language, and controls the masses with this. If anybody opposes, the sheep begin to bleat in chorus, “four legs good, two legs bad” preventing any discussion, so Napoleon has control of what is said. This relates directly to real revolution, were control over language and especially large amounts of propaganda are used to control the masses, what is said and sometimes even what is thought.
Because the pigs and especially Napoleon have power, and the trust of the other animal’s, and no one questions their decisions. When the dogs give birth to some new born puppies, Napoleon takes “them away from their mothers, saying that he would make himself responsible for their education… the rest of the farm forgot their existence.” The animals noticed that the dogs are gone, but decide against questioning or challenging what Napoleon is to do with them. Lack of action on the animals part means that the pigs can continue to seize power until a state where they are practically untouchable. It is not until Snowball proposes a windmill be built on the farm that we see things escalate. We then see a power struggle between Snowball and Napoleon. This is where the dogs come back in, and Napoleon releases them on Snowball and exiles him from the farm. Nobody now speaks out against Napoleon as they are physically intimidated by the dogs, which serve as bodyguards to Napoleon. Napoleon becomes greedy with power and swiftly removes his opposition, Snowball, and asserts his own dominance. Napoleon can do what he chooses because Snowball is not there to oppose, and the other animals do not oppose either out of fear after seeing the fate of Snowball, or because they are blinded by Squealers lies and still trust in Napoleon. Orwell is here proposing the idea that those in power often use physical harm or intimidation to keep power away from the masses.
In the end we see the pigs associating with humans and the pigs almost becoming the same as humans, as they have been filled with the corruption of power and greed “The creatures looked from pig to man, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is important because Orwell was strongly anti-fascism hence he went to fight in the Spanish civil war with the republicans against the fascist militarist rule of Franco. Throughout the book the pigs play upon the naïve trust of the other animals. This is important because it demonstrates people’s willingness to take advantage of others. This is an unattractive but strong part of human nature. The flip side is the stupidity of the animals, or masses of humans, that give trust to those who are unproven and then fail to return to that decision and check that it was really the correct one to make. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke. Surely we don’t just hand over unlimited trust and therefore
power and expect it to all just work out? Responsibility belongs to us all.