George Orwell was at heart a political writer. He tried to warn people against totalitarian regimes through his work. He wanted his political messages to have an artistic form, and has written novels such as Animal Farm and 1984. His mission with these books was to warn against totalitarian regimes, but to what extent was this mission successful?
Eric Arthur Blair was born in 1903 in India, and he later took then name George Orwell. In 1907 he moved back to England with his family. Orwell was accepted into public as a promising student at reduced fees, because his parents could not afford to pay for his primary education. At school he was bullied because of his lower social status, which is what made him realize that there existed and unfair hierarchy that was based upon social status and wealth. He won a scholarship in 1917 and entered the school Eton.
His political views were influenced by the time, with rebellion and revolution and distrust of the government. Orwell saw himself as a socialist, and when he was in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police force he developed the idea that the upper class rulers of Britain and the colonies were corruptive and non-productive and cared little for the native people of neither the colonies nor the working-class in England. Even though he was a socialist he showed distaste for other left-wing intellectuals, especially Marxist, because he questioned their real motives. His hatred for the government and fear of a totalitarian regime is the main theme of two of his most famous books, Animal Farm and 1984.
Animal Farm was published in 1945, and is one of George Orwell’s most famous books. The book is an allegory of the Russian revolution and the years following. He has given the animals human traits and personalities. Many of the animals are caricatures of real-life people or of different classes of society.
At the beginning of the book the animals are living under Jones’s cruel and insufficient management. Jones is representing the tsar who was removed during the revolution and who later was executed. The Animals are living in poor conditions and are dreaming of a better life. Old Major, the oldest and most respected animal encourages the other Animals to rebel against Jones. Old Major represents Marx and not Engels because this is an allegory of the Russian revolution, and Lenin based his politics on Marxism, which later turned into Marxism-Leninism.
They manage to remove Jones and they are thrilled The Animals have to establish some rules to maintain the peace and quiet at the farm, so they form “The Seven Commandments” which are rules that shall prevent the animals from behaving like man. “All animals are equal” is the most important, because it is the main idea of animalism. This also symbolizes the main idea of communism (Marx’s ideas), the idea of equality and a classless society. The commandments first appear in chapter two and are the main law at the farm for the rest of the book, though some drastic changes are made as they years pass. They are based on the thoughts of Old Major, but he did not leave enough instruction on what to do after freedom was achieved, so the animals had to interpret what Old Major had said. This was one of the issues after the Russian revolution as well, because Marx’s ideas were not descriptive enough, so Lenin had to interpret Marx and created Marxism-Leninism.
After the revolution Snowball and Napoleon become two important characters, because they are the smartest. They are the only animals to represent real-life people. Snowball is Trotsky and Napoleon is Stalin. Snowball is concerned with the making of different groups where the animals can have a say in the organization and ruling of the farm; he wants to create a stabil democracy. Napoleon is more concerned with making profit and establishing himself as a leader and making sure he gets the benefits from the work the other animals lay down. Napoleon and Snowball disagree on almost everything. The windmill is one of them, and the most important. Snowball wants to build the windmill to increase the efficiency, so that the animals only have to work three days a week. Napoleon openly criticizes the windmill. The animal vote on whether the windmill should be build or not and Snowball wins, but seconds later he is attacked by angry dogs that appear to have been trained by Napoleon. With Snowball gone Napoleon decides to build the windmill, saying that it had been his idea all along. The Windmill project is a symbol for massive infrastructure constructions projects and modernization initiatives. This was started by the leaders of Soviet right after the revolution. The windmill is also a symbol of how the pigs have become the leaders of the farm, and manage to get the other to work for them while they do noting themselves. The animals are lead to believe that the profits of the windmill will benefit them all, and that they are working voluntarily.
Squealer, Napoleon’s speaker, is the one to deliver news and information to the other animals. He is good with words and manages to distort the meaning of words, which was something Orwell was opposed to, and tried to warn against. Squealer do not come off as threatening, because he is able to convince the animals that the things Napoleon does is right, often by choosing his words carefully and making a comment about the possibility of Jones coming back. The animals always agree with Squealer when Jones is mentioned, because they are all afraid of Jones. Squealer represents the propaganda. Napoleon controls everything, just like Stalin did. Squealer has full control of what is being said about Napoleon, and he knows which buttons to push to get the other animals on his side, for example by making comments about them not being capable of running the farm by themselves when they complained about Napoleon making all the decisions”No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?" This is in chapter five when Napoleon decides to dissolve the sympathies created by Snowball and the animals were at first unhappy about it, but they then realize that Napoleon is doing them a favor. The animals then agree that it is only right that “comrade” Napoleon makes all the decisions. They are lead to believe that everything is done for them. Squealer also manages to convince them that Snowball is a traitor. When Jones attacked the farm Snowball was one of the biggest heroes, but Squealer convinced the animals that he was not, and that he was in fact fighting for Jones. The animals, except Benjamin, automatically believe everything that Squealer says.
Different social classes are shown through the variety of animals. Boxer represents the working-class. He works hard, but lacks brain, so he never questions Napoleon or Squealer. His favorite motto is “Napoleon is always right” that is a little similar to the last phrase of 1984 where Big Brother has finally succeeded at brainwashing Winston Smith “(...)he had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother” In the end he is convinced that it was he who was the problem, not Big Brother, just like Boxer says “I will work harder” everytime there is a problem. Mollie is a mare, and she represents the upper-class, she does not wish to do hard labor and is very vain. She later leaves the farm to lead her old life on a different farm. Benjamin is a donkey and he represents the skeptics. He is well aware of what Napoleon is doing, but does not rebel. He is of the opinion that the world is just bad, and that it will not change. Moses the raven is a symbol of organized religion, because he tells the story of Sugarcandy Mountain, where the animals will come after death. He is chased away because he is slowing down the rebellion, but when Napoleon needs to control his workers he brings him back, so that the animals will be happy with the current situation. “Religion is opium for the people” said Marx, and Orwell seems to agree, because Moses only is around when someone needs him to keep the workers for rebellion. The conditions for the animals are now just as bad as they were when Jones was in charge, but the animals still believe that they are free. Many communists from the working-class were convinced, through propaganda and threats, that they were free and that they lived in a society where they were all equal.
The seven commandments are changed throughout the story. The pigs want to enjoy the human facilities and changes the commandments. “No animal shall sleep in a bed – with sheets” Squealer of course convinced the animals that commandments have always been like that. In the end there is only one commandment: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” This commandment appears near the end and is a way of distorting the meanings of words. The novel ends with Napoleon’s dinner party. "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." Napoleon had now turned into what they once had tried to remove, just like Stalin became just as powerful and cruel as the tsar once had been.
Orwell’s goal with this book was to warn against totalitarian regimes. He wanted to show how things could turn out if one man had too much power. Napoleon only acts for himself, under the disguise of creating something better for all of them, which was how Stalin operated as well. The fact that Orwell also focuses on the developing of animalism is very important, because it show how it was all created with good intensions, but what could happen if one person ruled alone. Orwell was a socialist, so he agreed with many aspects of animalism, such as equality and sharing, but that he does not believe in governmental regulation, because he is convinced that the power will be abused.
The characters are very important, because they all represent different classes of society. They are all flat characters because none of them change much throughout the story. Napoleon changes a bit, because he becomes more and more dominating, but the nice personality at the beginning might as well have been an act all together. The characters are maybe too flat, because many of them have just one personality trait. Boxer is a hard worker, Mollie is vain, Napoleon is evil. If Orwell wanted this book to have political impact it would have been a good idea to create rounder characters. Most of the animals represent working-class Soviet, and Orwell is labeling most of them as stupid and ignorant and easily lead. Perhaps he is relying a little too much on stereotypes. If he had included someone more similar to Benjamin, without the vagueness and laziness it would have added something extra to the story. Bigger variety in characters would have made the story more credible, because there must have been someone who opposed Stalin and his men, and therefore there should be some at the farm as well. Many of the opponents in the book and real life were killed though, so maybe that was Orwell’s way of stating that the only ones left were the animals who supported Napoleon.
He also criticizes the political language when he created Squealer, because according to an article written by Jean-Christophe Peuch at Netcharles, Orwell believed that the biggest fault about politics was the distorting of words, which he meant was the same as lying and a way of tricking the people. Squealer is a very good symbol for propaganda, because the propaganda is created to speak to the people and to push the right buttons to make them agree with the leader, which is something Squealer is excellent at. He is also someone the animals naturally trust, because of his smartness and way with words. The animals just assume that what Squealer says is right. Many of the animals do not understand him and just go along with it, because many of the animal are quite stupid.
“The Seven Commandments” is a funny, but serious way of revealing how the ideas of communism have changed throughout the years. In a way Orwell mocks the Russian people for being gullible, because it is so obvious to the reader that the commandments have been changed, while the animals do not realize it at all. He makes the reader think of the Russians as stupid, gullible, brainwashed without saying any of the words himself. In fact, the whole novel is based upon Orwell showing the reader what is going on, and the reader is free to interpret it anyway he likes. However, Orwell’s intention with the novel is clear; he is warning against totalitarian regimes. Perhaps, Napoleon’s rise to power and his changing of the commandments went a little too smoothly, because Orwell makes it seem like Stalin never met resistance, but that is not the case.
Orwell’s goal was to warn against totalitarian regimes, and maybe 1984 was more sufficient at doing so. People will more easily recognize themselves in a novel where humans are the main characters and where more thoughts are shared with the reader. Winston Smith is perhaps more relatable than Boxer or Mollie because of his round character. One of the main reason why people of today will relate more to this book is all newfound technology in it and all the equipments the departments have got to control your every move, for example with the telescreen. The idea of being watched at all time is frightening, and today we do have the technology to do it. That is why people from 2011 will relate more to the story than the people in 1949 did. Maybe it seemed ridiculous to them that they would have such advanced technology in the future.
The language in 1984 is also more advanced than the language in Animal Farm. That is perhaps what gives 1984 a more serious tone than Animal Farm, where the language is quite simple. The language fits with the story however, because the storyline of Animal Farm is much easier than the story of 1984. 1984 has more complex, human storylines; Winston and Julia and their love affair and deceive, Big Brother, the unseen (possibly made up) leade of the party, and all the departments and ways of controlling people.
George Orwell has managed to convey his political thoughts in an artistic way. Sometimes it is stretched a little too far, and the characters are a little to flat, especially in Animal Farm. Both are great novels, where the theme is easy to interpret. Animal Farm is easy to read and is sufficient at getting the point across to the younger readers,. 1984 on the other hand speaks more to the reader and is better at showing just how a totalitarian regime works.
Orwell, George. 1945. Animal Farm. London
Orwell, George. 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London
Bachler, Macus. 2003. George Orwell: The Fight against Totalitarianism http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/58/Orwell.php [Reading date: 23.02.2011]
Peuch, Jean-Christophe. 2003. Makin Political Writing Into Art. http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/articles/col-rfe.htm [Reading date: 27.02.1011]
McCrum, Robert. 2009. The Masterpiece that Killed George Orwell http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell [Reading date:27.02.2011]