Suppose a hypothetical situation arises in which you are suddenly given the opportunity to create your own nation from scratch. States and provinces, cultures and ethnicities, armies and economies are all at your command with one catch: You may create a nation in which the populace is comprised of powerless pigs who want more and more and, when given their heart’s desire, develop new capacities for wanting more. Or you can begin instituting an empire with only a few pigs, albeit pigs with power who lead and rule their ignorant followers. The nation led by pigs will follow suite with the rest of history: their people will be constantly oppressed into vanity, creating an over-worked working class and a lazy ruling class. The other, less common nation will be no better off. While the rulers are not oppressing their followers, the citizens are enslaved to their own materialism. This flame of materialism is stoked with each new purchase under the guise of its finally be quelled with satisfaction. This country is not suppressed outwardly but inwardly, and it too eats itself into oblivion. Of course, the worst possible country is that which has pigs in both arenas, and there may be no better current manifestation of this type of country than the United States of America — a nation with a people (generally speaking of course) who are so conditioned to live a certain way, they will go to extreme depths and debts to hold on to that gift all the while being led by a pack of pigs who rarely think twice about spending someone else’s hard earned money. George Orwell, famous for his futuristic implications in his fiction, perhaps best displays a society led by pigs in his fantastic novella Animal Farm.
I first experienced this book in sixth grade, and the scope of its magnificence was completely lost on me at the time, and it remained unfinished. The decision to pick up this novel came during another “observation” of a high school English class. They were reading it, and the highest moral truth in a high school is to fit in and that I endeavored to do (here’s to hoping I utterly failed). Orwell chooses in this brilliant novella to place his created nation in the confines of a farm, parodying the Russian revolution that had begun with Marx and crept its way into the twentieth century. Therefore, each animal and character represents a Russian leader or a concept involved in the Revolution. Old Major is Marx, Snowball is the Czar and Napoleon (aptly named from the more famous Napoleon Bonaparte) is Stalin. These characters who are leaders of the farm are naturally pigs.
The sixth grade version of myself lost the dual significance that takes place in choosing to have pigs as the leaders of the Animal Farm Revolution. Pigs have in the one sense the connotation of gluttony — overeating and self-indulgence. They are certainly not considered clean by the average individual further deepening this negative associations that Snowball and Napoleon will have with their characters. Yet more importantly, pigs are some of the smartest animals on our planet (top ten according to NBC and confirmed by my roommate who is from Iowa). Thus, it is significant that Orwell would choose the pig out of all the animals to start the revolution on Manor Farm. These pigs play a central role in the novel, and it is they who (SPOILER) look so much like people in the end. It is evident that Orwell was writing this novella not as a story about a revolution but one about all revolutions. They all have certain qualities, and the best way to overcome these oppressive oligarchies is found in this easy four-step process.
1. Establish A Moral Cause
The soul is the engine of the human body, or better yet, the essence of our being. This trifling little aspect of our nature is what causes us to perk up when innate moral laws are broken by our brethren. The best way, then, to start a revolution is to get your followers to believe that what they are doing is morally correct. This stirs the soul like nothing else. Orwell understood that history’s tyrants also understood this. And Old Major was no different in his opening speech.
“…our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength… No animal in England is free… The soil of England… is capable of affording food in abundance to an enormously greater number of animals than now inhabit it… nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings… Man is the only creature that consumes without producing… Yet he is lord of all the animals… no animal escapes the cruel knife in the end… Only get ride of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own… sooner or later justice will be done. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself… No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil. And above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal.”
The emphasis in this speech is certainly directed towards the animal’s moral right to freedom and the injustices of man. This same rhetoric is used today regarding a whole host of issues on both sides of the political spectrum. Those who argue for universal health care use the same rhetorical devices as those who argue against abortion, and the arguments will continue to instigate their base to feel they are doing the morally correct thing. But even after Old Major dies in the story, the pigs have to remind the animals that their obligation to the cause is morally justified. Snowball reminds Mollie the horse that her ribbons are a badge of slavery, and Mollie must make the distinction that freedom is better than slavery.
Before we get too caught up in the rhetoric however, we must give Orwell credit for another clever aspect of this novella. As the rebellion is just about to begin, he makes note that Mr. Jones the farmer had “fallen on evil days… and had taken to drinking more than was good for him.” Rarely does the narrator come out in this work and offer any sort of judgment on what is occurring, but he does specify here that Mr. Jones was not exactly George Washington. He had his own faults, and if we apply this to revolutions in general (as I am arguing here), we notice that all revolutions stem from a just critique of the current leaders in charge. There is no perfect government, no perfect candidate, and they are only going to get worse. Until we accept that, we will always be disappointed and upset with what goes on in our countries.
2. Set An Unattainable Goal
Now that we have the proper tools to overthrow the oligarchy, we must get to work! The pigs on Manor Farm certainly understood this aspect of their own revolution, and the first task was to instigate a new culture. The revolution must be about more than simply cleaning house like a present day American revolution. Instead, the pigs drew up a whole new set of commandments (seven exactly), changed the name of the farm to “Animal Farm”, and created the most important concept in a revolution: an unattainable goal. The idea that the revolution is actually over when the old leaders are done away with is the common myth of any revolutionizer. The real revolution continues and never ends, and the pigs had to make sure that their blind followers were willing to work hard for their own preservation. Of course, from the get-go the pigs begin taking more rations for themselves, an interesting aspect in this case as, much like man, they produced nothing for the farm (since animals cannot kill each other). As squealer, Napoleon’s propaganda machine, justifies: “We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depends on us.”
Indeed, the pigs were the only ones who were able to grasp much of an education on the farm, and their ability to read kept the other animals at a distinct disadvantage. This is another key component to keeping a revolution going. The future of any society will inevitably go to those who are well-educated. There is no other option. The brawn of a nation may rise up for a spell, but eventually the brains will think up a way to overcome brute strength. Boxer the horse for instance, symbolized great physical strength, but it was the pigs who knew how to wield the little strength they had. This ability to mold minds leads to the creation of the all-important windmill. This activity, symbolic of aspects of the Russian Revolution, builds within the story a sort of climatic goal that the animals could all strive towards — indicative also of an even broader “goal” that would be some utopian-like society.
All that year the animals worked like slaves. But they were happy in their work; they grudged no effort or sacrifice, well aware that everything that they did was for the benefit of themselves and those of their kind who would come after them, and not for a pack of idle, thieving human beings.
3. Become A Good Story Teller
As these animals ironically slaved away for the sole purpose of a future they would never see come to fruition, the pigs began to engage in the necessary art of story telling: the rewriting of history and its documents. As the novella progresses, the seven commandments are slowly changed to benefit whatever whim may currently be in vogue with the pigs — the few who could actually write and remember the commandments anyways. This idea of changing the past is also pertinent in Orwell’s other masterpiece 1984 in which Winston Smith’s job is to change historical documents to better reflect current dogma. He was, in this sense, very keen to the fact that changing the future started with changing the past. If we can control what our followers know abut the past, we can control what happens in the present and future. And the pigs too have to adjust the past to better fit what was going on in the farm. As Napoleon and his followers began acting more and more like humans — wearing clothes, sleeping in a bed, drinking alcohol, killing other animals and even walking on two legs — the specific commandments had to be rewritten. In America this of course makes perfect sense as, at their inauguration, each successive president is given a match with which he kindles into flame our hallowed constitution.
But the other animals were unfortunately too stupid and unlearned to know what was happening right before their eyes, and every time they remembered correctly that one of the commandments were being broken, they were baffled to find their memories were apparently mistaken. The epic distortion comes at the very end with the rewriting of the seventh commandment: “All Animals are equal” becomes “All Animals are equal but some Animals are more equal than others.” Rewriting often results in absurdity.
4. Imitate Your Oppressor
Though the revolution is an ongoing process never to be fully completed by most revolutionizers, the leaders of such rebellions do eventually attain an end of sorts. This is accomplished when they have fully gained control of their flock. Orwell’s witty story about an animal rebellion on an English farm is so beautifully fulfilled when the pigs start acting like people because this is the very nature of almost every revolution that occurs. If we accept the premise that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, we must be resolved to see that the pigs that led this rebellion, controlled the education, and rewrote the past were given the most power, and this power corrupted them absolutely. The pigs begin walking on two feet, wearing clothes and carrying whips in their holsters. “Animal Farm” became “Manor Farm” once again and treaties and friendships were developed between pigs and people. The book’s final paragraph leaves the reader at the beginning of the novel, and the revolution utterly hopeless.
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.
The two novels of Orwell’s that I have read are very bleak with little room for hope. The joy in reading these types of novels is usually coming out of them in full realization that we do not live entirely without hope in our world. Though the visual evidence we take note of is akin to something like Voltaire’s Candide or Melville’s meaningless world of Moby Dick, we know deep down that another world exists for us. Nations, governments, and politicians be corrupted to the core as they surely are. But we place no hope in them for they are but a bleak shadow to a new Kingdom with a perfectly just Judge who is no pig or person but an all-powerful Lion.