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Animal Farm by George Orwell, has turned out to be one of the most read books amongst political theoreticians. Though a fiction with animals as main characters, just replace some of the protagonists with bona fide humans, and it would easily be reflecting real-life situations; greed, backbiting, and power tussle.
Animal Farm was published in 1944. The storyline centers on the struggle for equality, power, and emancipation from slavery by the farm animals. Mr. Jones, their tyrant master, holds them in captivity. The animals realize that they were under oppression when Old Major, one of the boar animals, inspires them with a revolution speech. The speech motivates them to revolt against their master and embraces animalism. A power-drunk pig, Napoleon, becomes a dictator, and the principles of animalism die. The author depicts a society filled with selfish leadership and inequality. He uses an animal setting, but the goals and lessons are clear.
Animal Farm uses an animal setting to depict real-world experience. The author exposes the dehumanization, tyrannical government, and a cataclysmic decline in society. He shows the animals living in a highly controlled totalitarian system where they can’t make decisions. George Orwell’s work in Animal Farm shows the state of his society where great sufferings and injustices prevailed.
The story reflects the bestial events that led to the Russian revolution of 1917. The author believed so much in a system where means of production follows social and collective ownership. He was a critic of the former General Secretary of the communist party of the Soviet Union. This frame of mind was because of his experience during the Spanish Civil War.
Quest for leadership and power
There’s no doubt that power tends to change one’s behavior or character. One of the central ideas of Animal Farm is the struggle for leadership and power. The Pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, are the two most intelligent and enlightened on the farm. They assume a leadership role after Old Major, the oldest animal, gave a fascinating speech about a revolution. After Old Major’s death, the two smart animals spearhead the revolution, which stops the reign of Mr. Jones and his men. Even during the battle of the cowshed, their intelligence helped them to win. The Manor Farm changes to the Animal Farm after the animals overthrow their oppressor.
Snowball, as a leader, seems to be selfless, creative, intelligent, and passionate about the welfare of the animals. On the other hand, Napoleon seems to be power-drunk, deceptive, and manipulative. The controversy of who dominates policies and programs to implement grows between the two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball thinks that a windmill will save labor and improve their technological know-how. But Napoleon insists on channeling the animal energy on producing more food. According to him, the building of a windmill will take too much time. This is the highlight and the climax of power tussle between the two leaders. Before the actual date for a resolution, Napoleon chases Snowball out of the Animal Farm. Power-drunk Napoleon deceives the animals and manipulates them. The principle of animalism changes to “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the other.”
Those who see themselves in the corridor of power want to assume the position of a deity. They become dictatorial, trying to determine the destiny of the citizenry. A real-life example of Napoleon is Adolf Hitler of Germany, who became a power-drunk and a dictator. He wanted to take over the world by killing nearly six million Jews. Also, many leaders today promise to make the country better for the citizens. But the moment they taste of power becomes too sweet; they’ll forget all about it and pursue their selfish interests.
Dishonesty and fraudulent conducts are the order of the day in Animal Farm. Moral substandard becomes standard in the side of the ruling class. The action of Napoleon is that of a greedy leader whose action is just egocentric. One of the unfolding events is the disappearance of milk and apple from the mash. Squealer, the propaganda master, convinces the animals that pigs need the apple and the milk more than others. According to him, the pigs work to help all the animals on the farm. This is the beginning of questionable character which the pigs exhibit due to greed. Napoleon starts to trade with human beings, which is forbidden.
Also, according to the animals’ principles of “four legs good two legs bad,” any human with two legs is an enemy. But, the rule seemed not to apply to the ruling class. Napoleon starts living a luxurious life while others suffer. He will always use Squealer to deliver an excellent propaganda speech to brainwash and invoke sympathy from the animals. The establishment of a new lifestyle that is not in line with the principle of animalism finally brings the system down.
Relating the events of the Animal Farm to real-life situations, we understand the slogan, “Power corrupts absolute power corrupt absolutely.” This can be related to the story of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who is Africa’s longest-serving ruler. He has governed Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich West African country, since August 1979. Teodoro overthrew his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in a bloody coup and took leadership forcefully. The country is one of the continent’s largest producers of oil and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into prosperity for its people. As for now, the country ranks very poorly in the United Nations human development index.
Exploiting naivety and deception
In Animal Farm, most of the animals are untrained, unschooled, ignorant but harmless. The pigs that seem to be intelligent animals take advantage of other animals exploiting them to their advantage. To be precise, the gradual changing of commandments of animalism to suit them is a perfect example. For instance,
- Animal shall not drink alcohol to excess, becomes animal shall drink alcohol.
- Animal shall not sleep in a bed, becomes animal shall sleep on the bed but not with a white sheet.
No animal questions the changes except Clover. More so, in Napoleon’s usual way of deceiving the animals, he accuses Snowball of masterminding the breakdown of the windmill. He further declares that anyone who brings Snowball will receive rewards by declaring him a threat to national security. And this is a usual accusation levied by dictatorial regimes nowadays on persons who attempt to challenge their hegemony.
Also, most of the animals are illiterate and cannot read nor write. The rulers manipulate them to the point that they are scared of asking questions for fear of their lives. As boxer who works harder will always say, “Napoleon is always right.” Again Napoleon relies on Squealer’s eloquence to spread lies in the form of propaganda. Squealer’s lies manipulate the animals and consolidate Napoleon’s power.
The character which Napoleon and the educated pigs’ exhibit, is relatable to some African leaders. They manipulate the citizens who are illiterates and tell them lies that look like truth. These leaders use their position, manipulate the media through stringent censorship in order to keep them in the dark, and accomplish their selfish goal. They make many unrealistic promises to capture the minds of the people; unfortunately, it’s usually cheap deceitful propaganda.
Dreams and Hope
The story of Animal Farm does not refute the desire to hope and dream, even by the animals. Old Major tells the story that tickles their fancy and raises their hope. After Major dies, the story motivates them to take their destiny in their hand and build the country of their dream. The rebellious animals think that chasing humans from the farm means freedom and happiness. They create seven commandments of animalism, and everything looks rosy. But their dreams and hopes shatter when the entire system collapses. The other animals live on but fail to differentiate the pigs and human beings because they are walking like them.
Dreams can become wishful thinking when not followed by action and appropriate planning. Most African countries who gained independence in the early 60s are now worse than the way their colonial masters left them. They thought they could control their economy but realized later that it was not possible. The leaders who fought for this independence led the people to perpetual poverty but kept swimming in the ocean of wealth.
Animal Farm is a must-read novel for everyone who wants to understand the intricacies of power-drunk leaders. The novel also exposes the strategies which corrupt leaders use to seize power and manipulate the citizens. It is also recommended for visionary leaders who want to make a change in their little position against all the odds. The novel shows a replica of what is happening in third world countries. Governments are full of deceit, corruption, manipulation, and propaganda, which they use to brainwash the citizenry.
The novel shows how revolutions can turn out to be illusions. And this has been experienced in most African countries. No sooner have popular uprisings topple what they considered dictatorships than a more repressive regime takes over not long after the euphoria is passed. It also debunks how leaders abuse power to their gain. It may be true that no matter the level of effort put in, equality will continue to be a myth. In any case, George Orwell’s Animal Farm should serve as an eye-opener that would help society guard against power mongers. When humans become obsessed with power, they become hungrier for it to the detriment of the general good.