Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Because Animal Farm is a story about a revolution betrayed, and Orwell wants us to feel how terrible this betrayal is, he knows it's important for us to begin by feeling the force of the hopes and ideals the Revolution started out with. This is what he tries to convey in the two opening chapters. He also suggests, subtly at first, and then more sharply, what kinds of things will lead to the betrayal of the revolutionary ideal. But the opening isn't too serious or heavy-handed; it is here above all that Orwell works with the conciseness, simplicity, and concrete detail that give his story humor and charm. He wants us to know it's the beginning of a fable: we can immediately be amused by watching characters who are both animals and people at the same time. It's also the beginning of the Revolution, so the atmosphere is mostly hopeful- although we can see dark shadows underneath if we look.
Chapter I describes a revolutionary meeting. This chapter 1. sets the scene: the drunken farmer and all the farm animals; 2. sets up the situation: the revolutionary vision, in Major's speech and song, sets the animals on fire; 3. suggests problems for the future.
It's easy to imagine an old joke, or cartoon, beginning just about the way Animal Farm does: When Farmer Jones comes home drunk one night... Then the snoring wife, the light out in the bedroom, AND THEN in the semidarkness, the animals gathering to hear a speech. The visual effects of the first paragraph are as clear as a cartoon: "With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard." The character of Farmer Jones himself is like a cartoon character. Soon we'll see that his drunkenness and irresponsibility ("too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes") will have serious consequences- and a deeper meaning. For now, note the name: "Farmer Jones" is not only a stock farmer's name in a joke. It is also a way of saying any farmer, the typical farmer.
As is fitting for the only chapter in the book entirely taking place on the farm when it is owned and run by Jones, the first and last paragraphs center on his actions. They provide a neat little frame for the chapter.
Now the focus turns to the animals. From the start Orwell presents them simultaneously as both animals- "there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings"- and as characters who talk and react as human beings- "Word had gone round..." that Major "had a strange dream... and wished to communicate it to the other animals. It had been agreed..." Their human situation is already one of resistance to a dangerous master- "they should all meet in the big barn as soon as Mr. Jones was safely out of the way." But they have a "highly regarded" leader in Old Major. Since "everyone was quite ready to lose an hour's sleep to hear what he had to say," we realize that an important speech is about to be made.
First Orwell introduces us to the speaker and his audience. The leader is already comfortably in place "on his bed of straw" (animal again), "under a lantern which hung from a beam" (this convincing human detail is a cartoon touch if ever there was one). Then, one by one, as they come into the barn, we are introduced to all the main characters and the rest of the farm animals.
NOTE: Throughout this introduction, there is a pleasant humor in the way the combinations of human and animal traits are described. Even though they're about to listen to a speech and have clearly human traits (middle-aged Clover "had never quite got her figure back after her fourth foal," Benjamin is known for his cynical remarks, "foolish pretty" Mollie hopes to draw attention to her ribbons), each is a different kind of animal, and Orwell never lets us forget it: "the hens perched themselves on the windowsills, the pigeons fluttered up to the rafters, the sheep and cows lay down... and began to chew the cud." And they are true to their nature: "Last of all came the cat, who looked round, as usual, for the warmest places, and finally squeezed herself in between Boxer and Clover; there she purred contentedly throughout Major's speech without listening to a word of what he was saying."
As we consider all these types and classes of "people," quick and slow, large and small, bright and dumb, we can't help thinking of them as a whole society, complete in itself. Before he begins to talk, Major, like any speaker with presence and authority, makes sure all the animals are "waiting attentively." So are we. When he clears his throat and begins, we know we're in for the main event.
"Comrades," he begins- and this is the first hint of political allegory in the tale: "Comrade" has been the term of address among socialist revolutionaries for almost a century. It still is common in the Soviet Union. So there is already a hint that this story about a farm is really about revolutionary politics. Not that Major is going to talk about politics in the usual American sense of the word. Before telling his dream, he's going to speak to them, with all the benefit of his age and experience, about "the nature of life."
Major paints a grim picture of the "natural" life of animals. He soon makes them realize, however, that what seems natural isn't: animals are miserable, hungry slaves because man enslaves them, profits from their labor, and gives them in return just barely enough to stay alive. In other words, what seems a philosophical question ("the nature of life") is really a political problem (who has power over whom? who profits from whom?). Since it's a political problem, it has a political solution: get rid of the enslaver, get rid of Man.
In the first paragraph, Major begins skillfully setting up this solution by at first using passive forms to show the misery of the animal condition without saying who is responsible: "we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies," "[we] are forced to work to the last atom of our strength." A born orator, he drives home his point with repetition and short, simple, generalizing phrases: "No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth."
NOTE: There is a little joke in Major's portrait of the animal condition. When he calls their lives "miserable, laborious and short," he echoes the 17th-century thinker Thomas Hobbes' famous description of Man's life in a state of nature: "nasty, brutish, and short." Since Major is talking of animal life in a given political situation- subjection to Man- the phrase comes out as comical parody. You'll see that there's much more parody in Major's speech.
In the next paragraph he shows that it doesn't have to be this way; it is not "part of the order of nature"; the land is more than rich enough to feed everybody plentifully. Then, and only then, does Major name the cause of the animals' misery: Man.
Man takes everything from the animals and gives them back next to nothing. Using a powerful oratorical trick, Major then addresses members of his audience directly:
"You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies. And you hens, how many eggs have you laid this last year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens?... And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age? Each was sold at a year old..."
And as soon as Man can take nothing more from them, they are "slaughtered with hideous cruelty," as he said at the start of his speech. Now Major makes each of them feel it:
"You young porkers who are sitting in front of me, every one of you will scream your lives out at the block within a year. To that horror we all must come- cows, pigs, hens, sheep, everyone... You, Boxer, the very day that those great muscles of yours lose their power, Jones will sell you to the knacker, who will cut your throat and boil you down for the foxhounds."
Major accuses Man of exploitation and cruelty. In his view there is only one way out: "get rid of Man"- and only one way to do it: "Rebellion!" Only when the Rebellion occurs- and it may not come for generations, he says- will the animals "become rich and free." As a matter of fact, the Rebellion will triumph in the very next chapter. We'll see what becomes of the two themes of exploitation and cruelty when Man is removed and the animals run the farm by themselves. Keep your eyes particularly on Major's last example: the fate of Boxer.
For now, Major tells them, they must unite against the common enemy: "All animals are comrades." Unfortunately, he is interrupted at this very moment by the uproar of the dogs chasing the rats, who barely escape with their lives. Major sees the problem:
"Comrades," he said, "here is a point that must be settled. The wild creatures, such as rats and rabbits- are they our friends or our enemies? Let us put it to the vote. I propose this question to the meeting: Are rats comrades?"
They vote rats as comrades, with only four dissenters: "the three dogs, and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides."
Now at this point, most of us will be grinning from ear to ear, if we're not laughing out loud. What had seemed a moving speech has turned into comedy. The joke comes from the contradiction of Major's ideal pronouncement "All animals are comrades" with animal reality: dogs and cats kill rats. The animals' majority vote- the democratic ideal- is not about to change that. We'll come back to this question of ideal vision versus real nature later.
The other source of humor here is Major's utterly human political vocabulary ("put it to the vote," "propose this question to the meeting"). We realize, if we haven't done so earlier, that we can't quite listen to Major's speech as an animal's denunciation of human cruelty to animals. It is also a human speech about man's cruelty to man. The fable is also an allegory: it stands for another story, which deepens its meaning.
And this allegorical speech is also a parody, which amuses us once we realize what it refers to: just as Major is- humorously- both pig and human, his speech is- again, humorously- both his and that of a human revolutionary idealist: Karl Marx.
Major's speech is a summary, in animal terms, of the socialist view of the human condition, particularly as described by Marx. Workers and peasants (the proletariat) labor for the profit of the owners of the means of production (the bourgeoisie). From the work of the proletariat, the owners gain wealth and money for investment (capital); in return, Marx said, they give the workers back just enough money to stay alive, in the form of wages. (Remember, Marx was writing in the middle of the 19th century, when wages were very low and working hours very long. But Orwell, too, had seen terrible working-class conditions in the English mining country.)
The condition of the animals under Man, in Major's speech, is the condition of the proletariat under the bourgeoisie as the socialists traditionally saw it. And the solution is the same. As Marx and Engels wrote in the famous closing lines of the Communist Manifesto: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!"
NOTE: You can read Major's speech without thinking of Marx, just as you can read the rest of Animal Farm without thinking of the Soviet Union. But would it still be funny? Perhaps it would still have the humor of a fable- the very fact of a revolutionary speaker addressing members of the crowd as "You hens..." is enough to raise a smile. Knowing Marx- in other words, making the Animal Meeting an allegory and Major's speech a parody- makes the story both deeper and funnier. Deeper, because we may feel, as the socialist Orwell certainly did, the passion for justice that stirs the animals. Funnier, because it's amusing to discover Marx's ideas in the animal's complaints.
Major goes on to summarize the animals' "duty of enmity towards Man":
"Whatever goes upon two legs, is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him."
From this basic principle, Major draws his essential commandments:
"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."
"And, above all," he says, the doctrine of animal solidarity and equality should characterize the struggle and the new society after the Revolution:
"...no animal must ever tyrannize 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."
NOTE: You may take Major's whole speech as a mocking parody. Some readers feel that Orwell is laughing at inflammatory revolutionists and their gullible audience. But other readers are amused and moved by Major's speech. Parody, they feel, can be serious and funny at the same time. In the last analysis, how you react to Major's speech, and for that matter to the "revolution" that follows, may depend on your own political feelings. Or, perhaps, those feelings will be changed by this book.
When Major comes to his indescribable dream, "a dream of the earth as it will be when Man has vanished" (in human terms, the dream of a society in which social classes have disappeared), and the song that came back to him in that dream, Orwell again introduces unmistakably humorous elements. The song is "a stirring tune," the narrator says, and then adds, "something between 'Clementine' and 'La Cucaracha.'" (And in fact the song can be sung to either of these tunes.)
In the excitement it has for the animals, in its revolutionary function, "Beasts of England" resembles songs that have actually played a role in worker uprisings around the world. And its vision- an end to inequality, cruelty, and exploitation, a victorious struggle to bring forth "the golden future time"- was Orwell's own vision when he saw revolutionary Barcelona in 1937. The writer Arthur Koestler, who knew Orwell, thought the song- particularly the last stanza- expressed Orwell's own hopes and ideals. This is all true. But just try to sing those words to the tune of "Clementine" or "La Cucaracha" without laughing!
And just in case we've forgotten that it's an animal fable, Orwell reminds us when the animals sing the song: "The cows lowed it, the dogs whined it, the sheep bleated it, the horses whinnied it, the ducks quacked it."
Then Mr. Jones's drunken shot in the dark silences the animals, and Orwell ends the first chapter with the tone of a bedtime fable: "The birds jumped on to their perches, the animals settled down in the straw, and the whole farm was asleep in a moment."
NOTE: We've already seen that there may be some problems for the animal solidarity and equality of dogs and rats, even in "the golden future time." If we look back at Orwell's presentation of Major's audience- the characters in the book- we can see that they form a kind of society in miniature, with its own distinctions, and perhaps hierarchy. For example, we may wonder why the pigs settle down "immediately in front of the platform." Boxer is "not of first rate intelligence," and he seems to work harder than the others. Mollie and the cat are not interested in Major's speech at all, although for different reasons. Whatever Orwell's intentions, the very fact that this is a fable, with the animals' role and personality defined once and for all by their kind, suggests that there is a natural order, a natural hierarchy- and natural antagonisms, too. How can revolution change that?
We do see brotherly, protective behavior on the part of the animals, though. Boxer and Clover come in "together, walking very slowly and setting down their vast hairy hoofs with great care lest there should be some small animal concealed in the straw." Then, when the motherless ducklings wander around the barn to find a safe place, "Clover made a sort of wall round them with her great foreleg, and the ducklings nestled down inside it." They perform these comradely actions before Major's speech about hatred to Man and comradeship among animals. Orwell seems to be suggesting that there is some instinctive decency in the working class.
Major's idealistic vision may be doomed by certain realities of nature: hierarchy and antagonism. Or will the society created by the Rebellion encourage the natural decency of animals like Boxer and Clover? If we look carefully, we see that Orwell has hinted at problems for the Rebellion from the very start.
The Rebellion happens. It is preceded by the animals' preparation for it and the human master's mismanagement and neglect; then there is a spontaneous revolt. Next we see the animals' joy in the victorious revolution- the farm is theirs!- and the first steps at making a new society based on animal solidarity and equality. This principle is subtly undermined throughout, however, by the increasingly dominant role played by the pigs, especially Napoleon and Snowball. Finally an incident at the very end of the chapter reveals the first clear betrayal of the revolutionary ideal.
Like many teachers and prophets, Major dies before he can see his dream realized. But it immediately has a profound effect on the way the animals see their world:
Major's speech had given to the more intelligent animals on the farm a completely new outlook on life. They did not know when the Rebellion predicted by Major would take place, they had no reason for thinking that it would be within their own lifetime, but they saw clearly that it was their duty to prepare for it.
But our careful reading of Chapter I leads us to be alert to what follows:
The work of teaching and organizing the others fell naturally upon the pigs, who were generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals.
These words suggest a disturbing contradiction once again: preparation for an egalitarian revolution is being led by those who seem to be on the top of a natural hierarchy.
We are then introduced to the pigs- Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer. Part of their work has been to elaborate old Major's "teachings" into a "complete system of thought" they call Animalism. Major's vision has been transformed into a doctrine. But this is only the first transformation his ideas will undergo.
NOTE: Not all of the animals immediately accept the doctrine of Animalism. Some of them question the need for revolution- and are dismissed as being stupid and apathetic. Look at some of the questions the animals raise. Do you think all of their objections are stupid? Do you think Orwell thought they were?
We would expect Boxer and Clover, hardworking and simple, to be the "most faithful disciples" of the new vision. And they are: "...having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments." This quotation highlights that unsettling contradiction once again: Boxer and Clover are working for the Rebellion in the name of equality, yet their position seems subordinate- worse still, naturally subordinate- to the pigs.
As for Moses, the tame raven, we recall that he was the only animal who didn't even come to the meeting in the barn. He represents religion in the fable- he encourages the animals to comfort themselves for the troubles of this life by thinking of the happiness to come in the afterlife, Sugarcandy Mountain: "...some of them believed in Sugarcandy Mountain, and the pigs had to argue very hard to persuade them that there was no such place." The new faith replaces the old with difficulty.
Next Orwell swiftly sketches Farmer Jones' increasing mismanagement and neglect. Finally, one day in June, Jones goes on a binge and forgets to feed the animals all day. Out of sheer hunger, they break into the storeroom and begin to help themselves. When Jones and his men charge in and start whipping them, the "Rebellion" occurs:
With one accord, though nothing of the kind had been planned beforehand, they flung themselves upon their tormentors. Jones and his men suddenly found themselves being butted and kicked from all sides.... They had never seen animals behave like this before, and this sudden uprising of creatures whom they were used to thrashing and maltreating just as they chose, frightened them almost out of their wits.... they gave up trying to defend themselves and took to their heels.
The Rebellion is spontaneous ("nothing of the kind had been planned beforehand"), but would it have happened without Major and without the animals' preparation for it? At any rate, there is no leader; Orwell does not give the name of one single animal. For him, revolution is the affair of the people as a whole. And clearly, his sympathy is on the side of the Revolution, "this sudden uprising of creatures whom [the masters] were used to thrashing and maltreating just as they chose."
Orwell's sympathy for the rebels' joy in the victorious revolution is still more evident in the passages that follow. The animals gallop all around the farm "as though to make sure that no human being was hiding anywhere upon it"; then they race back to the farm buildings to destroy all the cruel traces of human oppression: bits, nose-rings, castrating knives, etc. "All the animals capered with joy when they saw the whips going up in flames." (Keep this detail in mind. We'll see it again later.)
Perhaps Boxer goes too far when, after hearing Snowball declare that animals should shun any form of clothes as "the mark of a human being," he burns a small hat he wore in summer to keep the flies out of his ears. And again, what may seem natural when we first read it (and what seems natural to the animals) is slightly sinister if we take a closer look: "Napoleon led them back to the store-shed and served out a double ration of corn to everybody..." Why does he have to lead and serve things out to them?
Still, the main intent of these passages is to make us feel the joy of those who have never owned anything when they suddenly realize they own the place they have worked in all their lives. There are scenes of joy in pure, utopian nature in a number of Orwell's other novels (particularly in Coming Up for Air and 1984), but they are usually dreams or memories that contrast ironically with a soiled and dismal present. In Animal Farm, this passage of revolutionary joy will contrast ironically with a harsh and dismal future.
The farmhouse, symbolizing the repressive past, is turned into a museum. After burying some hams (delightful detail- why do you think they do that?), they leave the house untouched, and agree unanimously that "no animal must ever live there." And we'll see what happens to that resolution.
The pigs have taught themselves to read and write. Again a detail makes it come alive: "from an old spelling book which had belonged to Mr. Jones's children and which had been thrown on the rubbish heap." Snowball succeeds in painting out MANOR FARM from the gate and painting in ANIMAL FARM. The pigs have also "succeeded in reducing the principles of Animalism to Seven Commandments" to be inscribed on the wall: "they would form an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after." So Major's dream has gone from vision to doctrine to "unalterable law," painted on the wall, thus:
The rest of Animal Farm is about the progressive alteration of those written laws, until nothing is left of them except the- famous- corruption of the last one. Orwell is not only concerned with the corruption of an ideal- a corruption brought about by power (as we shall see); he is also concerned with the corruption of language that goes along with it.
At this point Orwell gives us an incident that reveals this corruption of language. The cows start lowing, and the animals realize that they have to be milked immediately. "After a little thought," the pigs manage to do this, "their trotters being well adapted to this task." (Once more, some animals just seem naturally superior!) "Soon there were five buckets of frothing creamy milk at which many of the animals looked with considerable interest."
"What is going to happen to all that milk?" said someone.
"Jones used sometimes to mix some of it in our mash," said one of the hens.
"Never mind the milk, comrades!" cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets. "That will be attended to. The harvest is more important. Comrade Snowball will lead the way. I shall follow in a few minutes. Forward, comrades! The hay is waiting."
This parody of the discourse of a dishonest revolutionary leader marks the first time in Animal Farm that language has been used to hide something. (It is also Napoleon's first speech in the novel.) What it's hiding is personal privilege and greed:
So the animals trooped down to the hayfield to begin the harvest, and when they came back in the evening it was noticed that the milk had disappeared.
We see the leader exercising control through language- in such a way that it almost seems natural and inevitable.
For the first time, too, Orwell uses a kind of irony that he will come back to again and again- an irony inherent in the fable's point of view. The narrator tells the story from the naive viewpoint of the mass of animals and often in the passive voice ("it was noticed that the milk had disappeared") without giving any explanation for the event. Since the reader sees the explanation clearly enough, we can say that Orwell is using the oldest ironic trick there is: feigned ignorance. The effect on most readers is somewhere between a smile and a wince.
NOTE: You have probably begun to suspect that Animal Farm is a story that raises a variety of questions, a story that has meaning on many levels. The incident of the milk raises a series of interrelated problems. Let's separate them for convenience:
All these problems will come up again and again.
The first paragraph sets the tone and suggests the topic of this chapter:
How they toiled and sweated to get the hay in! But their efforts were rewarded, for the harvest was an even bigger success than they had hoped.
In the early days of the Revolution, there is hard going for everyone, but the system actually works better than before, because of the animal's feelings of pride and solidarity. The result of this hard work- now that the animals own the farm- is happiness, both physical and spiritual.
However, this pleasure in the first accomplishments of the Revolution is undercut- for the reader if not for the animals- by the growing political power of the pigs. The conditions of their life are different from those of the other animals. Fittingly, the chapter ends with a full-length explanation of the "mystery of the milk"- and with apples thrown in for good measure.
We'll want to pay careful attention to Orwell's irony as he undercuts his triumphant revolutionary tale by simultaneously narrating the rise of the pigs.
Animal Farm has sometimes been read as a fable against socialism. Yet here Orwell seems to be suggesting that socialism- true socialism, in which the means of production really are owned by those who work them- is efficient and leads to happiness.
Early in the chapter, we come upon these revealing sentences, numbered here for convenience with key words capitalized:
We have seen that the question of what is "natural" (equality or hierarchy) is constantly implied in Animal Farm. Here the pigs assume a superior, nonworking, managerial position because of their "natural" cleverness and knowledge. This is stated in sentences 1, 3, and 4. But where is the evidence of their knowledge? The only place we see real knowledge shown is in sentence 2, which shows the skill and knowledge of the supposedly stupid horses. It is, perhaps, "natural" to the other animals that the pigs just give orders- and it certainly seems natural to the pigs. Orwell makes no comment on this, but gives us evidence to see differently. This is typical of the irony that derives from the fable's point of view.
Where the pigs are really outstandingly clever is in political life. For example, they know how to use symbols: Snowball explains the new flag they've made, green for the green fields of England, hoof-and-horn for the Republic of Animals. (Need we recall that the Soviets made their flag hammer-and-sickle for worker-and-peasant, red for the traditional color of revolution?) They also know how to dominate the Meetings, where "the work of the coming week was planned out and resolutions were put forward and debated." The description of the Meetings contains one of the saddest sentences in this part of Animal Farm: "The other animals understood how to vote, but could never think of any resolutions of their own." Alas, the pigs are natural leaders. Most of the animals- like most people- are not.
Snowball's talent for organizing Animal Committees, however, runs into problems. The "Wild Comrades Re-education Committee" is a total failure, as is the cat's attempt to convince a sparrow that they are comrades: language can't always change human nature (or let's just say nature).
In the pigs' reading and writing program, we do see a natural hierarchy. But the pigs are not necessarily at the very top. Benjamin the mule, for example, can read perfectly, but doesn't: "nothing worth reading," he says. Boxer, on the other hand, can only trace out a few letters. And the sheep, hens, and ducks can't even learn the Seven Commandments, so the ingenious Snowball finds a way to reduce them to a single saying: FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD, which the sheep enjoy bleating for hours on end.
NOTE: The combination of the pigs' cleverness and the natural stupidity of some animals has caused Major's teachings to undergo still another modification. They have gone from vision to doctrine (Animalism) to "unalterable law" (the Seven Commandments) and now to slogan. Snowball claims that the slogan expresses "the essential principle of Animalism." Does it? Read the Commandments again. Can they all be fully expressed by the slogan?
Napoleon takes no interest in Snowball's committees, but goes in for "the education of the young," taking nine new puppies off to be educated. This is part of the opposition, already noted at meetings, between Napoleon and Snowball. It is also another innocent detail that becomes sinister once we've read Chapter V.
All the animals- but Boxer above all- have been straining and working tirelessly, though happily, for the welfare of the Farm. The pigs have been directing, reading, debating. Toward the end of the chapter, with no comment, and without any apparent connection to what follows, Orwell relates, as if it were another natural event: "The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed into the pigs' mash." Moreover, when there are new apples, "The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that" they were to be brought to the pigs.
Differences in roles have led to differences in diet, to inequality and privilege. Notice how clever Orwell has been in slipping these things in. "The order went forth"- this is the first we hear of the pigs' actually issuing directives- and neither the sentence nor the animals are stopped short by the fact. Some animals may "murmur" at this particular order, "but it was no use." Again, no explanation to the reader, no analysis, just statement of the bare, inescapable fact. "All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon." As if this explains why "it was no use"!
NOTE: Some readers have seen Snowball as a good, generous leader, from whose future downfall all evils will come. Given his participation in the order about the milk, would you agree?
The pigs send their mouthpiece, Squealer, to explain the decision (not to debate it, we note) to the animals. This is the first time we see him in action. In a heavy parody of hypocritical, self-seeking propaganda, Squealer tells them that many of the pigs are taking milk and apples against their wills:
"Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brain-workers... Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples."
As a clincher, he informs them that "if we pigs failed in our duty, Jones would come back!... surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?" No one notices the lack of logical connection between the apples and the return of Jones. But "if there was one thing the animals were completely certain of... it was that they did not want Jones back." No one has any more to say.
NOTE: In a further perversion of language and the egalitarian ideal, revolutionary rhetoric has been used for obvious self-interest- obvious to the reader, that is, not the animals. Orwell's heaviest irony- it becomes sarcastic parody here- falls on propaganda, especially when propaganda works.
After the revolutionary enthusiasm- and the increasing irony- of Chapter III, and before the grim ironies in store for us in Chapter V, the narrative in this chapter is fast and light. With the help of his men and two neighbors, Jones tries to take the farm back by force. But Snowball, who has been reading up on Caesar's campaigns, has prepared the animals to defend themselves. They defeat their former master, but not before a sheep is killed and Snowball, who has flung himself right at Mr. Jones, is injured.
As described by Orwell, the "heroic" battle is reduced to a farce, with pigeons releasing their droppings on the men's heads and geese pecking the men's legs. There is one serious and revealing incident, though. Boxer, who has been the animals' main fighter, believes he has killed a stable-boy (or so he thinks). It was unintentional, he says sorrowfully.
"No sentimentality, comrade!" cried Snowball, from whose wounds the blood was still dripping. "War is war. The only good human being is a dead one."
"I have no wish to take life, not even human life," repeated Boxer, and his eyes were full of tears.
Orwell's point is that leaders stick to the political goal, regardless of the means needed to attain it. Ordinary people, on the other hand, confronted with a real, individual human death, have more decency.
But the stable-boy is not dead after all; he gets up and runs away while the animals are searching for Mollie, who had taken flight when the farmer's gun went off. And the chapter ends when the animals decorate Snowball and Boxer "Animal Hero, First Class," name their victory the "Battle of the Cowshed," and decide to celebrate it every year.
Orwell wants to keep things light in this chapter. Yet the Battle of the Cowshed allegorically tells the story of the Russian Civil War. Why Orwell wished to treat this terrible war in this way is open to question.
This chapter begins lightly enough. Clover has seen the frivolous, lazy Mollie talking to a human being and "allowing him to stroke your nose." Mollie's reaction to the accusation is pure comedy:
"He didn't! I wasn't! It isn't true!" cried Mollie, beginning to prance about and paw the ground.
Except for the horselike gestures, she behaves like an accused child. Soon after, she deserts the Farm for a human master who gives her sugar and ribbons. "She appeared to be enjoying herself," say the pigeons who spotted her. They never mention Mollie again.
NOTE: We may wonder what this episode about Mollie has to do with the rest of the chapter, which deals with the growing conflict between Snowball and Napoleon, Snowball's expulsion from the Farm, and Napoleon's consolidation of personal power by means of his terrifying dogs. Perhaps Orwell is suggesting that Mollie got out while the getting was good.
During a winter of "bitterly hard weather" the Farm has moved one little step further along the road to inequality: "It had come to be accepted that the pigs, who were manifestly cleverer than the other animals, should decide all questions of farm policy, though their decisions had to be ratified by a majority vote." Once again the narrator presents us with an accomplished fact.
Unfortunately, in reaching these decisions, Snowball and Napoleon clash about absolutely everything. Each shows a distinct political personality in the struggle:
At the Meetings Snowball often won over the majority by his brilliant speeches, but Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times.
Napoleon, the narrator tells us, is particularly good at getting the sheep to start bleating "Four legs good, two legs bad" at key points in Snowball's speeches. You can see how Orwell feels about members of the Communist Party who supported Stalin as he rose. But do Snowball's schemes, which he devises from reading some old agriculture magazines lying around the house, come off much better?
He talked learnedly about field-drains, silage, and basic slag, and had worked out a complicated scheme for all the animals to drop their dung directly in the fields, at a different spot every day, to save the labor of cartage.
The main issue between the two pigs is the great windmill project. Using old do-it-yourself books he found, Snowball has concocted a vast plan to build a windmill that would supply the Farm with free electricity. This in turn could operate farm machines. Napoleon, who "produced no schemes of his own, but said quietly that Snowball's would come to nothing, and seemed to be biding his time," opposes the idea. The other animals admire Snowball's complicated drawings. As for Napoleon, who comes to examine them one day,
He walked heavily round the shed, looked closely at every detail of the plans and snuffed at them once or twice, then stood for a little while contemplating them out of the corner of his eye; then suddenly he lifted his leg, urinated over the plans, and walked out without uttering a word.
There is a real difference between Napoleon's and Snowball's ideas. Napoleon argues that they need to increase food production; they'll starve to death if they waste time on the windmill. "Vote for Napoleon and the full manger" is his slogan.
NOTE: You may appreciate the dispute more if you know that just after the Civil War, a hard-hit, backward Soviet Union faced a choice- fast, all-out industrialization (Trotsky's plan) or more attention to agriculture. A better-known difference between Trotsky and Stalin was the emphasis on spreading the Revolution to other countries (Trotsky) or on building socialism in one country (Stalin). Orwell dismisses this in one paragraph about the defense of the farm (by using pigeons to stir up rebellion on other farms or by arming themselves) and concentrates on the windmill; it's more fun to read about than pigeons.
In the middle of the decisive Meeting, when Snowball has shouted down the sheep and made "a passionate appeal in favor of the windmill," showing them how the mill's electricity would "operate threshing machines, ploughs, harrows, rollers, reapers, binders, besides supplying every stall with its own electric light, hot and cold water, and an electric heater," Napoleon stands up and, "casting a peculiar side-long look at Snowball" (the precise detail that helps fix the scene in our minds) gives out a strange "high-pitched whimper." Nine huge dogs come bounding in and charge at Snowball. He just manages to escape with his life and get off the Farm.
Remember Napoleon's interest in the education of the nine puppies? His ferocious guard dogs are the result. Now, surrounded by his dogs, he announces to the "silent and terrified" animals that there will be no more Meetings. All farm questions will be settled at private meetings by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself- no more time-wasting debates. Once again, as at public Meetings in the past, the animals- who are "dismayed"- just can't find the words to express themselves.
Even Boxer was vaguely troubled. He set his ears back, shook his forelock several times, and tried hard to marshall his thoughts; but in the end he could not think of anything to say.
Language seems to belong to the elite. Some of the other pigs try to protest. But for those four young porkers, the new dictator has a crushing argument: "the dogs sitting around Napoleon let out deep, menacing growls, and the pigs fell silent." Police terror works. And so does Party discipline and conformity: "the sheep broke out into a tremendous bleating of 'Four legs good, two legs bad!' which went on for nearly a quarter of an hour and put an end to any chance of discussion."
It is not only power that is consolidated in this chapter, it is also a certain kind of language: the political Lie. The lie is prepared for by Squealer's speech explaining Napoleon's takeover, which is very similar to his hypocritical milk-and-apples speech in Chapter III, only much longer. First, the usual bit about Napoleon's "sacrifice" in taking on this extra work, then a popular antidemocratic argument that we all need the Leader to protect us against ourselves, against wrong decisions...
Suppose you had decided to follow Snowball, with his moonshine of windmills- Snowball, who, as we now know, was no better than a criminal?
No one has ever mentioned- much less proved- that Snowball is a criminal. How then could the animals "know" it? By the fact of his punishment, of course.
Still, "somebody" does object that he fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed. This leads to an insinuation that prepares the Lie, the rewriting of history: "as to the Battle of the Cowshed," says Squealer, "the time will come when we shall find that Snowball's part in it was much exaggerated." The "watchword," Squealer concludes, is "iron discipline"- and the clincher, once again, is the threat that Jones may come back.
To swallow all this, the animals need faith. That is what Boxer- and apparently the others too- have, since he "voiced the general feeling by saying" what will be his second maxim: in addition to his private motto "I will work harder," he now has "Napoleon is always right."
At the Sunday ceremony that has replaced Meetings, the animals are now required to march past the skull of Major in a reverent way. As the substance of Major's teachings vanishes, he becomes revered as a saint in the new religion of Animalism.
The main function of these assemblies, however, is for the animals to receive their orders for the week. And soon "the animals were somewhat surprised to hear Napoleon announce that the windmill was to be built after all." No reasons are given, even though great sacrifices will be demanded to build it. How can even Squealer find the words to justify this great switch?
Napoleon had never in reality been opposed to the windmill. On the contrary, it was he who had advocated it in the beginning, and the plan which Snowball had drawn on the floor... had actually been stolen from among Napoleon's papers. The windmill was, in fact, Napoleon's own creation.
Then why had he attacked the idea? "He had seemed to oppose the windmill, simply as a manoeuvre to get rid of Snowball, who was a dangerous character"... "This," said Squealer, "was something called tactics." He repeated a number of times, "Tactics, comrades, tactics!"
NOTE: The Lie is swallowed partly because of the animals' need to believe in their leaders and partly because Squealer is a good propagandist, but mainly because force, or terror- in the form of the dogs- is on Napoleon's side. Orwell was, more than any other, the writer who saw the link in modern dictatorships between lying and terror.
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.