Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
THE STORY, continued
Like Chapter III, this chapter begins with hard but happy work. Here, however, the work is mostly for the windmill rather than for food. Something else is new, too: the pigs introduce a new policy of trade with their human neighbors, In fact, the pigs already seem to be becoming more like the old human masters themselves: they move into the farmhouse and sleep in beds. The animals take another look at the Seven Commandments and make a "discovery": the Fourth Commandment "really" reads "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets." The reader discovers, of course, that the pigs have for the first time changed a written commandment.
Finally, the nearly finished windmill collapses during a violent storm. Napoleon "knows" the saboteur: Snowball! We know that the Lie has taken on a new form: the government now has a scapegoat to blame for its failures.
"All that year the animals worked like slaves. But they were happy in their work, they grudged no effort or sacrifice"- The first sentences of this chapter, like the opening of Chapter III, contain in germ the whole point. The first part of the chapter is parallel to Chapter III, and contrasts ironically with it. The animals' subjection to the pigs has become increasingly evident- to us, but apparently not to them. The narrator relates the process with no comment; things seem to happen naturally, one after the other, as we have seen. This is one of Orwell's basic ironic techniques in Animal Farm: We know things the characters don't.
Thus the simple comparison "worked like slaves," which could simply mean that they worked very hard, is here charged with meaningful irony: the animals may not know it, but they really are becoming "slaves." Their sacrifice is not "for the benefit of themselves," as they think, but, we soon realize, for their new masters, the pigs.
Again the Lie, the perversion of language, is part of the process of enslavement. The animals work a 60-hour week, and Napoleon announces there'll be work on Sunday afternoons too- "strictly voluntary," but if the animals refuse, they'll have their rations cut in half. Apparently the word voluntary has been redefined. (In Orwell's next book, 1984, government slogans like "WAR IS PEACE," and "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY," are similar redefinitions- the last one strikingly so.)
Still, most of the terribly hard work on the windmill does seem to be voluntary. The windmill is Orwell's image for Stalin's attempt to push all-out industrialization and mechanization on factory and farm, and animals seem to believe in it. Boxer, above all- who works harder than anyone else- has two slogans, we remember, which "seemed to him a sufficient answer to all problems": "I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right." In the animals' belief and enthusiasm lie the sad irony of the first part of this chapter.
A further step is taken when Napoleon announces his "new policy" of trade with the humans. (The allegory is precise: this is the New Economic Policy inaugurated in 1921 by Lenin and ended in 1928. In Animal Farm, it doesn't end, it intensifies.) This produces "a vague uneasiness" in the animals. They remember- "or at least they thought they remembered"- passing resolutions against dealing with humans, money, trade.
NOTE: Technically, they are wrong; no resolutions were ever passed on this subject. You could argue, though, that Napoleon's new policy certainly violates the spirit of Commandments 1 and 2- and it certainly violates the policies advocated by Major in his speech.
Four young pigs try to speak against Napoleon's policy, but the growling dogs shut them up fast, and the sheep's repeated "Four legs good, two legs bad!" does the rest. Terror and drilled conformity are effective weapons.
The attempt is made to persuade, however: "Afterwards Squealer made a round of the farm and set the animals' minds at rest." Notice that Squealer is always explaining things privately, after the fact: no public discussion is allowed. First comes force, then comes propaganda. The idea of not trading with the humans, he says, is probably based on "lies circulated by Snowball." Thus, he continues to build on the lie begun in the last chapter and accelerated at the end of this one. When Squealer suggests they might even have dreamed the idea, because no such resolution exists in writing, they have to agree. Orwell was English, and in the British Isles, most of "the Constitution" is not written either; it is a collection of customs and legal precedents. You can see why this incident would be especially scary to an Englishman.
Once things are set in motion, they keep rolling. As, on their side, human beings begin to have a grudging respect for the animal-managed farm (although they still hate it), and as dealings with the humans pass unopposed on the animal side, the pigs themselves begin to take on a human lifestyle. They move into the farmhouse, where they sleep in beds. Notice how this is connected to the increasing personal power, privilege, and status of Napoleon. Not only do the pigs absolutely need "a quiet place to work in," but the farmhouse is
more suited to the dignity of the Leader (for of late [Squealer] had taken to speaking of Napoleon under the title of 'Leader') to live in a house than in a mere sty.
That's the point, of course. The pigs- especially one pig- are increasingly in the same basic situation as the expelled human masters; why then shouldn't they have all the trappings? But justifying this means changing the past again.
Although Boxer simply repeats his "Napoleon is always right!" Clover has Muriel the goat, a good reader, check out the relevant Commandment for her. She finally makes out "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets," and we realize that for the first time the pigs have altered the written "unalterable law." Orwell tells us with his usual irony that "Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets." And Squealer comes in with his usual speech about how the pigs have special needs. Then he ends with his customary Do-You-Want-Jones-to-Come-Back question. (The animals quickly "reassured him on this point.") The narrator informs us that this "put the whole matter in its proper perspective." Orwell's irony passes into sarcasm where Squealer is concerned.
The end of the chapter seems to resemble the beginning. With the coming of autumn, the animals are "tired but happy." They don't have much to eat, but the windmill makes their sacrifices seem well worth it. "Only old Benjamin refused to grow enthusiastic about the windmill... he would utter nothing beyond the cryptic remark that donkeys live a long time." Cryptic wisdom, as we'll see.
Then one night the half-finished windmill comes crashing down in the middle of a storm. At the site of the ruins, Napoleon
paced to and fro in silence, occasionally snuffing at the ground. His tail had grown rigid and twitched sharply from side to side, a sign in him of intense mental activity.
Orwell doesn't want us to forget that the characters are animals- especially at key moments- as the description shows. This is a key moment, for Napoleon makes his longest speech of the book, a speech that sets in motion the terrible events of the next chapter:
"Comrades," he said quietly, "do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!... Snowball has done this thing! In sheer malignity, thinking to set back our plans and avenge himself for his ignominious expulsion, this traitor has crept here under cover of night and destroyed our work of nearly a year. Comrades, I pronounce the death sentence upon Snowball..."
The speech is an illustration of the function of the scapegoat. If Snowball can be blamed for any failure, no matter the cause, then a. the Ruler remains infallible, whatever happens, and b. the emotions of the ruled can be played on at will. Napoleon announces that the windmill must be rebuilt at any cost, but it's going to be tough. He's going to need his scapegoat again.
Things go from bad to worse in this chapter. It starts with hard times (hard work, cold winter, scarce food) and hard measures taken to deal with them (ruthless suppression of the revolt of the hens). When spring comes, there is growing hysteria about Snowball, whose invisible actions, like a witch's spells, are said to be responsible for all the farm's problems. In fact Squealer "demonstrates" that Snowball had been a traitor from the start. All this comes to a head when, in a special assembly, the dogs drag animal after animal out to Napoleon's feet, where they confess to all sorts of crimes they supposedly committed with Snowball, and the dogs immediately tear their throats out. The sickened, terrified animals seek consolation in singing "Beasts of England." Then Squealer announces that the song has just been forbidden, since it's a song of revolt for a better society, and that society has now been achieved.
NOTE: In this chapter the "charm" of the fable seems to have disappeared. Orwell is not trying to charm us, but to make us see terrible things. The killings seem real; so does the sorrow, and, more moving still, the bewilderment of the speechless animals.
Orwell was dealing with historical events that disturbed him deeply. From 1934 to 1939, the secret police arrested and interrogated, and deported or killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Soviet Union, mostly Communist Party officials, army officers, and their families and friends. Two series of public trials were held in Moscow, in which old Bolsheviks, who had made the Revolution and fought in the Civil War, confessed one after another to the most awful crimes. Most of them were condemned to death and shot.
What revolted Orwell was not only seeing the triumph of the Lie in the Moscow Trials themselves, but the spectacle closer to home of intellectuals in the British Left (of which he was a part, after all) either swallowing this nonsense or defending it as necessary.
As usual, Orwell sketches in the background with bare, swift strokes: "It was a bitter winter," he begins this chapter. With the hard weather and work somehow comes greater faith in the Leader's lies:
Out of spite, the human beings pretended not to believe that it was Snowball who had destroyed the windmill: they said that it had fallen down because the walls were too thin. The animals knew that this was not the case.
But their actions ironically contradict what they "knew":
Still, it had been decided to build the walls three feet thick this time instead of eighteen inches as before...
If there are lies to the animals about their problems, there are also lies to the humans. Mr. Whymper, the human agent through whom all their business is transacted, is shown sand-filled bins with grain on top, so that he will report to the outside world that there is no food shortage at Animal Farm.
But there is a real shortage of grain. Napoleon- who now is increasingly distant, surrounded only by growling dogs- sees no way out but to take the hens' eggs and sell them; the money will buy grain. Now, for the first time, there is "something resembling a rebellion." The hens want to keep their eggs, and rather than give them up, they lay their eggs from the rafters, smashing them on the floor. Napoleon acts "swiftly and ruthlessly." He simply cuts off their food. Five days later, they give in. Nine hens are dead. (Then more lies: it's reported they'd died of disease.)
NOTE: When Stalin decided that Russia needed large, mechanized, collective farms, and the kulaks (well-off peasants) refused to give up their private holdings, millions of them were deported or killed beginning in 1928 to 1929. Many of them felt so desperate that they slaughtered their own livestock.
Against this background of suffering, lying, and repression, the use of Snowball as a scapegoat grows and grows. First Snowball is reported to be in league with either Pilkington or Frederick, depending on which man Napoleon is thinking of dealing with at the moment. Then Snowball is reported to be performing all kinds of mischief on the farm, mostly under cover of darkness. Later we learn that the cows "declared unanimously that Snowball crept into their stalls and milked them in their sleep," and that Snowball is said to be in league with the rats.
All this leads directly to the rewriting of history. Snowball had to be a traitor from the start, everyone decides. The last stand for rationality, objective truth, and unalterable History is taken by the unintellectual Boxer, interestingly enough:
He lay down, tucked his fore hoofs beneath him, shut his eyes, and with a hard effort managed to formulate his thoughts.
"I do not believe that," he said. "Snowball fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed. I saw him myself."
Even when Squealer shows them that "secret documents" (which, unfortunately, Boxer can't read) "prove" Snowball's treason, Boxer, unlike the others, stands firm- until Squealer, "speaking very slowly and firmly," tells him that Napoleon "has stated categorically- categorically, comrade- that Snowball was Jones's agent from the very beginning." Then Faith- or conditioning- triumphs, and Boxer falls back on his slogan: "If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right." Squealer gives Boxer an "ugly look" and then warns the animals about "Snowball's secret agents lurking among us." The scene comes to a menacing close.
NOTE: We've seen that Orwell was intensely concerned with lying and hysteria in the Soviet Union, but perhaps he hits on a more general theme here. Is Squealer the only government official to use "secret documents" (which, unfortunately, the animals cannot see) to prove that things are as he said they are?
And what does Orwell imply about the way common people respond to outrageous government propaganda? Notice how hard Boxer tries to resist. It is, finally, his simple faith in the honesty and knowledge of his Leader that does him in- literally, as we'll see later. We've seen the implications of this kind of trust for totalitarian societies. Are there people in non-totalitarian countries who tend to believe that their Leader is always right?
The menace of the preceding scene is confirmed when Napoleon, surrounded by his huge growling dogs, summons the animals to assembly: "They all cowered silently in their places, seeming to know in advance that some terrible thing was about to happen." At a signal from Napoleon, the dogs seize four pigs by the ear and drag them, "squealing with pain and terror, to Napoleon's feet." Orwell has set the tone.
The pigs' ears were bleeding, the dogs had tasted blood, and for a few moments they appeared to go quite mad. To the amazement of everybody, three of them flung themselves upon Boxer.
The "mad" violence is of course coldly and politically calculated. We know why Boxer is being attacked (remember that "ugly look" Squealer gave him?). When he pins a dog under his powerful hoof but then just looks to Napoleon for orders, we know he has lost his chance to stop the violence.
The four pigs, the same ones who protested when Napoleon abolished Meetings, confess to all kinds of crazy crimes. We may smile when they declare that "Snowball had privately admitted that he had been Jones's secret agent for years." But the swift, hard, "animal" detail that follows is very real and not funny at all: "When they finished their confession, the dogs promptly tore their throats out." Three hens, ringleaders in the egg rebellion, confess that "Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon's orders"; then other animals confess to hard-to-believe crimes, and all are killed.
When it was all over, the remaining animals, except for the pigs and dogs, crept away in a body. They were shaken and miserable. They did not know which was more shocking- the treachery of the animals who had leagued themselves with Snowball, or the cruel retribution they had just witnessed.
Despite their solidarity, which is a solidarity of victims ("crept away in a body"), the animals still don't doubt what they are told. But their instinctive decency is revolted by these judicial murders. Above all, even if there had been slaughter under Jones, "it seemed to all of them far worse now that it was happening among themselves." A chilling thought. All together, "they all lie down" as though huddling together for warmth. Boxer is the only one who can find it in him to say a word: he resolves to "work harder" (his other slogan) and goes off to do so. Clearly he is working off his own confused and despairing feelings.
This dim feeling that the Revolution- the faith that sustains them- has not been worth it after all swells into a veritable lament in one of the most striking passages in the book. It centers around Clover, as the animals are "huddled about [her], not speaking." Through the animals' eyes we see the farm as it lies before them on a spring evening.
Never had the farm- and with a kind of surprise they remembered it was their own farm, every inch of it their own property- appeared to the animals so desirable a place. As Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears.
The disillusion and sorrow are expressed wordlessly, as an immediate reaction, without analysis: the farm doesn't really belong to them, we realize, no more than it did when Jones was there. Ownership means power, and the animals are powerless.
And now comes the only part of the book in which Orwell enters the mind of one of his characters. It is all the more moving for being the thoughts of Clover, someone who cannot articulate them: "If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say..." Like millions of simple, decent, working people, Orwell is saying, Clover feels what is wrong:
These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion.
And she longs for what is right, not for a theory, but for an image:
If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major's speech.
Then she expresses a clear picture of just how far they have slipped from the ideal:
Instead, they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.
NOTE: There is a brutal irony in comparing the state of Animal Farm under Napoleon with the main points of Major's speech. It is an irony that Clover senses but does not precisely see. When Major talked of Man's exploitation and cruelty, he addressed the hens (he says their eggs were being taken from them), the young pigs (he says their throats would be cut within the year), and Boxer (he says he would be sold to the horse-slaughterer). Now after the Rebellion, when Man has been eliminated, the hens have faced the same fate they had under Man, and so have at least four of the young pigs. We'll see what happens to Boxer in Chapter IX.
Orwell suggests, without saying, how strong is Clover's habit of submission, her patience, her faith. He says that she'll continue to work, to obey Napoleon, to believe that things are better now than in the days of Jones. "But still"- and Orwell ends the passage with rhetorical repetition, closing with a moving, paradoxical reminder of how inarticulate she is-
it was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled. It was not for this that they had built the windmill and faced the bullets of Jones's guns. Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them.
It is precisely because she can't find words to express her thoughts that she begins to sing the song of the Rebellion, "Beasts of England." The others join in, and they sing it slowly and sadly, as they never have before.
And that's when Squealer tells them the song has just been forbidden, since the Rebellion is now "completed" and there's no need for it anymore. Orwell's irony has never been heavier.
The new song, written by Minimus- "Animal Farm, Animal Farm, Never through me shalt thou come to harm"- is, we note, a patriotic song rather than a revolutionary one.
Like the Battle of the Cowshed in Chapter IV, this is a light chapter wedged in between two heavy ones. If the Battle of the windmill is much darker and more painful than the earlier battle, the fighting is still treated as a mock-epic. And the chapter ends with a couple of poker-faced jokes at the pigs' expense (although they're at the animals' expense, in a way).
There is a kind of prologue to this chapter- really an epilogue to the last one- which highlights the giant step the pigs have taken toward betraying the Revolution. It's a highlight we've seen before: a rewriting of an "unalterable law" follows a violation of that law by those in power. When Clover asks Muriel to read her the Sixth Commandment (Benjamin has already refused), she finds: "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." Once again the corruption of language- here, of a fundamental text- that accompanies the corruption of a political ideal. Power to change language, Orwell says, is power to change reality, and vice-versa.
As usual, Orwell treats the change with the irony of feigned ignorance. "Somehow or other," says the narrator, "the last two words had slipped out of the animals' memory."
Clearly, Napoleon is absolute dictator now. Orwell saw that modern dictators rely essentially on terror (as we saw in the last chapter), propaganda, and other ways of changing the present and the past through language. Now there is one final element in the psychology of totalitarian dictatorship. It is an extension of the faith in Snowball's diabolical wrongness and Napoleon's infallible rightness: absolute adoration of the dictator as a kind of god on earth.
NOTE: Napoleon's wildly shifting alliances- and the switch in the propaganda line that goes with them- are like the changes in Stalin's policy toward the West in the 1930s and early 40s. Distrusting the democratic nations as much as the fascists, Stalin first sent out the line that there was no difference between any of the non-Communists, fascist or otherwise; subsequently, as the Nazi menace grew, the fascists became the enemy of mankind; then, in August 1939, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact and other agreements with Hitler, the German Nazi dictator. Finally, after Germany invaded Russia in 1941, everything changed again. What infuriated Orwell was the way Soviet sympathizers in the West managed to instantly develop a whole new set of beliefs with each change in the Soviet position.
It is not Napoleon's brilliance that wins the Battle of the Windmill, however; it is the collective rage of the animals that drives out the invader, at great sacrifice. And that sacrifice is terrible indeed, so that when the bleeding, wounded animals hear a gun firing for a victory celebration amidst the ruins of their "windmill," they don't even understand what it is. Yet Napoleon manages to use the war as an excuse to heap more glory upon himself:
It was announced that the battle would be called the Battle of the Windmill and that Napoleon had created a new decoration, the Order of the Green Banner, which he had conferred upon himself.
Anyone who has ever had a hangover will appreciate Orwell's ironic joke on Napoleon and the other pigs. When Squealer appears the Morning After the victory party, "walking slowly and dejectedly, his eyes dull, his tail hanging limply behind him," and "looking seriously ill"- and especially when the rumor goes round that Napoleon is dying, and he solemnly decrees the death penalty for drinking- we don't need to be told what is happening. The ironic technique Orwell uses to make his joke is the same technique he has used to make his serious points about the loss of liberty and the alteration of the truth: we know more than the animals do.
At the end of the chapter, nobody (well, "hardly anyone") can understand why Squealer is found sprawled next to the ladder and the paintpot on the barn floor one night. When a few days later Muriel notices that there's yet another Commandment they've "remembered wrong"- "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess"- neither the narrator nor the animals make the connection.
Most readers have found this the most moving and memorable chapter in the book. By inventing the episode of Boxer's death- which, unlike other episodes in this allegory, does not stand for any specific event in history- Orwell has found a way to dramatize everything that's wrong with the new society. Here we can feel the full impact of the pigs' callous betrayal of the working animals, their betrayal of the revolutionary ideal.
Fittingly, the first half of the chapter gives a general picture of how things now stand in the new society. The picture is painted with Orwell's usual irony. Watch for the themes of sacrifice ("Boxer's split hoof" at the very start is a tangible sign of this), hard times, the animals' belief in the revolutionary ideal and hope for the future. (The new concepts of "retirement" and "pension" are signs of this.) And notice, in ironic counterpoint throughout, the obvious signs- obvious to us but not to the animals- that this society is a dictatorship and an oligarchy (rule by one single group, in this case, the pigs).
The themes all come together at the beginning of the chapter. Boxer is consoled in his thought of the windmill to be rebuilt yet again and by his belief in his coming retirement to the barley-field. But if we've been reading carefully, we've seen that the field was set aside for barley in the last chapter, when the pigs bought books on brewing and distilling after the drinking-party. We already have an ironic hint of what's to come. (Beer, we remember, is made with barley.)
"Meanwhile life was hard." When it comes to hard times, Orwell is always as stark and simple as what he is describing. The winter is cold and food rations are reduced- except for the pigs and dogs- with this ironic justification: "A too rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism." The narrator doesn't comment on this blatant contradiction of everything the revolution was supposed to stand for, but we as readers can't miss it.
Then Squealer rattles off lists of figures proving that things were worse in the past, and are getting better all the time on Animal Farm. "The animals believed every word of it." For one thing, no one remembers clearly what it was like under Jones anymore. Once again, history is rewritten by the propaganda of those in power.
The farm prospers, but the animals do not. In fact their food rations must be cut again because money is needed for building materials. The signs of overwhelming inequality pile up, always presented without comment by the narrator, as if all this is quite natural. One afternoon there's an unknown "warm, rich, appetizing scent" in the air, the smell of barley cooking, perhaps. "The animals sniffed the air hungrily and wondered whether a warm mash was being prepared for their supper." They feel a simple, limited hope; Orwell brings the feeling home to us with concrete details that tell us worlds about the animal's condition:
But no warm mash appeared, and on the following Sunday it was announced that from now onwards all barley would be reserved for the pigs.... every pig was now receiving a ration of a pint of beer daily, with half a gallon for Napoleon himself....
Then the social side of life is described: ceremonies and celebrations, all presented ironically as adding "dignity" to life, comforting reminders that "they were truly their own masters." The Farm is proclaimed a Republic, and the animals have an election for President. "There was only one candidate, Napoleon, who was elected unanimously." At the same time, history is rewritten further: Snowball, the pigs now claim, was not only in league with Jones from the start, but actually led the human forces at the Battle of the Cowshed! As Snowball gains in evil (fantastically), Napoleon gains in good (fantastically).
Moses the raven comes back with his tales of Sugarcandy Mountain. The pigs say these are lies (although they let him stay on the farm without working, with a mug of beer a day, interestingly enough) but many animals believe him: "Their lives now, they reasoned, were hungry and laborious; was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else?"
This is the background for the story of the last days of Boxer.
Orwell sets the story up by making Boxer's collapse a dramatic event for the community, reminding us that it was his strength and sacrifices that saved the Farm again and again: there is a "rumor," then the "news" that Boxer has collapsed, then half the animals on the farm come running. His loss of all strength is described in precise detail:
There lay Boxer, between the shafts of the cart, his neck stretched out, unable even to raise his head. His eyes were glazed, his sides matted with sweat. A thin stream of blood had trickled out of his mouth.
His thoughts for the next two days will be about his retirement to a corner of the pasture where he hopes to spend his last years peacefully improving his mind ("learning the remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet"), if possible in the company of Benjamin. Squealer, full of sympathy, announces that Comrade Napoleon's concern for "one of the most loyal workers on the farm" has led him to arrange to have Boxer treated by a veterinary surgeon in the town hospital.
The next day, while the animals are weeding turnips ("under the supervision of a pig," Orwell tells us in passing), Benjamin comes galloping toward them. It's the first time anyone has ever seen Benjamin gallop. "They're taking Boxer away!" he shouts. "Without waiting for orders from the pig" (says the narrator in passing, once again reminding us of the inequality that reigns here) the animals race to the farm buildings. They see a van and Boxer's stall is empty. They crowd around, shouting good-bye to Boxer. "Fools! Fools!" Benjamin shouts. "Do you not see what is written on the side of the van?" There is a hush. For the only time in the book, Benjamin, who knows how to read well but has decided that nothing is worth reading, does read something- the sign on the truck- out loud. It is the sign of a horse slaughterer. They all cry out in horror to Boxer to save himself, as the van drives off and they see his face at the small window at the back. And now Orwell gives us an image that fixes the scene in our minds, a sound that may stay with you long after you've finished the book:
a moment later his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out.
Before he exhausted his strength working overtime for Animal Farm, "a few kicks from Boxer's hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood." But not anymore: "in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away."
That's the last they ever see of Boxer. When Squealer comes in with a tearful picture of Boxer's last moments in the hospital, having received "every attention a horse could have," his hypocrisy is particularly painful. So is his attempt to explain the "foolish and wicked rumor" that Boxer was sent to the knacker's (the horse slaughterer): "surely they knew their beloved Leader, Comrade Napoleon, better than that?" The van had been the property of the knacker, and the vet who bought it didn't have time to paint out the old sign. "The animals were enormously relieved to hear this," says the narrator. No comment.
When the pigs hold a memorial banquet in Boxer's honor, a grocer delivers a large wooden crate to the farmhouse, and the sounds of uproarious singing and finally of a quarrel and broken glass are heard late in the night. When the pigs get up late the next day, the word goes out that "from somewhere or other pigs had acquired the money to buy themselves another case of whiskey." End of chapter.
NOTE: The description of Boxer's fate is full of irony. Once again the narrator pretends not to know something that we know because of him- but the animals don't know. The irony is at its bitterest here. And there is another irony in the story itself. Boxer's last sacrifice has been to be slaughtered in order to procure drinking money for the pigs. Major's prophetic incitement to Revolution- "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"- has been fulfilled, ironically, not by the human Jones but by the animals who have taken over the Revolution. The question dimly sensed by Clover earlier is implicitly posed again, with pressing force: if this is what you get, why revolt? What was the Revolution for?
This is a basic question. We can ask it about the Russian Revolution- and Orwell's answer about that will be made quite clear in the next chapter, in case we still had any doubts. But we can also ask it about revolution in general, or even about any attempt to make a more just society. You'll want to think about this question again when you've finished the book.
Just about everything that has been implied in Animal Farm so far is made explicit in this last chapter.
Like Chapter IX, it begins with a general portrait of the "new" society. The same themes are there, sad or ironic, made all the more poignant by the passage of time. Memory of the old days is fading; history as we know it has disappeared. Times are hard, but it is said they were harder still under Jones. Above all, the animals still have their revolutionary faith: the farm is theirs, they believe- the world will one day be theirs- they work for themselves- all animals are equal.
In a series of dramatic demonstrations, their faith is utterly stripped away from them. Orwell pushes his allegorical narrative from past history (the Russian Revolution) to future prophecy: the pigs will openly reveal themselves to be absolutely identical to men.
After the high drama of Boxer's death and the bitter irony of its aftermath, Orwell seems to be winding things down. The opening portrait of the Farm is sketched simply, as usual, but with a philosophical distance and tone:
Years passed. The seasons came and went, the short animal lives fled by.
Clover is old and stout, two years past the age to retire, "but in fact no animal had ever actually retired," says the narrator matter-of-factly. The farm has prospered and all kinds of machinery are in use, which helps to bring in money (but not increased comforts or leisure for the animals). And then we have an explicit statement of something that was suggested before, but never actually said: "Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer- except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs."
It's almost as if the animals themselves are becoming more aware. But in the rest of the passage, this consciousness is removed and the narrator's poker-faced irony increases. We are told that there are many pigs, many dogs (the bureaucracy and the police have multiplied); they do work, but it's work that the "other animals were too ignorant to understand":
the pigs had to expend enormous labors every day upon mysterious things called "files," "reports," "minutes," and "memoranda." These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered, they were burnt in the furnace.
When Orwell reduces managerial office-work to a pure physical description ("sheets of paper closely covered with writing") he reduces it to absurdity. It's an effective satiric technique.
The ironic satire takes on a special bite when we are told that "still, neither pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labor." This is just about what Major said of Man (and what Marx said of the bourgeoisie) at the very beginning of the book. Have we come full circle?
Apparently we have, because the next paragraph tells us that "for the others, their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been." And after giving a stark picture of basic animal life (hungry, sleeping on straw, laboring outside, cold in winter, bothered by flies in summer), Orwell returns to the function of history: since the animals can no longer remember life before the Rebellion, they can't be sure if things are better or worse, whether the Revolution was worth it or not. They have no standard of comparison. All they have to go on is Squealer's figures, "which invariably demonstrated that everything was getting better and better." Only old Benjamin is sure that things are never better or worse, "hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life." (Does Animal Farm bear him out?)
But there is one difference. The animals believe in the Revolution. "They were still the only farm in the whole county- in all England!- owned and operated by animals." They are proud of their flag. They have no two-legged masters. They are all equal.
One day Squealer takes the sheep out to a private piece of land to teach them something new. At this point Orwell shifts from an allegory of the past and present into a vision of the future.
We are prepared for something dramatic, just after the sheep return, by "the terrified neighing of a horse," then the startled animals watching, until finally they see- with one sentence making an entire paragraph, to increase the effect- a pig walking on his hind legs. Then out come all the pigs, walking. Napoleon is the last:
there was a tremendous baying of dogs and a shrill crowing from the black cockerel, and out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him.
He carried a whip in his trotter.
After the shock caused by this vision wears off a little, the animals, despite their years of never complaining, never criticizing, are just about to say something, perhaps, when...
all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of- "Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!"
This is the final transformation of Major's dream. It has gone from vision to doctrine to slogan; now it is the absolute opposite of what he had said. The form of the dream remains (the slogan, something the animals have invented), but the content is just as it was under their human masters. What about the Commandments themselves?
Clover and Benjamin provide the answer:
Benjamin felt a nose nuzzling his shoulder. He looked round. It was Clover. Her old eyes looked dimmer than ever. Without saying anything, she tugged gently at his mane and led him round to the end of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written.
And when she asks him to read what is on the wall, Benjamin for once agrees. There is only one Commandment left:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
The process of rewriting history has been completed. The new slogan says it all.
In a sense this is the climax of the book, but Orwell has also imagined a kind of epilogue to dramatize what the animals have just read. He leads into it by an "After that..." After that, it does not seem strange when the pigs take on all the habits of humans, down to the last detail. And we have some comic examples- such as the subscriptions the pigs take out to John Bull, Tit-Bits, and the Daily Mirror.
The last episode in the book describes a visit of humans to the farm. Orwell gives us a strong image in passing to suggest, visually, the meaning of this visit, the condition of the animals, and what the Rebellion has become. When the neighboring farmers arrive,
The animals were weeding the turnip field. They worked diligently, hardly raising their faces from the ground, and not knowing whether to be more frightened of the pigs or of the human visitors.
Pigs and humans are already united in their "superiority" to the animals- in the fear they inspire.
But Orwell will go further. He'll use the device of the drinking party once again. But this time pigs and humans are all together. And they are directly, not indirectly, observed by the curious animals (all together again), who creep into the farmhouse garden and watch fearfully through the windows. This is a symbolic image. Those who work are not admitted to the feast.
Beer is going round, and Pilkington is making a speech. His main point is his feeling of friendship for Animal Farm now that he sees there's nothing threatening in it for humans. They'd been nervous in the past about the effects of the Rebellion on their own animals, "or even upon their human employees," but now he realizes there's nothing to worry about: "discipline and orderliness" reign. What he means by this is clear enough:
He believed that he was right in saying that the lower animals on Animal Farm did more work and received less food than any animals in the country.
The irony works neatly. Pilkington's praise is more damning than any condemnation could be. He concludes with a witticism (he thinks it's witty, and so do the pigs) that drives the point home:
"If you have your lower animals to contend with,... we have our lower classes!"
Napoleon replies with a speech pledging friendship in return. To cement "normal business relations" with their neighbors, in fact, he is going to eliminate the last vestiges of the Rebellion: the flag, the terms of address (no more "Comrade"), the ceremonies, and even the name of the farm will be changed: "Henceforward the farm was to be known as 'The Manor Farm.'"
We may think that Orwell can go no further in driving home his point: there is no difference whatsoever between this farm and the others.
But he does go further. The animals creep away after this, but they rush back a few moments later when there is the sound of quarreling. As they watch the pigs quarreling with the men (it seems Pilkington and Napoleon had both played the ace of spades), they realize that all the fat faces in the room- pig or man- are the same: "it was impossible to say which was which."
NOTE: What is the moral of this pessimistic fable? Some readers have viewed Animal Farm as a perfect illustration of the famous saying associated with the British historian, Lord Acton: "All power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely." The more power the pigs gain, the more corrupt they become. One by one, they take on all the human vices: smoking, drinking, etc. Napoleon, who has absolute power, is the one who drinks most. But is the moral corruption of the pigs the main focus of Animal Farm? Or is it their increasing resemblance to humans, to political masters?
You may see another, purely political moral in the work: that the Russian Revolution wasn't worth it, or, more generally, that revolution just isn't worth it. But whatever happens in the story, no one "wants Jones back." (Do you?) You may find it interesting to think about this pessimistic- but not utterly pessimistic pronouncement of Orwell's: "All revolutions are failures, but they are not the same failure." Some revolutions may be more "worth it" than others.
Similarly, Orwell thought that any mature person knew that life has more unhappiness than happiness in it: the problem is, once you realize that, how should you live? By what values? Orwell chose to fight for truth and decency as he saw them.
Or you may conclude that the moral of Animal Farm is broadly philosophical rather than political, that Benjamin, for example, sums it up in the last chapter: "hunger, hardship and disappointment" are "the unalterable law of life." But what then? Surely Orwell, for one, felt it was worth struggling to change that "unalterable law." Despite everything.
Animal Farm is a fable about rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed, and an ideal betrayed. The particular meaning we give it will depend partly on our own political beliefs- "political" in the deepest sense of the word. The book is there to be enjoyed, to enrich- and perhaps change- our thinking and feeling about how human beings can best live together in this world.
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.