George Orwell’s Animal Farm explores the Machiavellian way in which politicians are able to abuse their power to dissolve a democracy and create a totalitarian regime in its place.
But just how are the pigs able to maintain their power?
From the outset of the rebellion it was violence, or at least the threat of it, that the pigs used to further their own agenda. However, while the attack dogs keep the other animals obedient this physical intimidation doesn’t prevent silent dissent, or the whispered questions about Napoleon’s actions and motives.
To neutralise this threat to his and the other pigs power Napoleon relies on something more subtle than violence. He uses rousing slogans, phrases, and songs to instil a sense of patriotism and camaraderie amongst the animals.
On Animal Farm it is language and rhetoric that are the most effective tools at the pigs disposal for social control.
Crucially the pigs realise that the songs and slogans must be simple to memorise and easy to repeat so the other animals are able to internalise their principles.
When written commandments prove difficult for some of the animals the pigs transform them into one brief catchphrase that they repeat everywhere: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
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Animal Farm by George Orwell Review
Animal Farm is an allegorical tale about intelligent animals that overthrow their ruling farmers and set about creating a society of equals. Yet this co-operative doesn’t quite work out as well as it did on paper. You see some of the animals recieve a bigger share of the spoils than others do and some of…
This slogan inspires loyalty and commitment towards the pigs, and fear against the humans. This blind commitment and loyalty to the pigs is most strongly emphasised in Boxer, the cart-horse. Boxer constantly reaffirms his loyalty with the slogans “Napoleon is always right,” and “I will work harder.”
These slogans become increasingly effective to the point that they are used by the animals as a means of self-policing. During a protest against Napoleons decision to sell farm products to humans it is not the “tremendous growling from the dogs,” that calms the angry voices, what breaks the tension is when the sheep begin to recite the mantra “Four legs good, two legs bad!”
During this key scene Orwell explicitly contrasts the strength of brute force with the power of language, demonstrating that while violence may work in the short term, it is only language that can create lasting affects.
The importance of language within the pigs regime is shown with the powerful role given to Squealer, the spokespig of the authorities, and the presence of Minimus, the government poet pig.
Alongside the songs, poems, and commandments, Napoleon and the rest of the pigs also use language in the form of oral and written histories of the Farm to maintain their authority.
As soon as Napoleon violently seizes power he uses language to justify his actions and secure his own position. He denounces his former ally and fellow revolutionary, Snowball, calling him a human sympathiser and an enemy of the animals.
This story of Snowball’s betrayal is told again and again until Snowball’s role in the revolution and founding of Animal Farm is erased from history.
Somehow even though many of the animals remember Snowball being given a medal for his bravery in the Battle of the Cowshed, Squealer convinces them he actually fought alongside Mr Jones against the animals.
The ever loyal Boxer struggles to believe this lie when first told, though he is convinced with the intervention of Squealer who tells him that Napoleon knows it to be true. “Ah, that is different,” exclaims Boxer. “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”
When the pigs eventually move into the farmhouse Squealer makes some revisions to the commandments to better benefit the pigs and their new found luxuries. The commandment “No animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,” while the rule about drinking becomes “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.”
Even the mantra that had so effectively created loyalty is changed, becoming the wildly different “Four legs good, two legs better,” until it ultimately becomes the famous quote, “All animal are equal, except some are more equal than others.”
Even when Squealer is caught changing these commandments the animals don’t suspect anything, the power of the pigs rhetoric and language has made them blind to the obvious truths.
The other animals have been brainwashed by the pigs use and implementation of language, so much so that even when the pigs have their dogs slaughter dozens of animals for colluding with Snowball their actions aren’t questioned, especially once the sheep begin their bleating of “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
Yet language is not always used in a negative way in Animal Farm. Old Major’s rousing use of “The Beats of England,” initially leads to the overthrow of the tyrant Farmer Jones and the creation of their own government.
Yet as Orwell shows language can be used for insidious purposes. Napoleon seizes control and uses language for the purposes of social manipulation and control.
The most important lesson he leaves us with is that rhetoric is often more powerful than state-sanctioned violence or the threat thereof.
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