Historical Allegory and Symbolism in Animal Farm
Haley Pruitt Mrs. Blount AP Literature and Composition 12 November 2012 Symbolism and Allegory in Animal Farm When George Orwell wrote his literary masterpiece that has been acclaimed for many years by critics everywhere, Animal Farm, there were many world events shaping the future of all of Europe and the world that impacted his views, which therefore influenced his writing and opinions. His background and values help to shape the glasses through which he views these events.
George Orwell is put into positions of warfare and diplomacy and handles both eloquently as he allows them to mold him into the person that writes the masterpieces that he goes on to produce. Animals are implemented to retell the story of Marxism, the Russian Revolution, and the downfall of utopian views and societies. George Orwell uses symbolism and allegory in his novel Animal Farm to show the social issues of the Soviet Union in the time period of 1917 through 1943.
The background of George Orwell must be understood before one can go deeper into his literary works. George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair who was born on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, Bihar, India. He was born into an upper middle class family and went to Catholic school. He moved to Burma where his grandmother lived, and this is where he later wrote Burmese Days, “A Hanging”, and “Shooting an Elephant”. “In Burmese Days, he resigned to ‘escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man’s dominion over man’” (“Orwell” 748).
When George Orwell moved to London, he began to explore the slums and the poorer parts of the city so that he could learn to understand them and the context of the many books that were written about them. Orwell became interested in the Spanish Civil War and decided to take part in it; because of this, he was asked to be a part of the Spanish Embassy in Paris and he wanted to eliminate fascism throughout the world. George Orwell was married to and adopted a son with Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She died in 1945 during a surgical procedure. Right before he died, he married Sonia Brownell in 1949. Orwell died at 46 years old from tuberculosis.
He was in and out of many hospitals for the last three years that he was alive. The author was buried according to Anglican Rite in the All Saints’ Churchyard. At the outbreak of World War II, George Orwell was deemed unfit for service so he began to write for newspapers. Orwell wrote a column of the Tribune and he was a major contributor/writer of The Observer. “By this stage, Orwell saw himself primarily as a political writer, a democratic socialist who hated party labels, hated totalitarianism, and was to become more and more disillusioned with the methods of Communism” (“Orwell” 748).
Orwell wanted to expose Communism and eliminate it from Europe. Through his writing for various newspapers, he saw himself as making a difference, but not quite as much as he would have liked so he began a novel to show the ugly truth of Communism once and for all. Before the end of 1944, Animal Farm was ready for publication, but a publisher could not be found as it was considered an attack on the Soviets. No one wanted to accept that kind of responsibility and punishment if something where to reach the Soviet Union regarding his use of allegory and symbolism using animals against them and their ideas.
Eventually Jonathon Cape agreed to tackle the controversies that Orwell discussed and he published it. Jonathon Cape founded Jonathon Cape Ltd. with Wren Howard in 1921. It was one of the leading literary publishers in London during the time period. Jonathon Cape also published works such as T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and the first of the James Bond books. Another historical issue that must be dealt with before a further understanding of Animal Farm can be reached is what exactly happened in the Soviet Union with the Russian Revolution and Marxism.
Two German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles, coined Marxism. “The Communist Manifesto (1848) of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels provided a theoretical basis for the revolutionary movements springing up in Europe in the latter part of the nineteenth century,” (Meyers). Marxism is a way to look at socioeconomics that is based on a more materialistic view of the development of history, a view of social change that has a lot to do with location, and an examination of the relationships of social classes within society and the way that capitalism is wrong and should be looked down upon.
It fights for the self-discovery and freeing of the working class and making everyone equal to a certain degree. The Bolsheviks adopted these ideals of Marxism when they took over Russia in the Russian Revolution. World War I did not make things any easier on the peasants. Now they were forced to fight for a country they did not like in the first place and they were being simply slaughtered because they were not trained soldiers. Originally, it served to quiet the peasants because everyone was united against one enemy, but it wore off once the initial benefits were gone.
Russia’s first major battle of World War I ended in over thirty thousand Russian troops were killed or wounded and the revolutions began. Tsar Nicholas began to make poor military choices and the Russians, particularly the lower class people as they had to fight and send their family and friends off to fight, began to think that there could be something better out there if they could find the right type of government to suit them. The February Revolt was the first of these revolts in the city of Petrograd.
The tsar abdicated the throne because he was frightened and knew that he did not possess enough military power to defeat the revolts. After this, there was a period of dual power where there was a provisional government that was loyal to the Soviet Socialists. The Bolsheviks were a group in Russia that began to revolt when the provisional government chose to continue to fight in Germany. Vladimir Lenin and the workers’ Soviets led the Bolsheviks. They quickly removed Russia from World War I with the Treat of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918.
This resulted in a civil war between the Bolshevik (red) and anti-Bolshevik (white) factions of the government, lasting for several years, with the Bolsheviks eventually pulling out a victory. The way that this happened, it allowed for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to rule later. The way that the Bolsheviks ruled the Soviet Union can be compared to the way that the Catholic Church was run (Frye 11). These are comparable because both were totalitarian and rigid with little thought into the people that followed them.
People followed long sets of rules and did not really know why and there was no reward for them except to keep their lives/not be excommunicated from the church. The Russian Revolution describes the mini revolutions that happened in Russia in 1917 that rose up against the monarchy of Russia of which tsar Nicholas was the head. The causes of the Russian Revolution pertaining to society came from the oppression felt by the lower classes in the autocracy of the tsar. They had been emancipated, but life was no better for them.
The industrialization of Russia led to overcrowding and very bad conditions in the cities for the urban industrial workers. This made the peasants more likely to go on protest and go on strike than in previous years. Some critics view the literary work of George Orwell to be creating a utopian society and to praise that idea of the “perfect society”. “Orwell particularly valued the vigorous, colorful and concrete style of pamphlets and wanted to revive the genre,” says Valerie Meyers of Orwell’s Animal Farm (Meyers).
This is not well thought-out because he was making fun of the way that people thought of utopias and he made the utopian society of the farm animals in Animal Farm fail miserably. If he had been praising the utopian societies and genre, then he would have written things differently and not had the society end in failure and death which is ultimately where he believed it would end. “Orwell’s Animal Farm, like Swift’s Lilliput and Blefuscu, is a coded satiric portrait of a real society, an anti-utopia which, by castigating real evils, suggests what society ought to be like” (Meyers).
George Orwell uses satire and allegory to show an intended utopia failing and Meyers puts it well when she says that he “castigates real evils” because Orwell legitimately shows the evils of what was happening in Russia and tries to simplify them into something of a “fairytale” that the normal person could digest and understand. . It is written as a fable though with the moral being to “teach a political lesson” (Meyers). He is trying to show the common person the effects on the people and the seriousness of the controversies that he chose to write about.
The ultimate goal of writing Animal Farm was to destroy the Soviet myth (Patai). Orwell wanted the myth that everything was going great in the Soviet Union to be dismissed because people were not taking things seriously. The rest of the world did not think anything of the terrorism that was taking place because they simply did not even know that it was happening. Concerning Russian Communism, George Orwell did not take into account the “underlying reasons for its transformation from a proletarian dictatorship into a kind of parody of the Catholic Church,” (Frye 11).
Orwell simply went through the process of what happened and didn’t ask the questions like “Why did Old Major feel the way he did? ” or “Why did the animals blindly believe the pigs and not question them? ” The characters that are used in the literary work of Animal Farm are animals. Some critics say this is because it is written in a fable-style and some, like Daphne Patai say that this is because, “It was apparently easier for Orwell to identify with the animal kingdom, exploited at the hands of ‘humans,’ than to note that buried in class and race divisions in the human orld lay the issue of gender oppression,” (Patai). Orwell could more easily wrap his mind around the cruelty shown to animals because then he wouldn’t have to relate it back to himself and his responsibility and role in the cruelty of human treatment to other humans. Also, it allowed him to disregard race and gender in the characterization of the animals that lived on Manor Farm. When he wrote about the pigs taking over and all the other animals numbly following them he tried to show that “the class struggle among humans is ‘pure illusion’—which is itself an illusion,” (Patai).
George Orwell was trying to show that we don’t have to blindly follow authority and that it is not in our best interest, but in the same respect, he proved that it can be dangerous if you do not, therefore contradicting himself. “Orwell’s concern is that no matter what viewpoint rulers adopt it is no guarantee that they can solve the ‘central problem’ of revolution—indeed, of life—namely, the abuse of power” (Slater 241). George Orwell believed that whether it was Communism, Fascism, or Marxism, the leaders failed to do what they took over to do in the first place.
His philosophy was that it doesn’t matter the type of government, government cannot fix the problem of revolution no matter the strength. The characters that exemplify the symbolism and allegory make up the main plot of the masterpiece that is Animal Farm. The pigs represent the upper class Bolsheviks that took power, Boxer is the common man, the dogs are the secret police, and so on. Also, the symbols used throughout the book such as the hoof and horn flag, the Order of the Green Banner, and the part song entitled “The Beasts of England” directly parallel symbols common in Russian society at the time.
Even the battles have their own parallels of historical revolutions taking place in Russia (Meyers). Orwell wanted to blatantly make a point and leave no room for question as to what this was specifically allegorizing. “He says that he will not attempt to speak for the work: Either it speaks for itself or it is a failure” (Quinn). Orwell made everything so clear because he felt strongly about this issue of Marxism and the totalitarianism happening in Russia. If a critic had a question about what this was about, it would have defeated the purpose that it was meant to serve and so he wrote it in a way as to leave nothing to assumption.
The character that most of the people struggling in this time feel that they can relate to is the character of Boxer, a workhorse. He buys into the lies that are fed to him by the pigs and believes all of the propaganda. Boxer truly believes that the pigs are doing what is best for him and even is found encouraging other animals to go along with their decisions. “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right” are the mantras that he developed to help himself keep going and accomplish the work he was assigned by the pigs.
Eventually, the pigs decide that he cannot work any harder and Boxer is deemed useless; he is sent to the glue factory much to the chagrin of the other animals that looked up to and admired him for his work ethics and motivation. The fact that he was sold for alcohol and food for the pigs shows just how the system of totalitarianism works. It shows the way that people blindly follow orders, and even those who follow orders are not rewarded. As for the pigs, Napoleon represents Stalin and Snowball represents Trotsky; they supervise and keep the best of everything, including food such as apples and milk.
Napoleon prefers a harsher take on everything: defensive buildup of armaments, increased food production/work, and finally, eliminating Snowball from the equation altogether. Snowball is mellower, wanting destabilization by propaganda, building of the windmill (reducing work hours), and an eloquent way to run things. Because they come to a head on all of these governmental matters, the more brutal animal, Napoleon, finally wins by driving Snowball off with the pack of dogs being used as secret police.
Napoleon, like Stalin, turns Snowball, like Trotsky, into a criminal and an enemy of the animals; his victory and bravery at the Battle of the Cowshed is diminished piece by piece and his memory is degraded. The dogs are tricked into acting against their fellow “comrades” with offers of food and other treats. They mirror the KGB in that they do the bidding of those in power and even turn against their leader when they see a reward for themselves (Gardner 103-104). Orwell’s Animal Farm is taught in schools all over the country, though the immediate need for the piece of literature is now gone because there is no more Russian Communism.
Many critics say that it was written as a fable or a fairy tale, and though Blair agrees, he also says: “Still, the narrative of Animal Farm is ingenious, and its twists retain a certain charm” (Blair). Though the author is in the opinion that Animal Farm is simply a children’s book, there is a simple agreement that it was written “ingeniously”. The teaching of this literary masterpiece will continue throughout the years because of its use of historical allegory and symbolism to teach the reader simply what happened in the world events of the time period that George Orwell lived in.