Politicians, since the beginning of time, have made false promises in the hopes of gaining powerful political positions. Once the goal of public office is achieved, however, those promises soon become lost in the shuffle of greed and self-fulfillment. In the satirical fable, Animal Farm by George Orwell, the characters Snowball, Mr. Jones, and Napoleon prove how quickly power corrodes moral rectitude.
A basic socialistic theme soon emerges in the book – one that sets the pace for the entire plotline. It comes in Major’s early speech, where he berates the natural order of things at the farm. The hierarchy places the animals,(who do all the menial labor and make all the sacrifices), at the bottom of the pyramid while man reaps all the benefits. The tone of the speech resembles the discontent of the people of Russia, just before the Russian Revolution of 1919. “Man is the only creature who consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits and yet, he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work” (Animal Farm, pg. 29). This same sentiment resonated from the people of Russia who were tired of the Romanovs’ false promises. The owner of these animals, Mr. Jones, represents the selfish, amoral character of Czar Nicholas II. He is the animals’ drunk, unkind master, who indulges himself while the animals barely have enough food to keep from starving to death. Czar Nicholas II was considered just as callous, leading to the social discontent and eventually the Russian Revolution, which resembles the animals’ rebellion in Animal Farm..
The contempt in Major’s speech is soon echoed by almost all the animals and used as a source of fear and control, mirroring the propaganda used by Russian leaders like Joseph Stalin, who is portrayed by the corrupt opportunist pig, Napoleon. Napoleon exhibits the universality of the traits of tyrannical figures like Josip Tito, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. His focus throughout the satire is to train a group of dogs, which represent Russia’s nefarious secret police, in an effort to control the other animals with brute force and keep them under his control. The dread he inspires in the other animals makes life for the animals just as bad as when Mr. Jones ruled over them. Squealer at one point says “Surely none of you wish to see Jones back” (Animal Farm, pg. 80), but it is uncertain which regime was more miserable.Snowball, on the other hand, leads with logic and rhetoric, challenging Napoleon after the animal rebellion. He resembles the passionate, intelligent eloquence for which Leon Trotsky was so famous. He is a fervent ideologue, spreading the concept of animalism. His character, while significantly more morally-sound than Napoleon, is still flawed. His single-minded enthusiasm for big projects like the windmill might have resulted in despotism if he had succeeded.
The hierarchy is in which some pigs sleep in beds and have better food, isn’t because they want these privileges, the animals are told;. it’s for the good of the farm, to prevent humans from, once again, taking over. As things deteriorate at the farm, rigid control by few, much like a totalitarian socialist oligarchy, makes life for the majority much worse. Even after the executions of some animals for subversive activities shocks the barnyard, Clover believes this regime is better than the one which placed humans at the top of the hierarchy. “There was no thought of rebellion or disobedience in her mind. She knew that, even as things were, they were better off than they had been in the days of Jones, and that before all else, it was needful to prevent the return of human beings” (Animal Farm, pg. 95).
This fear of man becomes the ultimate method of control used by Napoleon and the others in power. Little by little, the Seven Commandments begin to suddenly and secretly change. “No animal shall wear clothes, no animal shall drink alcohol, all animals are equal” (Animal Farm, pg. 43) resemble the ideals set forth by the Communist Manifesto, and these rules, as true in the corrupt Russian regimes, gradually become altered to accommodate the growing power of the rulers and their privilege.
At the end of the book, all the Seven Commandments are replaced by only one, which sums up the ironic and compelling belief that has led the animals, full circle, back to their earlier days of slavery under Farmer Jones. “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others” (Animal Farm, pg. 133). Thus the rulers have become more despotic than the humans; greed and a love of power have triumphed over decency and equality. George Orwell’s masterpiece turns into a cynical expose on the depravity of all living things; a strong and shattering look at the cruelty of the strong over the weak.