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George Orwell’s Animal Farm examines the insidious ways in which public officials can abuse their power, as it depicts a society in which democracy dissolves into autocracy and finally into totalitarianism. From the Rebellion onward, the pigs of Animal Farm use violence and the threat of violence to control the other animals. However, while the attack dogs keep the other animals in line, physical intimidation doesn’t prevent some of them from quietly questioning Napoleon’s decisions. To check this threat to the pigs’ power, Napoleon relies on rousing slogans, songs, and phrases to instill patriotism and conformity among the animals. On Animal Farm, it quickly becomes clear that language and rhetoric can be much more effective tools of social control than violence.
The pigs rely on slogans, poems, and commandments to both inspire the animals and keep them subservient. Crucially, the pigs understand that their songs and sayings must be easy to memorize and repeat if the other animals are to internalize their precepts. When written commandments prove too difficult for many of the animals, the pigs synthesize them into a single, brief catchphrase: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” The slogan inspires the animals to adore their leaders rather than fear them, and by repeating it they deepen their commitment to the pigs. Boxer, the loyal cart-horse, continuously reaffirms his faith in the pigs’ judgment by repeating the slogan “Napoleon is always right” in addition to his usual mantra, “I will work harder.”
The animals eventually use the pigs’ slogans to police themselves, such as when several animals protest Napoleon’s decision to begin trading farm products to humans. Though they are initially silenced by “a tremendous growling from the dogs,” the tension isn’t dissolved until the sheep break into a collective recital of “‘Four legs good, two legs bad!’” In this key scene, Orwell explicitly contrasts brute force and the power of language, demonstrating that while the former may be effective in the short term, the latter has deeper, more lasting effects. The central role of rhetoric in the pigs’ administration is illustrated by the power afforded Squealer, the aptly-named spokespig, as well as the presence of a government poet pig, Minimus.
In addition to the songs, slogans, poems, and commandments, Napoleon and the pigs also rewrite the oral and written histories of the farm in order to serve their needs and maintain their authority. When Napoleon violently seizes power, he quickly justifies his takeover by falsely denouncing his former ally and fellow revolutionary, Snowball, as a human-sympathizer and enemy of Animalism. In fact, he continuously retells the story of Snowball’s “treachery” until Snowball’s role in the Rebellion and subsequent founding of Animal Farm has been completely effaced. Despite the fact that many of the animals remember Snowball receiving a medal for his bravery in the Battle of the Cowshed, Squealer convinces them that Snowball had actually fought alongside Mr. Jones against the animals. Loyal Boxer, who has trouble believing the official tale, is convinced otherwise when Squealer tells him that Napoleon knows it to be true. “Ah, that is different,” exclaims Boxer. “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”
Later, as the pigs move into the farmhouse, Squealer makes more revisions to the official doctrine when he secretly amends the commandment “No animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets” and revises the rule about drinking to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” The pigs even replace the old mantras with “Four legs good, two legs better,” and ultimately, “All animals are equal, except some are more equal than others.” When the animals actually catch Squealer in the act of rewriting the commandments, they don’t seriously suspect anything, a testament to the power the pigs’ rhetoric and language has over them.
The pigs’ slogans and catchphrases have brainwashed the other animals to such an extent that even when the dogs slaughter dozens of animals for supposedly having colluded with Snowball, they don’t question Napoleon’s leadership. Although unsettled, their misgivings melt away as soon as the sheep chime in with “their usual bleating” of Animal Farm’s primary maxim, “‘Four legs good, two legs bad,’” which they chant for “several minutes” until the possibility of discussion has passed. Of course, not all political rhetoric is categorically bad—we see the rousing affect Old Major’s song “The Beasts of England” has on the animals and how it prompts them to overthrow the tyrant Farmer Jones and create their own government. Orwell argues, however, that language can be used just as effectively for more sinister purposes, as a device of social manipulation and control, and that such rhetoric is often far more powerful than state-sanctioned violence or the threat of physical force.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Animal Farm!