Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Animal Farm: Chapter X - Analysis

Orwell fast-forwards to a time when Animal Farm has undergone a great deal of turnover. Only a few animals that remember the Rebellion remain, and their memories of it are faint. Napoleon has rewritten the animals’ history to the extent that they feel they no longer have one. He has also manipulated language to the extent that it is meaningless. We see this reflected in the maxim, “All animals are equal / But some animals are more equal than others.” The concept of “more equal” is mathematically impossible, but the animals are too disillusioned and brainwashed to notice. In all the years since the Rebellion, not a single animal has gotten the rewards that he was promised or that was experienced so briefly in the days immediately following the Rebellion. In history, Chapter X corresponds to a time somewhere in the distant future, beyond the realm of Orwell’s own experience. It is, therefore, the manifestation of his pessimistic conjectures about the future of totalitarianism. In this chapter, Orwell slowly and firmly crushes our hopes along with the animals’. In the end, the pigs have all the tangible fruits of Animal Farm’s labor while the animals are left with only empty promises. The windmill, the cause for which countless animals labored and died, has been diverted from its original purpose of supplying electricity. Not even Clover and Benjamin, who are by this time very old, have been allowed to retire. While wearing clothing, smoking pipes, and eating sugar, Napoleon still has the nerve to tell the animals, “The truest happiness … [lies] in working hard and living frugally” (129). It is a harrowing, dystopic future.

In the pessimistic vein for which he became known, Orwell imagines a future in which not only the Soviet Union, but also the Allies, become totalitarian. We see this reflected in Pilkington’s speech at the banquet. He not only agrees to collaborate with Napoleon, but vows to emulate Napoleon’s harsh standards of labor and living on his own farm. In his own toast, Napoleon seals the door on Animal Farm’s history and breaks the last ties with its original tenets. He changes the farm’s name back to “Manor Farm,” as though the trials, triumphs, and abuses of the past many years never happened. It is clear that he intends to erase the memory of Animal Farm from history. Stalin and Hitler were both known to do this in educating the youth in their countries. Most likely, the textbooks in Napoleon’s schoolhouse will severely skew the truth about Animal Farm, if they mention the name “Animal Farm” at all. Napoleon breaks the final tie with Major when he denies knowing why the animals march past his skull in ceremonious fashion. He is erasing knowledge not just of the ideas that Major stood for, but also all the things he himself authored.

The poker game is multiply symbolic. First, it represents the carelessness with which totalitarian leaders treat their people. The animals are like cards in the gambler’s hands, subject to whim and chance. When Napoleon and Pilkington fight over the Ace of Spades (which proves that at least one of them had a card up his sleeve), they foreshadow the international disagreements and struggles that are sure to follow the temporary postwar peace. In this symbolic meaning, Orwell foreshadows the Cold War even though it did not begin in earnest until after the book was published. Pigs and humans are equals at the table, more or less, and rivals once the game is over.

Orwell demonstrates the fact that oppression is cyclical and the oppressed becomes the oppressor when given the chance. By the novel’s end, the pigs are indistinguishable from the humans not only in behavior but also in appearance. Their transformation is complete when they adopt two-legged walking. They treat the animals in the autocratic manner of Jones. In this sense, the story has come full circle.

The future Orwell creates for Animal Farm does not correspond neatly with Imperial Russia. Before the Rebellion, the animals lived under Jones’s total control but had the advantage, the bliss, of ignorance. Now they are living under Napoleon’s total control, having been enlightened to the possibility of freedom and, it seems, still under the impression that they are free but no longer understanding what true freedom would be. This is consistent with Orwell’s belief that 20th-century autocrats such as Hitler and Stalin were of a new and more dangerous kind than the dictators of the past.

Animal Farm is a warning about autocrats who take over socialist ideals for their own aggrandizement. Is there any chance for socialism if human nature is such that the lust for greed and power brings forth leaders who take control and betray its ideals, over against passive and uneducated populations? The capitalist, democratic alternative is to channel that lust into productive work and to limit the power of government to control the freedoms of the people. This alternative creates or aggravates inequalities—one might say that there will always be pigs, dogs, horses, cats, and the rest—but is far preferable to totalitarian control. The challenge for Orwell or for anyone who promotes socialist ideals is to find a practical way to circumvent the abuses that the pigs of Animal Farm so easily commit. But since the novel is a reflection of the challenges of the 1940s rather than a political treatise, Orwell has done quite enough in demonstrating, clearly and horrifyingly, the nature and scope of the challenges to be faced.

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