Unseen Extract: Orwell: Elements of Social and Political Protest: English Literature B


Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.[1] Orwell, a democratic socialist,[2] was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.[3] The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin (“un conte satirique contre Staline”),[4] and in his essay “Why I Write” (1946), wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”.


The reading and writing classes, however, were a great success. By the autumn almost every animal on the farm was literate in some degree.

As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly. The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments. Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs, and sometimes used to read to the others in the evenings from scraps of newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap. Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty. So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading. Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together. Boxer could not get beyond the letter D. He would trace out A, B, C, D, in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding. On several occasions, indeed, he did learn E, F, G, H, but by the time he knew them, it was always discovered that he had forgotten A, B, C, and D. Finally he decided to be content with the first four letters, and used to write them out once or twice every day to refresh his memory. Mollie refused to learn any but the six letters which spelt her own name. She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them.

None of the other animals on the farm could get further than the letter A. It was also found that the stupider animals, such as the sheep, hens, and ducks, were unable to learn the Seven Commandments by heart. After much thought Snowball declared that the Seven Commandments could in effect be reduced to a single maxim, namely: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” This, he said, contained the essential principle of Animalism. Whoever had thoroughly grasped it would be safe from human influences. The birds at first objected, since it seemed to them that they also had two legs, but Snowball proved to them that this was not so.

“A bird’s wing, comrades,” he said, “is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg. The distinguishing mark of man is the HAND, the instrument with which he does all his mischief.”

The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart. FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD, was inscribed on the end wall of the barn, above the Seven Commandments and in bigger letters When they had once got it by heart, the sheep developed a great liking for this maxim, and often as they lay in the field they would all start bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad! Four legs good, two legs bad!” and keep it up for hours on end, never growing tired of it.

Napoleon took no interest in Snowball’s committees. He said that the education of the young was more important than anything that could be done for those who were already grown up. It happened that Jessie and Bluebell had both whelped soon after the hay harvest, giving birth between them to nine sturdy puppies. As soon as they were weaned, Napoleon took them away from their mothers, saying that he would make himself responsible for their education. He took them up into a loft which could only be reached by a ladder from the harness-room, and there kept them in such seclusion that the rest of the farm soon forgot their existence.

The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed every day into the pigs’ mash.



My planning


Power hierarchy+ social class

Orwell shows a clear hierarchy across the extract, with the differing species of animal. This gives ideas of class struggle and a social/ethnic class divide. “humbler animals” some language is more implicit, others more explicit “stupider animals” language that is perjorative and dividing. Russian rev involves lots of persecution of peasants. But in England, this could be referring to working classes being oppressed. Could also be race like immigration issues. Nowadays similar idas of class and race. See postcolonial theory and presentation of ‘other’
-some animals unclear here, but other technique such as names used: Napoleon: already connotes power: then the use of action of characters: those with hands on levers of power to “TAKE THEM INTO A LOFt”.

Powerlessness and education/literacy

key way powerlessness is shown is through the literacy of each animla. –use of repetition of maxim –use of voice, only Snowball’s words used by the other anmials: suppression of voice and how literacy can be used to control…also shows subliminal control through affirming: see Aldous Huxley Brave New World.
also see the pathetic presentation of each individual animal especially box, the active description of his powerless in how he attempts to learn. Also chronology of the time clearly stated.

Setting and allegory

Use of animals upon a farm…distances it from directly criticising any real figure. Allows more timeless representation of dictatorship etc? characters are just foils, not round but flat: dumb “box could not get beyond the letter D”. Could an alternative be to dispel anthropocentrism? Probably not: animals are too human…and shown to be dumb and essentially useless. Setting of farmyard also reflects an idea of production, an idea of reification: of usage and throwing away. See doas “mans not a piece of fruit”.
– setting a larger comment upon human organisation? Capitalist critique, like in how there is a “mystery of where the milk went to”…taes this everyday mundane occurrence, to perhaps show how the production of workers helps to maintain their entrapment…etc “mixedevery day into the pig’s mash”

Language incredibly simple: dealing with very complex issues.


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