22 Jul 2013

Symbolism in Animal Farm - Historical Background to the Novel

Animal Farm deals with early Twentieth Century Russia, its leaders and a brilliant but dangerous political idea that altered the course of the late twentieth century, an idea that threatened to start world war three. Want to know more? 
Of course you do!

It all started with this man...
In Animal Farm, George Orwell tells a hopeful, terrible story based on true events and real people.

Farmer Jones = the Tsar (pronounced 'saar'). Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. Like a dictator, the Tsar had totalitarian power, greater even than that of most kings, due to the size of the Russian Empire.

Tsar Nicholas, nicknamed 'Bloody Nicholas', set out on huge military campaigns and presided over humiliating defeats like the Russo-Japanese war. He ordered pogroms (similar to the holocaust), 'Bloody Sunday' in 1905, where he suppressed an attempted revolution. During World War I, the Russian effort was a military horror story in which 3.3 million Russians were killed.

In 1917, the peasants revolted again, led by the Bolsheviks. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. A year later, in 1818, he was executed. When the time came to shoot his daughters, the men charged with the task couldn't. The princesses had so many diamonds hidden in the lining of their dresses that the bullets bounced off.

You'll notice the books is mostly about animals. So what do the animals represent?

Animals = the Russian people. About half of all Russians were slaves, known as 'serfs', and were treated - Orwell suggests - like animals.
Old Major describes the animals' lives as 'misery and slavery', 'miserable, laborious and short', says we are 'forced to work to the last atom of our strength' and that man is 'the only creature that 'consumes without producing'. Here, he picks up on the vast inequality between rich and poor in Russia. Russian serfs were literally slaves, with no status in law. They could be killed at the whim of their master, or relocated away from their families.

Where is Russia?
At the start of Animal Farm, the state of Manor Farm = Tsar Nicholas' Russia before the revolution
Manor = aristocracy
Farm = most Russians were farmers.
Is this unusual? Very. In Russia, there were shockingly few factories, unlike the rest of Europe, and America, where more efficient farming methods - better crops, soil cultivation and machinery - meant fewer people needed to be involved in back-breaking farm labour.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Russia was wealthy due to its size, but technologically backward, inefficient, and largely untouched by the agricultural and industrial revolutions that had massively improved living standards for the poor in Western Europe over the last sixty years or more. 'The Windmill' represents the rapid mechanization and technological revolution that happened in Russia under Stalin to fix this problem.



Why did Orwell call this book Animal Farm?
He's making a sharp comment on 1. the fact that most Russians were treated like animals and people's attitude to the poor in general as non-human 2. Russia's technological backwardness and unnecessary back-breaking work in farming 3. the shocking, radical idea that 'animals' could be in charge of the farm - that people could benefit from their own hard work ('labour').

Old Major = Karl Marx
Karl Marx (1818-1883) is famous as the founder of Communism. He was a political philosopher - writing about how government, society and the economy ought to be organised. With Friedrich Engels he wrote the hugely controversial texts: the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital ('Capital' - or 'Money') (1867-94). Note: Marx and Engels were German - not Russian. Marx was exiled in 1849, and moved to London, where he is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

What is Communism?
Communism was a radical, dangerous idea-system. As it took hold in the USSR, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and various African nations, it shaped the geo-politics of the twentieth century. For a forty year period, it threatened to start a nuclear World War Three with the Capitalist West. Wars were fought in its name, famously in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Modern Europe was divided by a so-called iron curtain. The German capital city was divided by a 3.6 metre (12ft) high concrete wall manned by machine gun posts - that people died trying to cross. Americans were imprisoned for holding 'communist' views and Russians were killed for not being  communist enough.

Orwell died in 1950 and so would have been unaware of how Communism developed. He was a socialist, and believed in Communism's idealistic principles.

Animalism = Communism
Very Simple Guide to Communism:
Four legs good / Two legs bad
'workers of the world unite', 'let the ruling classes tremble'
All Animals are Equal
Equality: all people are equal. Full stop.
Unity: all people work together for a common good.
Private property and land-owning is abolished: all property, land, and profits are equally shared.
No animal shall wear clothes, drink alcohol, sleep in a bed.
Luxury and consumerism are bad.
Money (capital) is bad: especially speculation, lending and borrowing at interest.

Communism Quotes: Karl Marx - with links to Animal Farm and Characters

Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Introduction..., p. 1 (1843)
'Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.' Link this to Orwell's portrayal of Moses the Raven and Sugarcandy Mountain and the way in which the animals start to believe again under the oppression of Napoleon.

Wages of Labour, (1844)
'Political Economy regards the proletarian [worker] ... like a horse, he must receive enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him, during the time when he is not working, as a human being.'
Old Major - 'we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies', 'the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered'. Link this to the character of Boxer as a typical worker.

The German Ideology (1845/6)
'[Communism is] an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself.'

Das Kapital, (1867)
'Of all the animals kept by the farmer, the labourer ... was ... the most oppressed, the worst nourished, the most brutally treated.'
'the end and aim of capitalist production, is to ... exploit labor-power to the greatest possible extent.'

The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)
'The theory of Communism may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.'

'Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians [workers] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.'

Links between Karl Marx and Old Major
Both are full or ideas and talk, but never put their ideas into practice. Like Old Major, Karl Marx died before the Russian Bolshevik Revolution took place, led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin took charge and became idolised as a hugely powerful symbol - just like Old Major's skull and the 'Seven Commandments'. On his death, Lenin's body was embalmed and Russians visited him as they might visit a saint.

Thomas Hobbes, (1588-1679)
'our lives are miserable, laborious and short'. Orwell may be referencing Thomas Hobbes, who famously wrote that life is 'nasty, brutish and short' (Leviathan, 1651). Here, Hobbes was describing the state of mankind before governments were formed. Here, Hobbes says government is a good thing. Orwell transforms this. Under Jones' government, the animals' lives are now 'laborious' as well as 'nasty/miserable' and 'short'.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, (1712-1778)
'You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.' On the Origin of Inequality, 1754.
'Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.' The Social Contract, (1762)


Animal Farm = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics USSR
Notice the hammer and sickle, symbols of workers in industry and farms respectively. These are represented in the novel by the re-naming of Manor Farm, the hoisting of the new, green flag and the hymns and parades that are sung. The Internacionale, below was taken by the Bolsheviks from France and was used as the Soviet Anthem until 1944.
The Internacionale
I
Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end.
Of the past let us make a clean slate
Enslaved masses, stand up, stand up.
The world is about to change its foundation
We are nothing, let us be all.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

II
There are no supreme saviours
Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.
Producers, let us save ourselves,
Decree the common salvation.
So that the thief expires,
So that the spirit be pulled from its prison,
Let us fan the forge ourselves
Strike the iron while it is hot.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

III
The State oppresses and the law cheats.
Tax bleeds the unfortunate.
No duty is imposed on the rich;
The rights of the poor is an empty phrase.
Enough languishing in custody!
Equality wants other laws:
No rights without duties, she says,
Equally, no duties without rights.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

IV
Hideous in their apotheosis
The kings of the mine and of the rail.
Have they ever done anything other
Than steal work?
Inside the safeboxes of the gang,
What work had created melted.
By ordering that they give it back,
The people want only their due.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

V
The kings made us drunk with fumes,
Peace among us, war to the tyrants!
Let the armies go on strike,
Stocks in the air, and break ranks.
If they insist, these cannibals
On making heroes of us,
They will know soon that our bullets
Are for our own generals.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

VI
Workers, peasants, we are
The great party of labourers.
The earth belongs only to men;
The idle will go to reside elsewhere.
How much of our flesh have they consumed?
But if these ravens, these vultures
Disappeared one of these days,
The sun will shine forever.
 |: This is the final struggle
  Let us group together, and tomorrow
  The Internationale
  Will be the human race. :|

After the Bolshevik Revolution that removed Nicholas II, the USSR was led first by Vladimir Lenin, pictured on the left, (1917-1924) then by Josef Stalin (1924-1953) who is on the right. In the centre, is Leon Trotsky. First, he and Stalin worked together. By 1929, Trotsky was forced to flee Russia. He was murdered - with an ice pick - in Cuba in 1940, very probably on Stalin's orders.
 In some ways, Old Major could be said to represent Lenin, the idolised leader whose embalmed body - like Old Major's skull - was worshipped by the people.
The Rebellion/Uprisingthe Bolshevik Revolution 1917

The Battle of the Cowshed = in 1919 the landowning classes, aided by Western help formed a 'White Army' to fight back. They were defeated by the Bolsheviks.

The Windmill = mechanization and modernization of Russia. This was done in a series of 'five year plans'. As in Squealer's reports, Russian Government propaganda listed astonishing progress and benefits, some of which was fictional, some achieved at terrible cost. We learn in the final chapter that the windmill is eventually finished, just as the Soviet Union was genuinely rapidly and impressively modernised - at a cost.

The Second Attack on the Windmill = World War II

Whom do the characters represent?
Mr Frederick = Kaiser Wilhelm, Pinchfield = Germany

Mr Pilkington = the English King, Foxwood = the U.K.

Moses the Raven = the Russian Orthodox Church (see Marx's somewhat negative opinion of Religion as the 'opium of the people' above)

The Pigs = the Communist elite, who gained unequally favourable treatment

Squealer = the Communist propaganda machine

Boxer = the Proletariat, workers

Mollie = the aristocracy, or those who benefitted from association with them as symbolised by her love of luxuries: the 'ribbons' that Snowball says are 'the badge of slavery'. Her dedication to the communist cause is summed up in her question: 'will there be sugar after the revolution'. She eventually disappears, or 'defects'.

Dogs/Puppies = the KGB, the Russian Secret Police, which Stalin used to re-inforce his power, remove enemies and crush dissent.

The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English teacher in the British education system and was nominated in 2012 for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades, often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post.