Animal Farm - Themes overview
Text and images adapted from: https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/guides/zw26hyc/revision/1
Animal Farm is a didactic text - Orwell wants to teach the reader lessons on:
- equality and inequality
- power, control and corruption
These themes are explored through the events and characters in the novel, and are an allegory for the Russian Revolution.
The animals' unhappiness represents class struggle (it: lotta), this leads (lead: condurre) to the Rebellion which offers some equality. Then the pigs' actions bring inequality back on the farm.
The theme of power and control is explored throughout the novel and is emphasized by the characters' relationships on the farm.
Orwell originally subtitled the novel 'a fairy story' (it: favola) suggesting he intended it as a fable.
The themes are political and explore what happened within Russian society in 1917 onwards (it: in avanti). They are still significant today.
Now play the loop game!
- allegory: a story or poem which has a hidden (usually political) meaning.
- communism: classless society where all property is owned publicly.
- didactic: a text that tries to teach a lesson.
- fable: a type of story with animals as characters. It teaches the reader a lesson.
- metaphor: a comparison made without using 'like' or 'as', eg 'sea of troubles' and 'drowning in debt'.
- propaganda: information, often biased (it: di parte) or misleading, designed to persuade people to adopt a particular point of view.
- rhetoric: artful persuasive speaking.
Before the Revolution of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia. The ruling classes had money and power, whilst most of the population were poor, exploited (exploit: sfruttare) peasant workers or from the working class. These people lived in terrible conditions and what they farmed was taken from them leaving them to face starvation and poverty.
The Revolution that came in 1917 sought to overthrow the Tsar and change the balance of society to give power back to the working class. The plot of Animal Farm closely parallels these events.
In Animal Farm, Orwell uses the animals to show the hardships (hardship: difficoltà) of the working classes. The animals each represent a different section of society at the time - they are a metaphor for what happened to the people.
The animals, like the working class of Russia, had short, difficult lives, working to produce things that the ruling class would take for themselves. The Rebellion on the farm wants to change this, but the revolutionary pigs soon adopt the ways of the ruling class that they tried to abolish.
(Text adapted from: https://www.bartleby.com/essay/How-Has-George-Orwell-Used-Animal-Farm, http://www.theartsjournal.org/index.php/site/index)
Orwell uses stereotyped animals to create the desired image of his characters so that the audience can easily recognize the characters’ personalities.
- Pigs are used to represent the authority figures. They were chosen because of their greedy, dirty and noisy characteristics which are quite similar to the evil natures of human beings.
- Horses, that are known to be hardworking, are represented as the submissive, unquestioning laborers.
- Sheep, which are identified as being obedient followers, are represented as people who accept propaganda without questioning the truth.
Now it's your turn!
- Explain the reasons that led to the Revolution.
- Why did Orwell use animals as symbols of mankind?
- Animal Farm symbolizes Russia and the Soviet Union under Communist Party rule but it also stands for any (qualsiasi) human society: do you agree?
EQUALITY AND INEQUALITY
In Animal Farm, Orwell uses the animals and their actions to make the reader think about equality and inequality. Before 1917, the majority of Russian people suffered from great inequality - they had far less money and food than the ruling classes.
Likewise (it: allo stesso modo), before the rebellion in Animal Farm Mr Jones takes everything that the animals have away from them. After the Rebellion the animals are free from the tyranny of Mr Jones and want to establish equality amongst (it: tra) themselves.
One of the Commandments is 'All animals are equal'. However, this equality is short-lived (it: vita breve) and the pigs begin to bend the rules (it: cambiare le regole) until inequality returns to the farm.
POWER AND CONTROL
Power and control is one of the most important themes in Animal Farm. Orwell explores political power - Mr Jones owns the farm and the animals and uses his men and whips (whip=frusta) to keep them under control and maintain his power.
Orwell shows that the animals have the power to challenge (it: sfidare) Mr Jones' control and take over the farm - using power in a positive way. He then explores how the pigs use rhetoric and propaganda to establish themselves in power and take control of the farm. It is interesting that the working animals, especially Boxer the horse, have great physical power but they don’t use it to break free from the control of the pigs.
Orwell explores the idea of power leading to corruption. Many of the characters in the novel are eventually corrupted by the power they have, particularly the pigs, as they manipulate their position of leadership to exploit other animals.
Now it's your turn!
- Which form of power is stronger, physical power or the power of language? Why?
- Explain the connection between power and corruption.
- Orwell presents his view of human nature in Animal Farm. It is pessimistic or optimistic? Why?
Follow up: power through propaganda
(Text adapted from: https://sites.google.com/a/aveson.org/mr-tom/Home/johnny-tremaine/unit-5-persuasion-and-propoganda/propaganda-posters---animal-farm)
What is PROPAGANDA?
- Propaganda is like advertising in some ways. But advertising is usually trying to sell something, whereas propaganda is about ideas.
- It is a message that is intended to persuade, to serve the interests of the messenger. It is always biased (it: di parte).
- The information is designed to make people feel a certain way or to believe a certain thing, to influence public opinion and to manipulate other people’s beliefs.
- The information is often confusing and unfair.
- It uses emotional manipulation, rather than rational argumentation, to influence.
- The information is often political. Propaganda is often used during wars.
- Propaganda uses the media of mass communication—radio, television, newspapers, and magazines—to reach a mass audience and spread its ideas. It can take the form of posters, TV advertisements, and radio announcements.
Here are some common propaganda techniques:
- NAME CALLING (it: insultare): giving a person or an idea a bad label by using an easy to remember pejorative name to persuade an audience to reject something. Examples: "Republican", "Nazi", "Environmentalist".
- VIRTUE WORDS: linking positive, general, and commonly accepted words (“love,” “family,” “democracy”) with a person, group, or cause to make an audience approve without careful consideration. Examples: "Natural", "Democratic", "Organic", "Scientific", "Ecological", "Sustainable".
- TRANSFER: connecting the authority or prestige of an image or symbol (the American flag, the cross, science, medicine) with a person or product.
- TESTIMONIAL: some respected celebrity (or someone generally hated) claims that an idea or product is good (or bad).
- PLAIN FOLKS (it: gente comune): trying to convince an audience that someone is “one of them”—a common, ordinary, hard-working, all-American citizen instead of a wealthy politician, for example.
- BANDWAGON (it: di moda): claiming that an audience should do something because “everybody else is doing it”.
- FEAR: warning an audience that something horrible will happen to them if they don’t take certain action.
- SCAPEGOAT (it: capro espiatorio): It transfers blame (it: colpa) to one person or group of people without investigating the complexities of the issue. Examples: "George W. Bush got us into Iraq", "President Reagan caused the national debt".
- HOT POTATO: This is an inflammatory (often untrue) statement or question used to throw an opponent off guard, or to embarrass them. Examples "Have you stopped beating your spouse", "When will you pay the taxes you owe?" The fact that it may be untrue is irrelevant.
- ARTIFICIAL DICHOTOMY: This is when someone tries to claim there are only two sides to an issue and that both sides must have equal presentation in order to be evaluated.
(Text adapted from: https://www.uvm.edu/~jleonard/AGRI183/propoaganda.html)
Play the loop game to practice!
Now it's your turn!
The animals use propaganda to disseminate propaganda in Animal Farm. Examples: speeches like Old Major’s, songs likes Beasts of England, poems like Comrade Napoleon, and written orders like the Seven Commandments.
Propaganda has been used throughout history by various countries, political organizations, and leaders to influence, persuade, and manipulate others to believe or act in certain ways. Propaganda use was widespread during conflicts such as World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.