Language and Meaning in Animal Farm by George Orwell
In Animal Farm, his allegory of the Soviet Revolution, Orwell examines the use of language and the subversion of the meaning of words by showing how the powerfulmanipulate words for their own benefit. As a journalist, Orwell knew the power of words to serve whichever side the writer backed. In the novel, Snowball is a quick talker who can always explain his way out of any situation. When the birds object to the maxim, “Four legs good, two legs bad,” that the pig teaches the sheep, he explains that the bird’s wing “is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg.” The birds do not really understand this explanation, but they accept it. Orwell particularly comments on the abuse of language with his character Squealer, “a brilliant talker,” who acts as an unofficial head of propaganda for the pigs. Like Joseph Goebbels, who bore the title of Nazi party minister of propaganda and national enlightenment during World War II, Squealer “could turn black into white.” This is also reminiscent of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Pravda, which was often used to rewrite the past. (Ironically, its title means “Truth.”) When a bad winter forces a reduction in food rations to the animals, Squealer calls it a “readjustment.” In a totalitarian state, language can be used tochange even the past. Squealer explains to the animals “that Snowball had neverA—as many of them had believed hitherto—received the order of ‘Animal Hero, First Class’.”
God and Religion
In the novel religion is represented by Moses, the tame raven. The clergy is presented as a privileged class tolerated by those in power because of their…
…d the commandment, however, it is discovered that it reads, “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.” “Somehow or other,” the narrator comments, “the last two words had slipped out of the animals’ memory.” Similarly, when the pigs get into a case of whiskey and get drunk, Muriel looks up at the barn wall where the Seven Commandments had been written and sees that the FifthCommandment reads, “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” She thinks the animals must have forgotten the last two words of this commandment as well. She comes to believethat the original event of the writing of the commandments on the wall did not happen the way she and other animals remember it. With this theme Orwell challenges the Soviet state’s—and any totalitarian state’s—method of controlling public opinion bymanipulating the truth and, in particular, rewriting history.