Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Stages of a Revolution as Depicted in "Animal Farm

The Targets of Criticism in "Animal Farm"
As has already been pointed out, Orwell had a great deal of difficulty in getting Animal Farm published. Most publishers rejected it because they did not want to publish an anti-Soviet satire in the middle of the war. Yet T. S. Eliot's letter of rejection on behalf of one of the publishers showed that this was not the only problem which the book raised. Eliot's complaint was as follows:

The effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something; and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing.
Eliot also said that Orwell had not been able to confirm any of the standard western attitudes toward the Soviet Union. Now, Eliot was surely mistaken in thinking that the positive point of view in this book was Trotskyite. If the positive point of view had been Trotskyite, Snowball would have been portrayed as a tragic hero. But Snowball is not the tragic hero in this book. The misunderstanding in this respect arises largely from the supposition that Animal Farm is wholly an attack on the Soviet Union. Of course, Orwell did attack the Soviet Union in this book, and he did so fiercely though wittily. Yet Orwell's purpose in this book is more general. Orwell was interested in tracing the inevitable stages of any revolution, and so be shaped his fable accordingly. Once more, it may be admitted that the literal level of the story is almost exclusively based on Soviet history. Although Russia is the book's immediate target, Orwell said that the book was intended as a satire on dictatorship in general. Orwell has been faithful to the details of Soviet history in this book; yet he did not hesitate to change and modify some of the most important elements of that history.
The Omission of Lenin from the Story
The most striking of these alterations is the omission of Lenin from the story. Old Major, the idealist visionary who dies before the revolution lakes place, is most probably meant to represent Karl Marx, while Napoleon and Snowball represent Stalin and Trotsky respectively, and the conflict between Napoleon and Snowball is the historical conflict between those two communist leaders. Lenin seems to have been left out probably because Orwell wants to emphasize the great disparity between the ideals of the revolution and the reality which is achieved through the revolution. Lenin's brief period of power must have seemed to Orwell an irrelevant interlude in the grim drama that was taking place. The successors of Lenin had in fact begun to transform him into a myth even before he was dead. They tried to legitimize their power by worship at his shrine. Orwell eliminated the mythical hero altogether from his story in order to depict the truth of the Russian Revolution and portray the communist leaders as they actually were.
A Generic as Well as a Topical Satire
Such a radical departure from history was of course Orwell's right as an author who aimed at constructing a story having a more general significance than what the Russian Revolution alone meant. He says in a preface to Animal Farm that, although the various episodes in this story were taken from the actual history of the Russian Revolution, he had dealt with them schematically and had changed their chronological order in the interests of the symmetry of the story. But we can see that these changes were necessary also in order to achieve the purpose which Orwell had in writing the story. This raises the question of how the topical and generic levels of the satire in the book are related. The issue can be seen in a clearer perspective with reference to the case of Swift who was in a way Orwell's model. When Gulliver's Travels was first published, many took the book as an essentially partisan political document and a piece of propaganda on behalf of the opposition party. Yet Swift himself said that his book would be a failure if it could be understood only in England. Swift made it clear that in his opinion the same vices and the same follies prevailed everywhere and that the author who wrote only for one country or one kingdom did not deserve any attention as an author. In the same way, we may affirm that Animal Farm is concerned both with the Russian Revolution and the general pattern of revolution itself. As time passes, Animal Farm would be more and more appreciated as a generic rather than as a topical satire.
The Successive Stages of a Revolution as
Depicted By Orwell
Orwell wrote Animal Farm in the form of a fable partly because he wanted to give a permanent mythic life to the pattern of historical events and because he wanted to emphasize that he was dealing not with chance events but with typical ones. He was interested in depicting a paradigmatic social revolution. The pattern which emerges from this book is meant to apply not only to the Russian Revolution but also to the Spanish Civil War and to the French Revolution. (It is significant that the main character has been given the name of Napoleon). Orwell wishes to convey to us that revolutions always go through several predictable stages. A revolution begins with great idealistic fervour and popular support. It is energized by golden expectations of justice and equality. The period immediately following a successful revolution is the stage of Paradise. There is a general sense of triumphant achievement. There is a general feeling that an idealistic vision has been translated into an actual reality. The spirit of brotherhood, fellow-feeling, and equality is everywhere apparent. Old laws and institutions are abolished and replaced by a general concern for the common good. The State has, for the time being, lost its importance. But slowly the feeling of freedom gives way to the sense of necessity, and to bondage. Improvised organization is replaced by rigid institutions. Equality gives way to special privileges for certain people. The next stage is the emergence of a new class of persons who, because of their superior skill and their lust for power, assume command and re-create the class-structure. The power of this new class of persons is first universally accepted, but gradually this power has to be asserted against any possible resistance or opposition, and it is asserted by means of threats and terror. As more time passes, the past is forgotten or is deliberately removed from the minds and memories of the people. The new leadership takes on all the characteristics of the old, pre-revolutionary, leadership, while the people at large return to a state of servitude. This transition is gradual, and it is constantly presented by the leaders as something historically inevitable or as something necessary to counter any possible conspiracy or any possible danger from a foreign power. All sorts of excuses are invented by the leaders to explain the divergence from the original ideal. The people at large begin to be exploited partly because of their stupidity, and partly because, having no taste for power, they are victimized by the power-hungry leaders. In every new society, some persons will rise above their fellows and assume the available positions of authority. When their power and privileges have been consolidated, they will fight to keep them. The only surviving sign of the revolution will then be its rhetoric and its history (which is now altered to suit the convenience and the purposes of the leaders). Equality and justice will then fade away, and the State becomes supreme.
T.S. Eliot's Objection
T. S. Eliot objected that the effect of Animal Farm was simply one of negation and that the book failed to excite any sympathy with what the author wanted. In reply to this objection, it may be said that great satire has often been written out of the despairing sense that what the author wants may be unattainable. If Orwell has at all any positive point of view in writing this book, it is the hope that the socialists would be able to face the hard truths which he presents rather than continue to accept the various consoling illusions which had been created to explain the failures of the Communist regime.
A Moralist's Exposure of the State of Affairs in Russia
Realism was not Orwell's only aim in writing Animal Farm. Orwell is also finally a moralist. The following lines from Orwell's essay on Dickens are significant in this connection:
Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old—generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two view-points are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate at any point of time.
Orwell also says in the same essay that most revolutionaries are potential Tories becayse they imagine that everything can be put right by altering the shape of society. Once that change is effected, as it sometimes is, they see no need for any other. It is at this moment—when a given revolution has more to preserve than to transform—that the moralist can come forward and expose the state of affairs. When Orwell wrote Animal Farm, he had begun to feel that Soviet society had reached this stage, even though many people in Soviet Russia still saw the revolution only in its earlier, triumphant phase.

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