The Satirical Strain in Orwell's Earliest Writings
The satirical strain in Orwell's work emerged clearly in his earliest writings. But his two major satires are Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. A satirist takes the huge mass of available facts and, consciously or unconsciously, selects those details which are grotesque and ugly and which provoke him to expose their absurdity and unacceptability.A satirist has to select such details and this act of selection is a moral act. The act of selection is also a creative act because it is in the organizing, arranging, and shaping of his material that the satirist's art is revealed. Satirical writing is therefore not a transparent medium through which the reader is given a clear view of reality. Satirical writing is a kind of peculiar lens which renders distorted and often grotesque images of society. In Down and out in
A Big Shock to Orwell's Belief in Democratic Socialism
Throughout Orwell's early novels, journals, and essays, what sustained Orwell was a belief in democratic socialism. This belief saved him from total despair at the spectacle of the human condition. But Orwell's bitter experience in the Spanish Civil War and the shock of the Nazi-Soviet pact (of 1939) came as a great blow to his belief, and marked the beginning of the mental and emotional state which led to his writing his two major satires—Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. As long as Orwell had been concerned with exposing the evils of British imperialism and of the capitalist system, his faith in democratic socialism had been a great support to mind. But when he turned his critical eye on the working of the communist system and the dictatorship of the proletariat, he beheld fundamental lies and corruption.
(I) "ANIMAL FARM"
A Disturbing Element in the Gaiety and the Humour
Animal Farm was his first great cry of despair. This small book contains a satirical beast fable which has been regarded by some critics as Orwell's lightest and gayest work. Now, an element of gaiety is certainly present in this book. There is always a surface gaiety, a seeming good humour, a light and bantering tone in all beast fables. Animal Farm would have been a very bad tale indeed if it did not possess these qualities which belong to the convention of beast fables. But Animal Farm is a remarkable achievement precisely because Orwell employs the apparently frivolous form of a beast fable to convey, with tremendous power, his profoundly bitter message. Those who regard Animal Farm as an excellent book simply because of its admirable good humour and gaiety miss the whole point of the story. Animal Farm does certainly contain much gaiety and humour, but even in the most comic situations there is a disturbing element of cruelty or fear which mars the reader's laughter. A couple of examples would show the truth of this statement. One of the leaders of the revolt of the farm animals against their master is a pig called Snowball. At one stage this leader is organizing the "Egg Production Committee" for the hens, the "Clean Tails League" for the cows, the "Wild Comrades' Re-education Committee" and the "Whiter Wool Movement" for the sheep. At the same time the second and equally powerful leader of the revolution by the name of Napoleon, who is a sinister and tyrannical pig, is carefully educating the dogs for his own evil purposes. In other words, these two leaders of the revolution, who should be working in close cooperation, are actually working at cross-purposes with each other. Napoleon is particularly evil-minded. Thus, a comic situation has its disturbing side. Again, the confessions forced from the animals in Napoleon's great purges are very funny; but, when the dogs tear the throats of the “guilty" ones and leave a heap of corpses at the tyrant's feet, the situation ceases to amuse. Thus we find that Orwell is employing in such situations the technique of describing ghastly events in a comic setting.
A Delicate, Satiric Balance
Then there is another view which deserves consideration. According to this view. Animal Farm shows the over-riding importance of Orwell's love of animals. The actual fact is that Orwell in Animal Farm loves animals only as much or as little as he loves human beings. To say that he hates the pigs because they represent human tyrants and sympathizes with the horses because they are dumb animals is not quite correct. Nor is it essential that a truly successful animal fable should carry with it a gay and light-hearted message. Indeed, the very idea of representing human traits in animals is somewhat pessimistic. What is really necessary for the success of a satirical beast fable is the author's power to keep his reader conscious simultaneously of the human traits satirized and of the animals as animals. If the animals in a satirical beast fable are allowed to remain simply animals, the writing will become a non-satirical children's story; and. if the animals are depicted as merely transparent symbols, the writing will become a dull sermon. In Animal Farm Orwell has been able successfully to maintain this delicate, satiric balance.
Society as an Aggregation of Certain Classes or Types
The seeds of Animal Farm are clearly present in Orwell's earlier works. These seeds are found firstly in the metaphors comparing men to beasts. But these seeds are found more emphatically in Orwell's whole attitude towards society as depicted in the earlier works in which he saw society as an aggregation of certain classes or types. The types in those earlier works changed somewhat in appearance according to the setting. Thus in Burmese Days we find such types as "pukka sahibs", corrupt officials, and the miserable natives of Burma. In Down and Out in Paris and London, we come across such types as the obnoxious nouveaux riches, greedy restaurateurs, and over-worked plongeurs. But there remains the basic notion that men naturally divide themselves into a limited number of groups which can be isolated and characterized by an acute observer. This notion receives a dramatic reality in Animal Farm. Here social types are presented in the various kinds of farm animals. Thus pigs represent the exploiters; horses represent the labouring and toiling workers ; the dogs represent the ruthless police; the sheep represent blind followers; and so on. The characters in a satirical animal story may be cunning, vicious, cynical, pathetic, lovable, or intelligent, but they can only be seen as members of large social groups and not as individuals.
A Clever Satire on the Betrayal of the Russian Revolution
The most popular approach to Animal Farm is to regard it as a clever satire on the betrayal of the Russian Communist Revolution and the rise of Stalin to power. The struggle of the farm animals, having driven out their human exploiters, to establish a free and equal community takes the form of a most skilfully worked-out history of Soviet Russia from 1917 upto the time of the Teheran Conference. The political allegory in Animal Farm is unmistakable. Inspired by the prophetic death-bed vision of Old Major, the maltreated animals of Manor Farm successfully revolt against Mr. Jones, their cruel master, and then they establish their own Utopian community. They change the name of "Manor Farm" to "Animal Farm". The control of the revolution comes into the hands of the pigs, particulary into the hands of Napoleon who is a large, rather fierce-looking, boar, not much of a talker but with a reputation for getting his own way. Napoleon shares power with Snowball who is a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, who is quicker in speech and more inventive, but who does not have Napoleon's depth of character. Under the leadership of these two pigs, and with the help of the two hard-working horses called Boxer and Clover, the animals successfully repel the attacks of their rapacious human neighbours, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick. The farm is thus secured against invasion; and then the Seven Commandments of Animalism are written down on the rear wall of the big barn for the guidance and compliance of all the members of the community. With this the revolution seems complete.
The Emergence of a Privileged Class
But, as the community develops, serious dangers begin to emerge. The pigs at once decide that all the milk which the cows yield and all the apples which are harvested will belong to them for their own consumption because, according to them, these items of food are essential to the health and well-being of the pigs. Squealer, who is Napoleon's lieutenant and the ablest talker, thus explains the decision that all the milk and apples should go to the pigs only:
Milk and apple (this has been proved by science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back.
The Subsequent Developments: The Climax of the Satire
A rivalry now begins between Napoleon and Snowball but this growing rivalry is decided by Napoleon's vicious dogs who drive Snowball away from the farm. It has been suggested by some critics that Snowball is a symbol of altruism, the essential social virtue, and that his expulsion is the defeat of his altruistic laws for giving warmth, food, and comfort to all the animals. But there is no indication in the story that Snowball is in any way less corrupt or less power-crazy than Napoleon. Indeed, so far as the question of the milk and apples is concerned, all the pigs including Snowball and Napoleon were in full agreement that these items of food should be reserved wholly for the pigs. After Snowball has been driven away. Napoleon consolidates his power through clever politics, propaganda, and terror. Dissentients are brutally murdered; and when the most hard-working horse. Boxer, can no longer work on account of old age and emaciation, he is sold to a butcher. Not only that. One by one, the Seven Commandments of Animalism are distorted and twisted from their original form, and then, one by one, they are eliminated till the only Commandment which remains is: "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." After that, the pigs begin to live in Mr. Jones's house; they begin to walk on two legs; they begin to carry whips, wear human clothes, subscribe to magazines and newspapers, and invite their human neighbours to a friendly game of cards. The game ends in a violent argument when Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington simultaneously produce an ace of spades from the cards dealt out to them. In other words, the two players try to cheat each other. But for the animals, who have been peeping through the window-panes at the game of cards, there is no real quarrel. They look "from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." And here the climax of the satire is reached.
A Satire on Fascism and Capitalism, Besides Communism
It has, of course, been recognized by almost all critics that Animal Farm is to be interpreted in terms of Soviet history, and that Major, Napoleon, and Snowball represent Marx, Stalin, and Trotsky respectively. (In the opinion of some, Major represents not Marx but Lenin). However, the story has some application to the western countries also, though many critics have failed to recognize this fact. The barbs aimed at Russia are manifest, of course; but Orwell has a judgment to offer about the west also. After all, the pigs do not turn into alien monsters; they come to resemble those bitter rivals, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick, who represent the Capitalists and the Nazis. Orwell suggests that the three leading world-powers are hateful tyrannies and that the failure of the Communist revolution is not to be seen exclusively in terms of ideology but as a realization of the famous maxim: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." The initial spark of a revolution and the original intention of a constitution may have been an ideal of the good life, but the result is always the same, namely tyranny. Fascism. Nazism, and Capitalism are as evil as Communism. They are all illusions which are inevitably used as a means of satisfying the greed of the ruling clique and its lust for power. Even religion is merely a device for the oppressors to divert the minds of the sufferers. Moses, the tame raven, is a symbol of religion. He is always croaking about the sweet and eternal life on Sugarcandy Mountain. He flies away when Mr. Jones has been expelled from his farm, but he returns when Napoleon has established his tyranny.
The Essential Horror of the Human Condition
Animal Farm will remain a powerful satire even when the particular historical events with which it deals in a veiled manner recede into the past, because the major concern of the book is not with these events but with the essential horror of the human condition. Orwell implies that there have been, that there are, and that there will always be pigs in every society and that they will always grab power. Even more depressing is the conclusion that everyone in society, consciously or unconsciously, contributes to the tyranny exercised by the pigs. Boxer, the noblest animal on the farm, devotes his labour continuously to the pigs who, as already noted, sell him to the butcher when he has ceased to be useful. But Squealer reports that Boxer died in his hospital-bed, with the words "Napoleon is always right" on his lips. One of the critics offers the view that Animal Farm fails as satire because of its predictability. But this predictability of the fate of all revolutions is exactly the point which Orwell wants to make in this book. The horror of Animal Farm, like the horror of the subsequent Nineteen Eighty-Four, is precisely the cold and predictable process by which decency, happiness, and hope are systematically and mercilessly destroyed.
(II) "NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR"
Orwell's Most Pessimistic Novel
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell's last novel, brings together almost all the ideas of his previous work. It is his most pessimistic novel. The mood of complete despair in it seems to have been the result of Orwell's conclusion that he had explored all the possible solutions to man's predicament on this earth and had found nothing but lies. The whole world, in Orwell's view, is steadily but surely moving toward a vast and ruthless tyranny and there is absolutely nothing that can stop this monstrous movement.
Perpetual War among the Three World-Powers
Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of the revolt against society of one man, Winston Smith. The world against which Winston raises his voice of rebellion represents the totality of all the hells which Orwell had ever tried to describe in his previous writings. The world, as depicted in this novel, is divided into three power-blocks—Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Oceania, like the other two empires, is ruled by an all-powerful Party, which has abolished private property and whose members are designated according to their functions and responsibilities, "Inner Party" or "Outer Party". The membership of the Party represents only fifteen per cent of the population; the remaining eighty-five per cent are the Proles or the common people who are kept in a state of abject poverty and total ignorance. The common people are fed upon lies invented and manufactured by the Ministry of Truth, and they are terrorized by the Ministry of Love. (The irony behind filenames of these ministries is to be noted). There is perpetual war among the three empires, not to win control of the disputed territory but deliberately to perpetuate shortages and to maintain an extremely low standard of living in order to keep the people miserable. As Orwell had pointed out clearly in his earlier works, poverty eliminates the possibility of thought, and independent thinking is the greatest danger to the totalitarian states. The aim of the three super-powers in this novel is therefore not victory but everlasting war. War is regarded by the rulers of each of these states as essential to the stability of the government, and the first basic tenet of Oceania therefore is: "War is Peace."
Winston Smith's Love-Affair with Julia:
Winston Smith's revolt against the authorities of Oceania begins with his decision to keep a diary; but this revolt receives its full expression in his love-affair with Julia, a colleague of his in the Ministry of Truth. Julia is not at all interested in politics or ideology. Her crime against the state is sex-crime; she enjoys sexual intercourse. Now, the enjoyment of sexual intercourse is forbidden in Oceania. Sex, like the family, represents a threat to the state, because it is essentially private, isolated, and uncontrollable. Through many strategies and devices. Winston and Julia manage to have secret meeting and ultimately hire an apartment in a proletarian slum from a shop-owner named Charrington in order to be able to enjoy sexual pleasure. The couple also make contact with a man called O'Brien who tells them that he belongs to a group of persons who aim at the overthrow of the government. Actually, however, both Charrington and O'Brien are the secret agents of the government.
The Party's Lust for Power
The rest of the story deals with the total annihilation of Winston Smith, the destruction of his personality, and his re-integration into society under the brutal persecution of O'Brien. Big Brother, who represents the supreme power in Oceania, is almost a substitute for God, while the members of the Inner Party are his priests. O'Brien is one of these priests, and it is on him that the responsibility for dealing with Winston Smith falls. O'Brien performs the role of an inquisitor who has to purify Winston by ridding him of the evil of heresy and bringing him back to the right path. Winston is tortured in the most savage and monstrous manner so that his resistance and will-power may be completely crushed and obliterated. To Winston's question why the Party wants to cling to power, O'Brien gives the following answer:
The party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power. The object of power is power.
Thus O'Brien and his colleagues are not human beings but embodiments of the power-principle. They achieve a vicarious immortality through their membership of the inner Party, because the mind of the Party is collective and immortal.
The Complete Subjugation of Winston,
and his Tragic End
and his Tragic End
Towards the end, the description of Winston Smith, dirty, rotting, emaciated, stinking, looking at himself in a mirror in the Ministry of Love, reminds us of Swift's description of the disgusting Yahoos in Gulliver's Travels. All that is left is the final vision of Winston, having betrayed Julia and himself, waiting for the bullet which will end his miserable life, shedding miserable tears of repentance, and loving big Brother.
No Ray of Hope in Orwell's Vision of the Future
Orwell could never reconcile himself to the stark facts which he anticipated as part of human life as he visualized it. In an epoch of fear, tyranny, and regimentation, he could never say: "I accept." It was an age of concentration camps, rubber truncheons, Hitler, Stalin, bombs, machine-guns, purges, slogans, gas masks, spies, secret prisons, and political murders. Orwell was unable to reconcile himself quietly to such a catalogue of horrors in human society. Desperately he sought an alternative and a means of relief, but he saw only hypocrisy and fraud, injustice and tyranny, rottenness and foulness.