The Meaning of Satire
A satire may roughly and briefly be defined as a humorous or witty exposture of human follies and vices. By means of a satire an author can strip the veil from things, and expose the reality of individuals, communities, groups of people, institutions, etc. A satirist generally employs irony, mockery, ridicule, and sarcasm as his weapons of attack. Swift is regarded as the greatest satirist in prose.His book Gulliver Travels is a great satirical work. It is written in the form of a travel-book. Swift adopted the form of a travelogue because travel-books had been very popular for a long time in those days. Swift's purpose in writing this book was to lash all mankind for their follies, vices, absurdities, and evil ways, and to bring about some reform if possible. Gulliver's Travels is an allegorical satire because Swift does not attack persons and institutions directly but in a veiled manner. All the persons and institutions and other aspects of life attacked by Swift are presented in this book in disguise.
"Animal Farm", an Allegorical Satire
Orwell too shows himself as a great satirist in Animal Farm. Animal Farm too is an allegorical satire. But the scope of Animal Farm is very limited by comparison with Gulliver's Travels. Swift's book attacks all mankind, but Orwell's book is a political satire which attacks certain political institutions and certain selected political personalities and events. Besides, Orwell's book is written in the form of an animal fable. Orwell's object in writing this book also was to reform the thinking of those who had been misguided or who had formed wrong judgments about certain political systems and political personalities.
A Satire on Revolutions (and on the Russian Revolution)
Animal Farm is a satire or the course taken by revolutions in general and by the Russian Revolution of October, 1917 in particular. It is a satire on the process by which a revolution is effected and by which it is afterwards betrayed. This book has a particular and pointed reference to the Communist regime in Russia under Stalin who came to power soon after the death in 1924 of Lenin. Orwell had felt much disgusted with the arbitrary and brutal methods which Stalin had been adopting to consolidate his power and with the way in which Stalin had betrayed the ideals of the Russian Revolution to establish a totalitarian regime in the country. Stalin had employed cunning, deceit, fraud, and force to achieve his purposes; and Orwell wrote Animal Farm to poke fun at Stalin and Stalin's methods and to degrade Stalin in our eyes. His object was to open the eyes of his readers to the truth about Stalin and also about revolutions in general.
A Satire in the Form of an Animal Fable
As already pointed out, the satire here takes the form of an animal fable. The main characters are the animals of whom the pigs are the most important. From among the class of the pigs, three leaders emerge. These leaders are Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. The principal targets of satire are Napoleon, who represents Stalin, and Squealer who represents the Communist propaganda machinery, especially the servile Soviet Press. Another target of satire is Moses, the raven, who represents religious institutions like the Roman Catholic Church.
A Satire on the Methods Employed By Stalin
Napoleon is the chief target of satire in Animal Farm. This pig has r reputation for getting things done in accordance with his own wishes. He is contrasted with Snowball who is candid and open in his methods, white Napoleon works in devious ways. Snowball can impress the animals with his eloquent, speeches and can sway their judgment. But Napoleon works behind the scenes and is able to canvass support for himself in a secretive manner. Napoleon is especially successful with the sheep who are trained to bleat a slogan "Four legs good, two legs bad" and who interrupt the animals' meetings by their loud bleating whenever Snowball is about to score a point against Napoleon. Napoleon has also secretly reared a number of dogs and trained them to obey his orders. By his cunning and by his use of the fierce-looking dogs, Napoleon is able to drive Snowball away from the farm and to become the sole leader of the animals. All this is Orwell's satirical method of informing us that Stalin had used deceit and the force of his secret police in order to pass an order of banishment against his rival Trotsky. After Trotsky had been sent into exile, Stalin became the sole dictator of Russia. Thus the power-politics rampant in Russia of that time is also satirized here.
The Emergence of a Privileged Class and of Napoleon as a Dictator
The rest of the story shows how Napoleon, once he has got rid of his rival Snowball, consolidates his power on the farm and becomes an autocratic ruler. By having driven away Mr. Jones, the real owner of the farm, the animals had liberated themselves from human tyranny and become their own masters. The animals had now looked forward to a democratic functioning of the farm in the light of the Seven Commandments which had been formulated soon after the expulsion of Mr. Jones. But Napoleon now begins a systematic attempt to shelve the Seven Commandments and to depart from the ideals and principles of the successful rebellion which had been accomplished by the animals against Mr. Jones. The first decision taken by Napoleon, when Snowball was yet a respected leader on the farm, was that milk and apples would be reserved exclusively for the pigs. This decision was a clear departure from the concept of the equality of all the animals. Even Snowball had on this point agreed with Napoleon. As a result of this departure from one of the Commandments, the pigs emerged as a privileged class. The privileges accorded to the pigs now go on increasing as a result of further announcements made by Napoleon when he has become the sole leader. In course of time Napoleon himself becomes more and more powerful. He abolishes the system of all the animals meeting together to discuss the affairs of the farm and to take all decisions pertaining to the farm. Now a committee of pigs is formed, with Napoleon as its president, to take all decisions which are then merely announced to the other animals. Thus both the principle of equality and the principle of democracy have been forsaken. A time comes when Napoleon decides that the pigs would begin living in Mr. Jones's farmhouse and sleeping in the beds in which human beings used to sleep. This is another glaring departure from the Seven Commandments. Napoleon then carries out a purge on the farm. All those animals whom he suspects of being his opponents are made to confess certain crimes which actually they have not committed at all, and who are then put to death by Napoleon's fierce dogs under Napoleon's orders. Here is grossly violated yet another Commandment which originally was: "No animal shall kill any other animal," but which now reads: "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." Subsequently, the pigs, led by Napoleon, begin to drink whisky and to brew beer at the farm. In this way some more privileges have been conferred upon the pigs. Then comes a time when Napoleon decides that the pigs would walk on their hind legs and hold whips in their trotters in order to supervise the work of the other animals. This is, of course, the height of absurdity, and we are greatly amused by this decision of Napoleon's. Napoleon himself now wears the clothes of human beings, dons a hat, and keeps a tobacco-pipe in his mouth. Here, perhaps, the satire reaches its climax. Napoleon, and with him all the pigs, have bidden good-bye to most of the ideals of the rebellion. But more is yet to come. The Seventh Commandment which promised equality to the animals is now altered to read as follows: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal.” There is a lot of irony in Napoleon's violations of the Seven Commandments. The irony arises from the contrast between what the animals had looked forward to and what Napoleon has actually done on the farm. Irony, as we know, is one of the chief weapons of satire.
A Satire on Stalin’s Betrayal of the Ideals of the Russian Revolution
Napoleon’s deviations from and violations of the Seven Commandments are intended by Orwell as satire on Stalin’s betrayal of the ideals of the Russian Revolution. The Russian Revolution had promised equality, comradeship, social and economic justice, and the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of action to the citizens. But, after coming to power, Stalin curbed all the freedoms and soon suppressed them altogether. Stalin, likewise, rejected the concept of equality and economic justice, and allowed a privileged class to emerge in the country and to rule the country under his direct orders. This privileged class in Russia was, of course, the bureaucracy which enjoyed many privileges, while the common people had often to face shortages of food and other commodities. Stalin had also liquidated his supposed opponents through wholesale executions of the suspects, these suspects were first forced to confess the crimes which they had never committed, and were then sentenced to death. This drastic step was taken by Stalin during 1936-38. The Moscow Trials of these years caused a wave of terror all over the country. The executions of a large number of people tried during these years came to be known as the ''Great Purges". Napoleon's absurd method of adding to his dignity also corresponds to Stalin's efforts at self-aggrandisement. In short, all the policies, decisions, and actions of Napoleon, which excite our mirth and laughter, are based on the policies, decisions, and actions of Stalin, though there is certainly an element of horror in the mass executions. The whole portrayal of Napoleon and his emergence as the dictator of Animal Farm shows through mockery and ridicule, Stalin's betrayal of the Revolution and his emergence as the undisputed and unchallenged dictator of Russia. Stalin re-established totalitarianism in the country within a short period of about twenty years after the overthrow of the totalitarianism represented by Nicholas, the Czar of Russia. But Orwell also implies that most revolutions follow the same course which the Russian Revolution took. Thus Orwell's conclusion is applicable to the French Revolution and also to the Spanish Civil War.
A Satire on the Russian Propaganda Machinery
Squealer amuses us greatly by the manner in which he defends and justifies the policies and decisions of Napoleon. For instance, he amuses us greatly when he tells the animals that there are certain substances in milk and in apples which are essential to the health of the pigs who are the brain-workers on the farm. He amuses us when he tells the animals that, by abolishing the democratic procedure, Napoleon has taken extra labour upon himself, and when he adds that Napoleon still believes in the equality of all animals. Squealer amuses us when he tells the animals that Napoleon's original opposition to the windmill had merely been a matter of "tactics" to get rid of Snowball who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Squealer repeats the word "tactics" several times, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail as is his habit. Indeed, Squealer abases us every time he tells a brazen lie to support and justify Napoleon. When the rations of the animals have been reduced on account of a food shortage, while maintaining the rations of the pigs and the dogs, Squealer says that a strict equality in rations is contrary to the principles of Animalism. Squealer's perverted logic and his sophisms are one of the chief sources of humour in this book. He carries on his false propaganda against Snowball in a most shameless manner. One of his most amusing lies is that the van, which had taken away the sick Boxer had originally belonged to a horse-slaughterer but was now the property of a veterinary doctor who had yet to order the rubbing out of the horse-slaughterer's name from the van and the painting of his own name in place of it. As has already been pointed out, the portrayal of Squealer is meant to satirize the Russian Press, represented by the News Agency called “Tass” which always lends its support to official pronouncements and decisions. The press in Russia is servile to the dictator just as Squealer on Animal Farm is servile to his boss Napoleon.
The Use of Religion For Political Purposes, Satirized
The portrayal of Moses is intended to satirize religion and the use of religion for political purposes. Moses is a spy and a tale-bearer and he talks about an animals' paradise called Sugarcandy Mountain. We are indeed very amused by Moses' talk about Suearcandy Mountain because we know that the priests of all religions beguile their audiences by talking to them about the joys of heavenly life which, however, is only a myth. Napoleon’s tolerance of Moses on the farm was intended by Orwell to ridicule Stalin's attitude of indulgence towards a Roman Catholic priest through whom Stalin wanted to establish friendly Pope in
There are workers and shirkers in every society. Boxer and Clover in this story represent the honest and conscientious workers, while Mollie represents the shirkers. The portrayal of Mollie is satirical in intention. Mollie avoids doing any work on the farm. She is fond of wearing red ribbons in her white mane and chewing a lump of sugar. She is also vain about her appearance and often stands on the bank of a pool, admiring her own reflection in the water. She is cowardly too, because when a battle has to be fought against Mr. Jones and his men, she runs away into the stable and buries her head in the hay. Boxer's adopting the motto "Napoleon is right”, and his meeting a sad fate when he has become useless from Napoleon's point of view, are a satire on the treatment which the common people receive in Russia when they can serve the nation no longer. Boxer’s fate symbolically conveys to us the callousness of a dictator like Stalin.