Humour Due to Incongruity
Incongruity is one of the principal sources of humour. In Animal Farm there is an abundance of humour, most of it resulting from incongruous situations. This incongruity is chiefly due to the fact that we here find animals thinking, talking, behaving, and communicating with one another just like human beings.Incongruity here is due to the wide gulf between the reality as we know it and the author's fancy in attributing to the animals a capacity to speak, communicate with one another, and do the work of supervising and organizing the farm as any group of human beings would do. In other words, incongruity here is due to the contrast between the facts as they are presented to us by the author and the facts as we know them. This incongruity, forming the basis of the entire story, is the cause of much of our mirth and amusement as we go through the book.
Humour and Wit in the Opening Chapter
In the very opening chapter we are face to face with an incongruous situation when an old boar named Major calls a secret meeting of all the animals on the farm and addresses, them. Although the speech of this boar, namely Major, contains much serious and weighty matter, we are greatly amused to find that the animals have assembled in order to listen to the boar whom they regard as an old and venerable member of their community. The very manner in which the author describes the arrival of some of the animals at this meeting is amusing and shows the author's wit. For instance, a brood of ducklings, who have lost their mother, come into the bare, cheeping feebly and wandering from side to side to find some place where they would not be trodden on. Then there is the cat which, on entering the barn, looks around for the warmest place, and finally squeezes herself in-between the two cart-horses named Boxer and Clover. There the cat purrs contentedly throughout Major's speech without listening to a word of what he says. The author's portrayal of the character of Benjamin, the donkey, is also quite amusing. Benjamin, the oldest animal on the farm, seldom talks, and never laughs because, according to him, there is nothing to laugh at. Major's speech instigating the animals to revolt against their master Mr. Jones is a serious affair, but the fact that the speaker is an animal addressing a group of animals continues to amuse us by its incongruity. Major appears here as a political theorist like Karl Marx. The chapter ends humorously when, on Mr. Jones's firing his gun into the darkness in order to drive away a supposed fox, all the animals disperse hurriedly and settle down in their respective places for the night.
Wit and Humour in the Account of the Battles
The account of the animals' rebellion against Mr. Jones and the expulsion of Mr. Jones is again humorous. Here, again, there is incongruity in the fact that the animals unitedly attack the men and drive them away from the farm. We have never heard of a situation of that kind, and therefore we are considerably amused by the spectacle of a large number of animals of various kinds attacking their master. Similarly, the Battle of the Cowshed is also a piece of humorous description. On this occasion, we are told, Snowball the pig acts as the commander of the forces of Animal Farm. The author gives evidence of his wit when he tells us that Snowball had for some time past been studying a book containing an account of Julius Caesar's campaigns and had thus become quite a strategist. When the human beings advance towards the farm buildings, Snowball launches his first attack. Then the animals retreat somewhat, and Snowball launches his second line of attack. This time the animals are pushed back and have to flee in disorder. But this development is exactly what Snowball had intended, because a number of horses, cows, and pigs have been lying in ambush in the cowshed and because now they all suddenly emerge from the cowshed and launch an offensive against the men. In this way the animals drive away the invading human beings, and win a victory over them.
The Comic Behaviour of Mollie, the White Mare
The behaviour of Mollie, the white mare, is another source of humour. Mollie is very fond of wearing red ribbons in her white inane and chewing a lump of sugar. She avoids doing any work and makes all kinds of excuses for her coming late to work and leaving the place of work much earlier than the others do. She is in the habit of standing on the bank of a pool of water and admiring her own reflection in it. Indeed, Mollie is a kind of coquette, just like any pretty girl. Mollie's cowardice is also an amusing fact. When the Battle of the Cowshed is being fought, Mollie flees from the scene of battle and hides herself in her stall, with her head buried in the hay.
Military Honours, Conferred on Some of the Animals
When the animals have won a victory in the Battle of the Cowshed, they institute medals to be awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in the fighting. A medal called "Animal Hero, First Class" is awarded to Snowball and to Boxer. A medal called "Animal Hero, Second Class" is conferred posthumously on a sheep who had died in the course of the fighting. The gun which had been left behind by Mr. Jones is now set up at the foot of the flagstaff, like a piece of artillery; and it is decided to fire this gun twice a year—once on Midsummer Day, the anniversary of the Rebellion: and again on the 12th October, the anniversary of the Battle of the Cowshed. All this is very amusing. The absurdity of the animals instituting medals and ceremonials makes the situation very funny.
Humour in the Animals' Efforts to Learn to Read
The account of the efforts of the animals to learn to read is again very amusing. The pigs have learnt to read very well, and the dogs have done well too in this sphere. Muriel, the goat, can read somewhat better than even the dogs and sometimes reads to the other animals from scraps of a newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap. Clover learns the whole alphabet, but cannot put words together. Boxer cannot get beyond the letter D. Mollie refuses to learn more than the six letters which spell her own name. None of the other animals on the farm can get further than the letter A. The result is that the more stupid animals, such as the sheep, hens, and ducks are unable to learn the Seven Commandments by heart. For the benefit of such animals, Snowball reduces the Seven Commandments to a single maxim which is : "Four legs good, two legs bad." This, according to Snowball, contains the essential principle of Animalism. All this is very amusing.
Humour Arising From Snowball's Sophistry
But even more amusing is the sophistry employed by Snowball when birds object to the maxim announced by him because they feel that they would be excluded from the community of the animals on the basis of their being two-legged creatures. Snowball satisfies the birds with the argument that a bird's wing should be regarded as a leg because a wing is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. In other words, the two wings of a bird have also to be counted as legs, and in this way a bird would qualify for the status of an animal. Another amusing development is that the sheep develop a great liking for the new maxim and, having learnt it by heart, often bleat it for hours on end. Subsequently, Napoleon makes use of the sheep to interrupt Snowball's speeches with their loud and continuous bleating of this maxim. Napoleon's urinating over the plans of the windmill which Snowball has drawn with a piece of chalk on the wooden floor of a shed is also an amusing situation. Napoleon is scornful of every suggestion which comes from Snowball, and so he gives a visible proof of his contempt for Snowball's project of the windmill.
Humour Arising From Sweater's Sophisms
Much of the humour in the novel results from Orwell's portrayal of the character of Squealer and from the account of the manner in which Squealer defends and justifies Napoleon's policies and actions. Squealer is, indeed, the most comic character in the story. Squealer is described as a brilliant talker who, while arguing a point, skips from side to side, whisking his tail. He has a reputation for being able to turn black into white; and we really find him turning black into white on various occasions in the course of the story. When Napoleon decides that the milk and apples produced on the farm would be reserved exclusively for the pigs, Squealer defends this decision by telling the other animals that the pigs are brain-workers who need milk and apples to maintain their health because these two items of food contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. The whole management and organization of the farm depend on the pigs, says Squealer. If the pigs fail in their duty. Mr. Jones would come back. Thus Squealer has invented an ingenious reason for Napoleon's decision to reserve milk and apples exclusively for the pigs. Napoleon's decision is meant, of course, as a satire on a dictator's bringing into existence a privileged class of persons with whose help and support he can govern the country in an autocratic manner. The manner in which Squealer defends Napoleon's decision is a satire on the way in which the servile Press in a totalitarian country supports and defends all the decisions of a dictator. When Napoleon orders the construction of a windmill to which he had originally been opposed, Squealer tells the animals that Napoleon had originally opposed the idea of the windmill only in order to drive away Snowball who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Napoleon's opposition to the idea of the windmill, says Squealer, was only a part of Napoleon's "tactics". And Squealer repeats the word "tactics" a number of times, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail as is his habit on such occasions. When Napoleon decides that he and all the other pigs would now sleep in the beds in which human beings used to sleep, Squealer defends this decision, once again showing his ingenuity. A bed, he says, merely means a place to sleep in; even a pile of straw in a stall, he says, is a bed. The Seven Commandments had forbidden the use of bed-sheets only and not of beds, he further says. The pigs, says Squealer, have removed the sheets from the beds and would sleep only between the blankets. Besides, the pigs, as the brain-workers, need more comfort than the other animals. When the rations of all the animals except the pigs have been reduced, Squealer defends this step on the ground that a strict equality in the matter of rations is not desirable. When Boxer has been slaughtered in a slaughter-house, Squealer tells a brazen lie to the animals, saying that Boxer had died in a veterinary hospital and that, while dying, Boxer had said: "Long live Comrade Napoleon!" and ''Napoleon is always right!". Thus Squealer really succeeds in turning black into white. All his arguments are sophisms (that is, misleading and erroneous arguments).
Napoleon's Funny Behaviour and Policies
The idea of pigs sleeping in beds is comic enough. But even more comic is the idea of the pigs wearing human clothes. Napoleon goes to the extent of wearing a hat on his head and holding a pipe in his mouth. Not only that. The pigs led by Napoleon start drinking whisky. Napoleon even decides to grow more barley on the farm and to set up a brewery to make beer. The account of the steps taken by Napoleon for self-aggrandisement is also very amusing. Napoleon orders the holding of what he calls a "Spontaneous Demonstration" to celebrate the struggles and triumphs of Animal Farm. Napoleon himself leads the procession which is flanked by his fierce dogs. At the head of the procession walks Napoleon's black cock who serves as Napoleon's trumpeteer. Boxer and Clover carry a green banner bearing the words: "Long Live Comrade Napoleon!" Afterwards poems written in honour of Napoleon are recited, and a speech is delivered by Squealer who gives to the animals details of the increase in the production of food on the farm. By these means, Napoleon not only adds to his own dignity but also manages to give to the animals a feeling of their own importance so that they may forget for the time being that they are not getting adequate rations for their subsistence. All this is amusing because it is a satire on the way a totalitarian government functions. The Soviet regime under Stalin always used to resort to such methods in order to keep the people contented despite shortages of food and other commodities in the country.
Napoleon, Cheated By Mr. Frederick
There is a very amusing development when Napoleon finds himself in a piquant situation. He has sold some timber to Mr. Frederick against hard cash; but it is soon discovered that the currency notes given by Mr. Frederick are forged. Napoleon feels greatly embarrassed not only because he has been cheated but because he has held an exhibition of the currency notes to impress the animals with his achievement. But it is even more amusing to find that Napoleon, in order to punish Mr. Frederick for this deception, calls a meeting of all the animals and pronounces the death-sentence upon Mr. Frederick. When captured, says Napoleon, Mr. Frederick would be boiled alive. In the event, Mr. Frederick succeeds in blowing up the windmill on Animal Farm, thus causing a heavy loss to Napoleon.
The Absurdity of Holding Snowball Responsible For Every Misfortune
The manner in which Snowball is slandered and defamed after he has been driven away from the farm is also very comic. When the windmill is brought down by a furious storm, Napoleon gives out that the windmill has been destroyed by Snowball who had crept to the windmill under cover of the darkness and had destroyed it. Subsequently, every misfortune and every difficulty experienced by the animals on the farm is attributed by Napoleon to Snowball, even though Snowball is nowhere in the picture. Napoleon gives out that Snowball steals the corn from the farm, upsets the milk pails, shatters the eggs, tramples upon the seed-beds, cuts off the bark from the fruit trees, etc. etc. Whenever anything goes wrong on the farm, Snowball is held responsible. All this is a satire on the working of the Soviet regime which always manages to find an alibi for its failures.
The Irony in the Deviations from the Seven Commandments
It is a most amusing spectacle to find the pigs, led by Napoleon and Squealer, walking on their hind legs and holding whips in their trotters. The manner in which all the Commandments have been distorted and discarded constitutes a major part of the comedy. One Commandment forbade drinking alcohol. But it is altered to read that drinking alcohol to excess was forbidden. Another Commandment forbade the killing of animals by animals, but this Commandment is altered to read that the killing of animals by animals without cause was forbidden. The slogan "Four legs good, two legs bad" is now reversed, so as to read: Four legs good, two legs better." The Seventh Commandment is now altered to read as follows: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal." Not only that. The pigs now want a telephone and have begun to subscribe to newspapers and magazines. With human beings, Napoleon has already established trading relations. The absurdity and preposterousness of all these developments are highly amusing. There is irony in all the deviations from the Seven Commandments. The irony lies in the contrast between what the animals had looked forward to and what Napoleon has actually done on the farm.
Comic Irony in the Final Episode
We have yet another example of ironic humour in the final episode. Man was regarded by the animals as their chief enemy. But now Napoleon has established friendly relations with all the neighbouring human beings. The habits and ways of human beings have already been adopted in defiance of Major's directive. Not only that. The name "Manor Farm" is restored. The animals have to work for longer hours for less rations so that they should not feel that they are being pampered. The pigs now begin to resemble human beings, so that it is difficult for the animals to distinguish between the pigs and the human beings. All this is a satire on the way Stalin went back to the autocratic methods of the Czar who had been overthrown by the revolutionaries. The Bolshevists had aroused great hopes in the hearts of the people, but Stalin betrayed all the ideals and principles of the Russian Revolution of October, 1917.