L is for lampoon
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George Orwell’s famous novel “The Animal Farm” has always been a thought provoking reading. It was published after the Second World War in1945. It is a political novel written in the form of an allegory with the animals as the major characters. It was, in fact, written to lampoon the despotic regime of Soviet Russia after the ouster of the Tsar by the revolution of 1917.
Orwell superbly fuses two levels of the narrative, which run parallel in the plot structure. At the manifest level, it is a humorous story of farm animals and at immanent level, a subtle lampooning of the totalitarian Oligarchy, which usurped power and entrenched itself menacingly through cleverly devised propaganda and intimidating threats. Orwell’s animals show human qualities and represent easily identifiable characters of the then prevailing corrupt system.
The novel was inspired by Orwell‘s firsthand experiences of appalling political upheavals during Spanish civil war and two World Wars. He could gauge the extent of suppression of the public, especially after Stalin wrested power by defeating Trotsky. The atrocities leashed against Russian people by a handful of wily leaders who seized power after the October 1917 revolution shocked him. He felt duty bound to reveal the tragic consequences of absolute power wielded by a tyrannical group, which controlled all forms of freedom and infringed upon people’s rights.
Ironically the principle of equality and freedom, which were the slogans before the overthrow of the cruel regime of the Tsar, were tacitly twisted to mean ‘all are equal but some are more equal than the others.’ Moreover, they maintained, masses need to be controlled for their own good.
At first Lenin’s and later ‘Stalin’s coming to power was engineered through malicious power struggles. Stalin’s rival for power Trotsky was dishonored called a traitor and exiled. All the dissenters met the same fate. The revolution betrayed the people. Working class got such a raw deal that thousands died in abject poverty due to exhaustion and misery, whereas the rulers enjoyed a luxurious life style. The system of double speak, hypocrisy, lies, false propaganda, and distortion of history to foil any comparisons, form the basis of Orwell’s incisive lampooning which shook the reading public throughout the world.
A well-meaning socialist as he was, his anxiety for social justice was an intensely felt genuine concern. The leaders of the revolution made empty promises to provoke the people against the Tsar and the capitalists. They named it a class war between the owners of property and the poor masses who did all the backbreaking tasks and the profits of their labor went to the rich.
Karl Marx’s philosophical treatise "Das Capital" theorized about a classless society that was okay on paper but too confusing to implement. The system, which was established post revolution, was more reprehensible, despotic, and tyrannical than the former. People’s hardships and woes far from being addressed were aggravated. Dissent was unlawful and opponents were purged through summary trials on made up charges. Private property was abolished and there was no incentive given for innovation or hard work. Farm output went down drastically and thousands of people died due to wide spread famines.
After Gorbachev’s Perestroika and glasnost (the opening up of the system), the world came to know about the dark side of communism practiced in Soviet Russia. Orwell’s fears proved right.
A brief overview of the characters:
Before his death the old Major (Marx) addresses the (People) animals and outlines the future action to overthrow Mr. Jones (Tsar) who is the enemy of the working class. The speech is satirical portrayal of the perfect society envisaged by Marx, which turns out to be impractical.
Snowball a boar in the Animal Farm (Trotsky) is a strategist and imaginative but fails to outwit Napoleon (Stalin) in the power struggle and is discredited and exiled.
Napoleon another boar (Stalin) is crafty and uses force to have his way. There are periodical purges of the malcontents by him. Finally, he becomes a cult personality and a deified leader.
Boxer a carthorse toiled hard to build the Windmill but is sent to the slaughter house when he falls sick. ‘Clover’ a mare supports animals in all situations.
Benjamin a donkey is a cynic without any hope of betterment of workers plight.
Moses (a crow) represents organized religion and talks about Sugar candy Mountains where life is better. Stalin initially bans church services but later restored it as he considered religion as a useful opiate to delude the masses.
Squealer a porker stands for the propaganda machinery Of Napoleon (Stalin) to hoodwink the poor animals.
The Dogs: Napoleon’s bodyguards and secret police who strike terror in the hearts of his opponents.
The sheep: the uneducated masses who bleat the slogans repeatedly without understanding.
Most of the other animals represent average citizens.
Apart from Jones the previous owner of The Manor Farm, there are three other human characters. After Jones ouster by the animals, it is renamed as Animal Farm.
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