Benjamin in Animal Farm: Character, Allegory & Analysis Video

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  • 0:04 The Bystander
  • 0:25 The Pessimist
  • 1:44 The Refusal to Act
  • 2:59 Symbolism & Analysis
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In ''Animal Farm'' by George Orwell, not many animals are smart enough to figure out what the pigs are up to, but Benjamin is. Learn more about Benjamin and his representation of cynicism in this lesson.

The Bystander

Have you ever witnessed something bad happening, but you didn't want to get involved in someone else's drama? Benjamin from George Orwell's Animal Farm is the bystander that realizes what the pigs on the farm are doing but doesn't want to get in the middle of it because he's cynical. He thinks that it doesn't matter who's in charge, things will always end badly. Let's take a closer look.

The Pessimist

Benjamin the donkey is a temperamental, elderly animal that complains about everything. The narrator gives examples: ''—for instance, he would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have had no tail and no flies.''

The horse Boxer is his best friend. Except for hanging out with Boxer, he doesn't really enjoy anything. While the other animals become excited about the Rebellion, Benjamin seems indifferent. He doesn't really have an opinion either way because he's pessimistic enough to think that it won't make a difference.

Many of the other animals work harder than ever after the animals take over the farm, but Benjamin works exactly the same way. When he is pushed to talk about his feelings, he simply says, ''Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.'' Benjamin is one of the smarter animals and can read, but unlike the pigs, he has no interest in leadership and doesn't really care to read anything.

Despite his cynicism about the Rebellion, when the men attack the farm, Benjamin rushes to the front lines to defend it. However, when it comes down to the political debates between Snowball and Napoleon, Benjamin is the only animal who refuses to choose a side.

Believing that things will not change whether there's a windmill or not, Benjamin says, ''… life would go on as it had always gone on—that is, badly.'' Even though he did his share of the work in building the windmill, Benjamin had no feelings about it.

The Refusal to Act

When Clover asked for his help reading the Seven Commandments out of suspicion they were being changed, Benjamin refused to get involved. When Squealer is caught changing the commandments in the middle of the night after falling off the ladder, Benjamin is the only animal that is able to put together what has been happening, but he doesn't say anything to anyone.

Benjamin does react though when the slaughterhouse comes to get Boxer. ''The animals…were astonished to see Benjamin come galloping from the direction of the farm buildings, braying at the top of his voice. The animals all come running to wave goodbye to Boxer, but he is the only one who realizes what is happening because the others can't read. Benjamin read: 'Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler, Willingdon. Dealer in Hides and Bone-Meal. Kennels Supplied.' Do you not understand what that means? They are taking Boxer to the knacker's!''

After Boxer's death, Benjamin further isolates himself from the others. According to Benjamin, ''… things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse—hunger, hardship, and disappointment being… the unalterable law of life.''

In the end, after Muriel's death, Benjamin breaks his vow and agrees to read the Seven Commandments to Clover. ''There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It read: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.''

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