This lesson examines the role of propaganda in George Orwell's famous novel 'Animal Farm.' We'll look at several examples of propaganda throughout the book.
A Study in Propaganda
George Orwell's Animal Farm tells the story of some well-intentioned animals who overthrow their human masters and attempt to construct a socialist (or as they would call it, 'Animalist') utopia in which all animals are equal and live in harmony. What could go wrong?
A lot, as it turns out. Orwell's novel exhibits just how an idea can get twisted and manipulated into something different, into something horrifying. The main tool of the Animalism movement is propaganda, which is a set of techniques appealing to the emotions of the animals and shaping their perception of the movement. As we will see, the role of propaganda changes as the novel goes on. Examples of its use are everywhere, as George Orwell pretty much provides a master class on the subject.
Roles & Examples
Propaganda plays an important part in shaping the Animalism movement. Let's look at a few examples from the beginning of the novel.
Slogans and Songs
The original propagandist in the novel is Old Major, the stately elderly pig who inspires the animals to rise up against their human oppressor, Mr. Jones. Major has genuinely good intentions - he wants a better life for the animals. However noble his ideas, though, he still has to rely on propaganda to get them across. For example, he introduces slogans such as 'All men are enemies. All animals are comrades' and 'All animals are equal.' These slogans are simple and easy to remember and inspiring to the listening audience. Old Major goes further at the end of his speech by teaching the animals a song, 'Beasts of England.' The song is very moving, and when he finishes singing it, the animals are fired up and convinced that Major is right. Major dies soon after his speech, but he has succeeded in planting the seed for rebellion.
After the successful rebellion against Jones, the animals adopt a few symbols which help spread their propaganda. They have a flag with a hoof and horn to represent their movement. They turn Jones' house into a museum as a symbol of their unity and solidarity. After the Battle of the Cowshed, when the animals defend the farm against the human's attempt to take it back, the animals create military decorations. These are: 'Animal Hero: First Class' and 'Animal Hero: Second Class.' Another important symbol is Old Major's skull, which they keep on display and file past with reverence. All of these symbols are propaganda to help unify the animals in their common cause.
A Dark Turn
As time goes on, Old Major's ideals start to get lost in the reality of life on Animal Farm. Slowly, the ruthless pig Napoleon begins to amass power. Napoleon and his mouthpiece Squealer take propaganda in a new, and far darker, direction.
Napoleon and Squealer's propaganda machine replaces history with fiction. For example, the two make Snowball a scapegoat and blame him for the destruction of the windmill, which was really done by a storm. Snowball was originally a comrade of Napoleon's, but once Napoleon establishes his power and runs Snowball out, his contributions to Animal Farm are rewritten. Suddenly, Squealer is telling everyone that Snowball's heroism in the Battle of the Cowshed was 'greatly exaggerated' and that the idea for the windmill was Napoleon's, not Snowball's. Furthermore, Squealer paints Napoleon as a martyr who is making a sacrifice by taking the leadership role. In this warped reality, history is a modifiable thing.
Squealer, Napoleon's Minister of Propaganda, keeps the animals in check by playing on their fears. This is a common use of propaganda. Whenever the animals complain or seem to question Napoleon's authority, Squealer is there with the threatening question, 'Surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones back?' He uses Jones to represent a time when things were even worse and implies that if the animals don't go along with him and Napoleon, those bad times will return. As time goes on, the animals can't even remember what life under Jones was like, but the propaganda has been so effective that they are terrified of the idea. Later, when Snowball has been made a scapegoat, Squealer will use him as a threat as well.
Life on Animal Farm isn't the utopia it was promised to be. The animals don't have enough to eat, and they are severely overworked. But to hear Squealer tell it, everything is hunky-dory. Squealer tells the animals their rations have been merely 'readjusted' (his politician's language carefully avoids the word 'reduced'). In fact, Squealer has a long list of facts and figures proving that the animals have plenty of food. Not only that, they are living longer, working less, and have less fleas! None of the animals questions these claims. At this stage in the story, the propaganda is working so effectively that the animals will believe anything.
Let's review. Propaganda, which is a set of techniques appealing to the emotions of the animals and shaping their perception of the movement, plays an important role in George Orwell's Animal Farm. Old Major, the founder of Animalism, uses propaganda to convince the animals to accept his plan to overthrow their human master. He and the other pigs achieve this goal through the use of slogans, songs and symbols. Later, when Napoleon eventually takes power, the original ideals of Animal Farm are lost. Napoleon achieves his selfish, tyrannical goals through a much more sinister use of propaganda. He and his mouthpiece, Squealer, rewrite history and change the truth to manipulate the animals. They use fear to keep the animals from questioning them by constantly invoking the name of Jones, their former master. They even use Old Major's skull as a symbol of their movement, and they repeatedly manipulate language to convince the animals that everything is fine, despite the fact that the animals are starving and overworked.