From the beginning of the popular revolution on Manor Farm, language—both spoken and written—is instrumental to the animals’ collective success, and later to the pigs’ consolidation of power. Through Animal Farm, Orwell illustrates how language is an influential tool that individuals can use to seize power and manipulate others via propaganda, while also showing that education and one’s corresponding grasp of language is what can turn someone into either a manipulative authority figure or an unthinking, uneducated member of the working class.
At the novel’s beginning, the animals are on equal footing in terms of education, more or less—though Old Major has had time in his retirement to think about the state of the world and develop his theory that man is the root of all the animals’ problems, none of the animals, at this point, are literate or can do much more than expound on their ideas. Right after the rebellion, however, the pigs reveal that Old Major’s speech was the start of what will become their rise to power in two distinct ways. First, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball spent the three months between Old Major’s speech and the rebellion distilling Old Major’s ideas into a theory they call Animalism; second, the pigs taught themselves to read. Taken together, these efforts turn the pigs into an intellectual class and provide them the basis for going on to refer to themselves as “mindworkers,” or individuals whose contributions to society are intellectual in nature, and therefore don’t have to contribute by doing manual labor or something of the sort. In this sense, the pigs’ grasp of language is what propels them to power in the first place.
It doesn’t take long, however, before the pigs begin to abuse their power. Though Snowball takes it upon himself to try to teach every farm animal to read, his efforts are overwhelmingly unsuccessful—only Muriel and Benjamin ever become fully literate. Most other animals only learn some of the alphabet, and in the case of the sheep, never get past the letter A. While the novel is consistent in its assertion that this is because animals like the sheep and Boxer are unintelligent, it’s also important to note that, in terms of the working of the farm, Boxer and the sheep are more valuable for the physical labor they can perform than for anything they might be able to do intellectually. Further, because of the hard labor required of the animals, it’s implied that there’s little time for someone like Boxer to work at learning to read, and indeed, when Boxer begins to think about his retirement, he suggests he’d like to take the time—which he’s never had before—to learn the rest of the alphabet. By contrast, education and achieving literacy for pig and dog youth soon becomes a center point of the pigs’ rule, especially once Napoleon declares they need a school for pig children—a project that, conveniently for the powerful pigs, also leaves the animals tasked with building the school no time to learn anything themselves.
The consequences of the other animals’ illiteracy and lack of education, the novel shows, is that it makes them susceptible to blindly believing misinformation and propaganda that the pigs spread through Squealer and Minimus. Not only can animals like Clover not recognize when the pigs tamper with the Seven Commandments and alter them to meet their needs; Clover also cannot remember correctly what the Commandments used to be. Further, Animal Farm also shows how the extremely uneducated, such as the sheep (and, it’s implied, Boxer) can be manipulated into becoming important tools for spreading propaganda. Though Boxer is unable to read, he nevertheless trusts his leaders completely and so adopts the maxim “I will work harder,” which the other animals find more compelling and noble than any of the flowery speeches that Napoleon or Squealer give. The sheep, on the other hand, are unable to memorize the Seven Commandments and so learn a maxim that Snowball develops: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” This maxim in particular is so simplistic as to be almost meaningless, in addition to containing no nuance. The fowl, for instance, have two legs and take issue with this maxim until Snowball is able to explain to them why they’re actually wrong—and because of their lack of intelligence and Snowball’s grasp of language, he’s able to effectively convince them that the maxim functions as it should.
By the end of the novel, the pigs are so powerful that their language and intellectualism doesn’t have to make sense—or be true—in any way; rather, it simply has to look like they’re smart and in charge. Squealer’s constant recitation of figures “proving” that Animal Farm is producing more than ever function to make him look powerful and intelligent, but the animals are unable to fully reconcile that in reality, they have little food no matter what Squealer says. Similarly, the final change to the Seven Commandments, in which the Commandments change from seven (albeit altered) guiding principles to the phrase “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” encapsulates this idea. The phrase mocks the meaning of the word “equal,” for one—if all animals are equal, there shouldn’t be a hierarchy among them, when clearly, there is one—while also being ambiguous enough for the pigs to essentially make the phrase mean whatever they want it to. In this sense, it allows them to maintain their power, since they can insist the phrase means they should have more power, while also still employing words like “equal” that make the other animals feel as though, per the phrase, everything is still fine. In this way, Animal Farm shows clearly how those in power and with a firm grasp of language can easily use it to manipulate those who don’t have the education or memory to stand up to them—and in doing so, keep those individuals down, deny them any possibility of advancement, and create the illusion that things are just as they should be.
Language as Power ThemeTracker
Language as Power Quotes in Animal Farm
“Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings.”
“Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”
“Remember, comrades, your resolution must never falter. No argument must lead you astray. Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, that the prosperity of the one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself. And among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.”
THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
“I will work harder!”
“Four legs good, two legs bad.”
“Comrades!” he cried. “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.”
“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
If a window was broken or a drain was blocked up, someone was certain to say that Snowball had come in the night and done it, and when the key of the store-shed was lost, the whole farm was convinced that Snowball had thrown it down the well. Curiously enough, they went on believing this even after the mislaid key was found under a sack of meal.
At the foot of the end wall of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written, there lay a ladder broken in two pieces. Squealer, temporarily stunned, was sprawling beside it, and near at hand there lay a lantern, a paint-brush, and an overturned pot of white paint. [...] None of the animals could form any idea as to what this meant, except old Benjamin, who nodded his muzzle with a knowing air, and seemed to understand, but would say nothing.
“Four legs good, two legs better!”