On the blog today, I have Napoleon. Did you know that in France it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon? And yet it’s Napoleon the Pig that I have here – the cunning, plotting, power-hungry protagonist from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The book is one of the finest satires ever written. It is amazing how much power a great author can pack into a tiny book. This one comprises just 127 pages. The Indian edition is priced around Rs 70/- (a little over a dollar) and comes with an enlightening introduction explaining the characters. Buy it, I say, if you don’t have a copy, for this is another one of those read and re-read books.
The tale is about a bunch of farm animals who, inspired by Old Major – a pig, rebel against, and oust their owner. They then take over the running of the farm dreaming of a society where all animals work together to the best of each of their capacity and share the fruits of their toil equally.
The pigs are the most intelligent of the animals. The rebellion is led by two of them – Snowball and Napoleon. They teach themselves to read and formulate 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.
Most other animals are too stupid to learn to read but do pick up the basic commandment.
They adopt the motto ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’.
Even as the animals are revelling in their victory Napoleon puts his plan in motion. He begins with appropriating the milk from the cows exclusively for the pigs. His trusted deputy Squealer convinces the other animals that this is for their own good – pigs need the milk since they are the brains behind the operation and have the hardest task of planning. Napoleon hides away some new-born pups. He trains them secretly and they grow up into vicious dogs who follow no one’s orders but his. He then gets rid of Snowball who might have challenged his power.
By the end of the book the pigs are living in the human’s house, wearing their clothes, sleeping in their beds, getting the other animals to work for them and even brandishing whips as they walk on two feet. Slowly, secretly the commandments have been modified to just a single on:
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal that others.
And the anthem changes to Four legs good two legs better. Their transformation back into ‘tyrannical’ humans is complete.
By his own confession Orwell modelled Napoleon on Stalin. Most other characters, though a bit of a generalisation, do find parallels. Old Major could be Karl Marx (the one who comes up with the theory of Equality) Snowball was Trotsky (Stalin’s bete noire), Squealer (the Russian media, specially the paper Pravda that justified each of Stalin’s moves) and so on.
Orwell’s Napoleon is a classic example of how power corrupts. He works at multiple levels to get his way and crown himself the leader.
– He is a meticulous cunning planner.
– He makes rules and changes them each time they stop serving his purpose.
– He doesn’t offer explanations to the animals directly, letting Squealer do the convincing.
– He uses force to intimidate those who Squealer cannot convince.
– He is ruthless and doesn’t shy from massacring to drown out dissent.
– He loves power and will do anything to hold onto it.
Unlike some of his other books (I found 1984, very depressing) this one is an easy and very interesting read. And with its satirical background it becomes brilliant.
Linking up to ABC Wednesday the fun challenge that pushes me to write at least one post each week. Sending out thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up the challenge.