How George Orwell’s books “Animal Farm” and “1984” depict what we are going through today.
By Marica Micallef
There are conspicuous similarities between George Orwell’s books “Animal Farm” (published in 1945) and “1984” (published in 1949) and all that is going on in today’s worldwide societies. We live in similar times, and it is precisely during these times that literature like these two novels becomes timely and worthwhile to read on a regular basis to serve as a reminder of the ways in which autocrats exploit human desire for a better world for their own self-serving ends, which they depict “for your health and safety,” and “keep safe” and “we’re all in this together.”
The farm in the sociopolitical novel “Animal Farm” serves as a metaphor and an allegory for totalitarian governments and dictators in history like that of Soviet Russia during the Russian Revolution. It is not a novel about an animal uprising on a farm in England but it’s an allegory of the Russian Revolution when in October 1917, Vladimir Lenin led a revolution against the Russian government as he wanted the working classes to have more power. After Lenin died, there was a leadership battle between Trotsky and Stalin, with Stalin winning and becoming a dictator with Lenin’s vision, completely destroyed, corrupting communism while forcing Trotsky out of Russia.
1932 to 1936 saw Stalin’s collectivisation policy creating many famines. The Russian peasants fought the changes, but conditions got worse. Stalin used propaganda to become a powerful dictator with people being encouraged to idolise him. He also invents a conspiracy against him, and uses it as an excuse to torture and execute his enemies. With Russia under threat, Stalin negotiates with Germany for protection which in turn betrays Russia by invading it. Russia, Britain and the US become allies in a short alliance where no one trusts each other, which led to the beginning of the Cold War four years later.
The majority of the farm animals in Animal Farm rebelled against the human farmer in order to establish a new, enlightened society in which they would no longer be held as slaves to the farmer but rather be free, where “All Animals Are Equal”. Their strategy fails, just like the 1917 Russian Revolution, the pig dictatorship, Stalin’s takeover of Russia, and the totalitarian society that emerged in 1984 after the war, leaving the farm in the same pre-revolutionary state. The Russian revolution had failed and life in Russia wasn’t equal and it started with the totalitarian claim that some people are more equal than others which replaced the notion that everyone is equal – “All Animals Are Equal, but Some Are More Equal than Others.”
In the book, Orwell depicts the sheep as being animals which can’t think for themselves, members of the flock which are unthinking and easily led, blindly following the leaders, and chanting whenever anyone threatens to voice an opinion. This is the way Orwell depicts the masses.
He depicts Benjamin the donkey as being intelligent and knowledgeable of what is going on and yet, is passive and silent, in order to represent those people who are unwilling or unable to challenge tyranny.
And he uses the pigs as the ruling animals, which end up corrupt, alcoholic and even taking on human characteristics like walking on two feet and wearing clothes.
Above all, Orwell wanted to show that a revolutionary leader could be corrupted by power and that THIS COULD HAPPEN IN ANY COUNTRY, not just in Russia, if people allow it. Above all, he wanted to warn us to not allow this to happen again.
The dystopian social science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (also known as 1984) was Orwell’s ninth and last book that he finished during his lifetime. Its main themes center on the negative effects of totalitarianism, widespread surveillance, and repressive social regimentation of individuals and behaviors. The authoritarian state in the book was modeled after Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia by democratic socialist Orwell. In a broader sense, the book explores how truth and facts function in societies and how they can be manipulated. The story takes place in an imagined future in the year 1984, with the world being in perpetual war, with Big Brother being the super state’s despotic leader while being backed by a powerful cult of personality created by the Party’s Thought Police. The Party actively targets individuality and independent thought through the Ministry of Truth’s pervasive government surveillance, historical revisionism, and ongoing propaganda.
How does all this relate to today’s societies and worldwide events which took up speed with the start of Covid-19? How does it show that the masses haven’t learnt anything from these times up till today, with some still refusing to learn anything and what we are going through? How have the masses come to this – to blindly follow governments, believe their lies and shout “conspiracy theory” and “fake news” whenever someone tries to show them the truth or anything that challenges their opinion? How have the masses come to blindly believe authorities and anyone who has accolades and letters before and after one’s name, when they were also given brains which gives them the power to think for themselves?
Both books emphasize how influencing citizens’ attitudes and behaviors is how political power is attained. Both books show how powerful individuals and their allies use language manipulation to keep the populace under control. Both books show how the political elite create a number of laws that promote tyranny and control.
Orwell shows how human beings can have good intentions betrayed into tyranny and the betrayal of the hopes of the masses. It also shows human beings at their best and worst, as well as the demons within them.
Both books show how governments claim that they guarantee equality to all but give power and privileges to a select few by politicians and leaders changing the rules to suit their own agendas.
Orwell shows how those in positions of power can become corrupt by abusing power for their own gain and how they attempt to manipulate the populace in order to maintain their position of power.
Because it is simpler to control the uneducated than the educated, education is limited in the two Orwellian novels.
In the two books, powerful individuals rewrite history.
Both have leaders who attribute current issues and problems to previous ones.
In the books, it is demonstrated that even if leaders are telling lies, people and animals will follow their instructions if they appear to be speaking the truth.
Both books echo the idea that all power can contain an element of corruptibility. George Orwell had an incredible foresight to highlight issues like greed, betrayal, inequality, deceit, oppression, manipulation, corruption, and the desire for power, as well as a caution that history can repeat itself.
His books serve as a wake-up call to the populace to resist being brainwashed by the ruling class, the politicians and all those in power, to avoid remaining silent or neutral, and to be on guard against any false propaganda from a new leadership that might attempt to trample on individual freedoms and liberties, just like it all started three years ago.
Orwell’s message is that malicious, manipulative, cunning, groups of people (in politics, but even in corporations, lobbyists, and institutions) will continue to use propaganda, indoctrination and various strategies to usurp power, to exploit the vulnerable, and to control the masses, for their own selfish needs, which is brought about thanks to uneducated masses and those who know what is going on, but remain silent, unless courageous individuals spread the truth and stand up for those who cannot fight for themselves.