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Political fable Animal Farm

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1202 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Bit and Spur Shall Rust Forever: Hollow Symbols in George Orwell’s Animal Farm

George Orwell’s political fable Animal Farm portrays a re-enactment of the Russian Revolution, with major characters cast as farm animals and communism renamed “Animalism.” True to the historical story, the aristocratic players manipulate the proletariat, deluding them with illusions of dignity and improved living conditions, while masterfully holding all of the power for themselves. Once Napoleon seizes control, he carefully dismantles the Animalistic system Old Major had preached by slowly altering the common symbols of freedom and patriotic sayings, and establishes a devious government at least as unjust as its precursor in its place. The meat of Animalism decays as Marxism did, resulting in a system of desired shape lacking desired thought, grossly symbolized in the following passage by Old Major’s remains:

The skull of old Major, now clean of flesh, had been disinterred from the orchard and set up on a stump at the foot of the flagstaff, behind the gun. After the hoisting of the flag, the animals were required to file past the skull in a reverent manner before entering the barn. -(Animal Farm, 46-47)

Orwell uses symbols in terms of hollowness throughout Animal Farm to portray the empty promises behind false front the pigs put up, and in turn the tragedy of the animals celebrating their own demise. In addition to the skull, Orwell also “hollows out” the meanings of the Manor Farm flag and the farm anthem to show the sad fall of the utopian farm.

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Once Napoleon chases away Snowball and reconstructs Animal Farm, he imposes many new procedures, among them the revamping of Sunday meetings. Rather than meeting to plan out the week’s work, the animals are given orders. They also have to worship the decayed skull of Old Major, which vividly symbolizes the folly of the animals under Napoleon’s rule. It expresses their ignorance in the most graphic way possible: the reverence of a hollow idealism. Major’s head represents Animalism, the product of his mind. The skull represents the frame of Animalism and his brains the theory behind it, since the skull supports the head and the brains form the basis of thought. The frame of Animalism is the revolution, new social structure and everything else required to support the theory, for the theory alone cannot guide a society.

The deceased head the animals worshipped contains a skull frame, but the brains and flesh have decayed. Therefore, the animals worshipped the revolution and new social structure without realizing that the theory, or spirit, of the movement have been abandoned by their new leader, Napoleon. They celebrate their situation without realizing that the social goals they fought for are gradually disappearing under their new ruler. Their ideal is in fact dead as the head of its originator.

A close analysis of the passage supports this interpretation. The phrase “clean of flesh” serves as a euphemism for the gross state of the skull. This elegant phrasing hides the disgust of the object from the reader, as the propaganda issued by Squealer the pig hides the disgust of Napoleon’s abuse of the Animalistic system from the animals. Furthermore, the skull has moved from the orchard to a tree stump. Like the skull, the state of the Animalistic society moves from a productive, growing position to a dead spot, thanks to the corrupt Napoleon. Finally, the skull now resides by and associates with the flagpole, a vehicle for propaganda and another symbol that is emptied, or “hollowed out” to show the downfall of Animal Farm.

Snowball introduces the green flag hoisted up the flagpole to celebrate Animal Farm’s success each week. Its color “represent[s] the green fields of England, while [its] hoof and horn signif[y] the future Republic of Animals.” (24) Its original meaning is lost when Napoleon removes the hoof and horn as one of his final acts in the work. As the now-humane swine strips the flag of its animalian features, it too becomes a hollow representation of its ideal: while meaning to symbolize the future dominance of animals, it instead ends up symbolizing their oppression. By this point, the pigs have abandoned their front legs as they have abandoned their old lifestyle, betraying the original farm commandment “whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy” (19). By removing the hoof, the animal leg marker, from the flag, the pigs remove their animal legs from the ground, leaving the rest of the farm with a dominating symbol of their betrayal. An image of an English field waves above the farm, rather than an image of the animals conquering an English field. The animals do not realize that the flag becomes devoid of proper meaning, just as they did not realize that the Animalistic façade as established by Napoleon was devoid of proper meaning. They continue to practice the tradition of hoisting the flag, again celebrating a symbol of their own demise.

After explaining his utopian dream to the animals, Old Major sings the rallying tune “Beasts of England” to them, stirring up their emotions with the almost magic anthem about the inevitable freedom they shall enjoy:

Rings shall vanish from our noses,

And the harness from our back,

Bit and spur shall rust forever,

Cruel whips no more shall crack.

-(Animal Farm, 9)

The song tells of a future where the objects that enslave them, such as the bit and spur, will not touch them. This song becomes the anthem of the farm and opens Sunday meetings. The animals are “taken aback” (72) when Napoleon outlaws it on account of it losing relevance to their society. He claims that it should be abolished since it strives for an ideal that has already been reached. Its replacement, “Animal Farm, Animal Farm / Never through me shalt thou come to harm” (73), gives a message with biting irony that is lost on the animals rather than an optimistic one. The animals are led to sing that Animal Farm shall never harm them, but the phrasing suggests a hidden second meaning. The pigs claim that the animals shall never harm them “through” Animal Farm; in other words, the Animal Farm’s pleasant appearance prevents the subjects from protesting, so the farm itself shields the rulers. Again, the animals engage in a procedure, singing at the start of each Sunday meeting, which loses its original meaning to the hands of Napoleon’s reign, while retaining some semblance of its original form similar enough not to give the plot away.

The irony of the animals worshipping the symbols of their own demise runs throughout Animal Farm, making a poignant jab on this society based around a false idealism. While the “bit and spurs” may rust forever, the political chains administered by the pigs grip the animals more tightly, as they are led to celebrate their own tragedy.

Works Cited:

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.


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