Allegory can be found both in literature and in the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture. Like metaphors, allegories utilize one subject as if it were analogous to another, seemingly unrelated, subject. Unlike metaphors, the representational image is more detailed and is sustained throughout the length of a story, novel, or poem. Allegories are generally understood as rhetorical, and, as a form of rhetoric, are generally designed to persuade their audience.
- Read and analyze the allegory used in George Orwell’s Animal Farm
- Identify the use of allegory as a rhetorical device
Think about these guiding questions while reading the book:
- What are allegories and how are they used in literature?
- What makes an allegory effective?
Visit these links to review the meaning of allegory and rhetoric.
In this reading you are introduced to some of the main figures and events in the history of the Soviet Union. At the time whenAnimal Farm was published in the 1940s the rule of Stalin and events in Eastern Europe and in the Ukraine and Georgia were familiar to the average reader. This background knowledge will help make the allegorical structure of Orwell’s novella more clear.
Visit this link to read an overview of the history of the Soviet Union.
Preview these questions: Make notes on the answers as you read through the novella. You will use these notes for the lesson review assignment.
Think About Activity #1: Animal Farm and Allegory
George Orwell’s 1945 novella, Animal Farm, is the story of an animal revolution. The animal residents of Manor Farm, spurred on by the dream of the pig, Old Major, decide they will change their “miserable, laborious, and short” lives. They overthrow Mr. Jones, their master, and take over the management of the farm. Rather than living under the heel of their human master, the animals of Manor Farm decide that they will take control of the products of their labor, working for the good of the farm and other animals, rather than for the good of humans.
How is this story allegorical? If an allegory is “a figurative representation conveying a meaning other than and in addition to the literal,” then what is the additional or alternative meaning contained in Orwell’s story of animal rebellion?
THINK ABOUT ACTIVITY #2: THE COLLECTIVE FARM AND THE COMMUNIST STATE
Many of the events at Manor Farm are closely linked to political events in Russia during the first half of the twentieth century. The rebellion by the working animals of the farm against the oppressive human farmer who lives off the fruits of their labor is directly analogous to the Russian Revolution of 1917 in which workers and peasants revolted against a feudal system in which feudal lords lived luxuriously from the toil of the peasants who farmed on their lands.
- How is Orwell’s Animal Farm an allegorical retelling of the end of feudalism and the rise and consolidation of communism in Russia?
- How does Orwell parallel Czarist Russia and the life of the Russian peasants in the characters and events of Animal Farm?
- What internal feud within the Communist party is paralleled in the struggle for power between Napoleon and Snowball?
- During the Stalinist period the Communist State repeatedly set industrial and agricultural production goals that were often difficult or impossible to reach. These goals played a major role in the government’s Five Year Plan and similar plans. How are these plans represented in Orwell’s novella?
THINK ABOUT ACTIVITY #3: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Many of the characters in Animal Farm are clearly meant to represent historical figures. The human inspiration for Orwell’s fictional characters can often be found in the characters’ parallel actions, and sometimes even in their names. As an important structural component of the novella as an allegorical tale, each of the characters in the story is representative of players in the historical narrative the story represents.
- What is the metaphor at the heart of Orwell’s allegorical tale?
- How do the characters support the larger allegory of the story?
- How is Orwell’s choice of animal and name for each character important in contributing to the larger story?
THINK ABOUT ACTIVITY #4: TYRANNY BY ANY OTHER NAME
Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, are often cited as works that are designed to show the weaknesses of Communism. These works took aim at the Soviet Union, however Orwell’s larger target was tyranny, in whatever form it appeared. He was as much concerned with the repression of rights and the injustice of the economic system in his own England as he was about Stalinist Russia.
As an allegorical tale about the dangers of tyranny, Orwell’s Animal Farm uses the story of Napoleon, Snowball, and Boxer as a form of rhetoric. Rhetoric can be understood as the use of language to persuade an audience of a belief or point of view. In the case of Animal Farm, Orwell is using the story of Manor Farm’s animal rebellion to caution people against the encroachment of tyranny.
- How is this allegorical tale also a rhetorical tale?
- What is Orwell trying to persuade the audience to see or understand?
- What is Orwell cautioning his audience against?
- How does the story of Boxer act as a persuasive argument against tyranny?
- What are the lessons to be learned from Napoleon’s behavior?
- What is the warning contained in the changes to the list of commandments?
- What is the lesson contained in the final, single commandment: All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others?
Read Animal Farm available from this site:
Writing Activity #1: Review your notes on the questions posed in the ‘before reading’ activity. Use your responses as the basis for writing a short essay in response to the questions below.
a. How is Orwell’s Animal Farm an allegory? Be specific and provide examples from the text to support your statements.
b. What are the rhetorical components of this allegory?
c. How is the use of allegory as a rhetorical device different from simply laying out a non-fictional account, or an historical or statistical analysis of the period and the rise of the Communist Party?
d. Do you think that Orwell’s use of allegory rhetorically is successful? Explain.
Writing Activity #2:
Step 1: Read the introductory paragraph about Martin Niemoller.
Step 2: Read his poem.
Step 3: Write a response to the question that follows this poem.
Martin Niemoller was a church pastor in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. An early supporter of Hitler, his philosophy changes and he became very critical of the Nazi agenda and practices. He was arrested and held in concentration camps throughout World War II, and barely escaped execution. He is perhaps best known for his cautionary poem:
In Germany they came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
* Hint: Compare Niemoller’s cautionary poem with Orwell’s allegorical story of the Manor Farm. How are their messages similar or different? How is the method of delivering those messages similar or different?