Monday, June 8, 2015

More equal than others

When I first read George Orwell's Animal Farm 50 years ago, the Soviet Union was at the height of its power and influence, and it was easy to see how Orwell might have had that repressive regime in mind when he wrote his fable, published in 1945.

Yet the story of animals who take over a farm, only to have their revolution taken over by a pig more ruthless than the farmer ever was, seems no less timely today, long after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Orwell speaks of the corruptive nature of power in general, whether it's power in government, power in corporations or power in the playground. Those with power tend to use it to gain even more power.

What interests me most about the book is how language is used as a tool for manipulation. Early in the revolution the animals write on a wall the Seven Commandments of Animalism, their constitution, in effect. These seem simple enough, "No animal shall wear clothes," "No animal shall kill any other animal," and "All animals are equal," among them. Yet in time the ruling pigs, led by Napoleon, rephrase or reinterpret each of these commandments to make them mean something entirely different from what they meant originally. The most famous of these restatements is when "All animals are equal" becomes "All animals are equal, but some some animals are more equal than others." Anyone who feels powerless in a society where everyone is supposedly equal can identify with that.

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