Animal Farm Theme of Power: Leadership and Corruption
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There's a reason you don't want your prom queen to also be your school president: absolute power corrupts absolutely, and pretty soon she'll be sending out her minions to stake out the best parking spot. In Animal Farm, the pigs no sooner weasel their way into power than they start taking milk for themselves—and pretty soon, they've moved on to harder stuff. Like whiskey. So, is there any hope? Does Orwell offer any model of government that doesn't just get corrupted?
Questions About Power: Leadership and Corruption
- Are the pigs self-serving from the start, or are they corrupted by their power? (By the way, the world has never been able to agree on this.)
- What qualities allow the pigs to gain power in the first place, and what qualities enable them to keep their power? Are these different?
- How do you define power, anyway? What does it mean to have power on Animal Farm? Is it possible for leaders to have this kind of power without abusing it?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Although they definitely get worse as the story progresses, the pigs are greedy from the start.
When Napoleon takes over, Animal Farm is doomed. Snowball was no angel, but he was a sound leader. Napoleon is just bad to the (delicious) bone.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, power and control of the farm shifts from Mr. Jones to Snowball and from Snowball to Napoleon. Each, no matter how well their leadership, was corrupted by power in some way as compared to Russian leaders of the time. The most corrupt, Napoleon, uses several methods of gaining more power and luxury.Like Stalin, Napoleon uses a Propaganda Department to make himself look good. The one responsible for Napoleon’s looking good and propaganda is Squealer. With a name like Squealer he better be damn good using his wits to Napoleon’s and the pigs’ advantage. In the seventh chapter, Squealer responds to Boxer’s question of whether Snowball fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed by making Snowball look deceiving. He says, “That was our mistake, comrade. For we know now – it is all written down in secret documents that we have found – in reality he was trying to lure us to our doom.” This quote proves that propaganda was used to make Napoleon look good and his opponents look evil. One of many reasons Napoleon and Squealer get away with these false allegations is that the animals are too dumb to remember what happened.
Another way Napoleon uses methods to make him look good is simply changing the rules to favor himself. Squealer again is responsible for the wrongdoing. All of the Seven Commandments of Animal Farm are eventually broken before the commandments are “revised” to prove the pigs did nothing wrong. In the eighth chapter, the commandment that strictly forbids animals to kill one another was cunningly changed to “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause” after a series of executions of supposed traitors and probable Snowball followers. Napoleon forced confessions and eliminated these probable traitors under the newly revised rule. The new rule favored his popularity, respect, and increased his hunger for power.
Napoleon’s actions were not unnoticed though. Those who noticed were intimidated by his guard dogs and were silenced. In one situation, young pigs protested Napoleon’s leadership. “But suddenly the dogs sitting round Napoleon let out deep, menacing growls, and the pigs fell silent and sat down again.” Violence worked perfectly to drive away any opponent Napoleon might have had. Without any opposition, Napoleon is free to do his own bidding. As a result, Napoleon again is drowned with power and pride because the animals must respect him, or they will be turned into corpses.
Too much power brings the worse in us. Any amount of power also corrupts. Great or little power corrupts us in a way that only seems natural to instincts of an animal.
Filed Under: Animal Farm, Literature