George Orwell’s 1946 novel Animal Farm uses the animals of Manor Farm as a metaphor for Stalinism in order to demonstrate the corruption and dangers of a Communist leadership. In keeping with this theme, the novel employs many instances of propaganda–an oft-used tool of totalitarian leaders–to illustrate that people can be easily convinced by flawed ideas if they’re presented in an engaging manner. This allegorical dystopia uses songs, slogans, and poems to depict the manner in which the animals gradually come under Napoleon’s spell with the effective machinations of Squealer, the farm’s Minister of Propaganda. Although Orwell also uses positive propaganda to demonstrate its power in uniting a populace, the overwhelming message of this novel is that people living under an oppressive regime are ripe to be manipulated by the persuasive power of propaganda. Animal Farm demonstrates that true power may lie not with the dictator himself, but with the mouthpiece who speaks for him.
In the essay that was meant to preface the original edition of Animal Farm, George Orwell writes that “unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban” (“Freedom”). This idea holds true for the residents of Manor Farm due to the diligent hard work of Squealer, the farm’s Minister of Propaganda and official mouthpiece for dictator Napoleon. Although Napoleon’s mode of speech tends towards the taciturn and terse, Squealer is known by the other animals to be a “brilliant talker” (Animal Farm 6) whose entire physical being becomes animated when he is engaged in convincing his audience. His reputation is that of one who “could turn black into white” (6). He possesses the innate ability to turn the other animals’ arguments around with wordplay that has them agreeing with issues that just moments earlier had them enraged. This is seen most notably with the mystery of the missing milk. Once the other animals learn that this extra milk is being used to supplement the pigs’ apple mash, food that the Manor Farm animals “had assumed as a matter of course […] would be shared out equally” (14).
It falls to Squealer to calm down the angry animals and explain the rightness of the situation. To win the argument, he overly complicates his language, thus taking advantage of the poorly-educated animals who have difficulty following complex argumentative strategies. Telling them that “many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself” (Ibid.) but that the foods are :absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig” (Ibid.), Squealer aligns himself with the other animals by pretending to be more interested in their well-being than his own. He effectively gains their total agreement by subtly suggesting that if the pigs aren’t well fed than they will be unable to protect the other animals, possibly leading to the return of the hated Mr. Jones. This sort of propaganda twists the truth by suggesting that the goals of the pigs and the other animals are the same, and that the pigs have only the other animals best interest at heart. It has the effect of silencing dissent, because once he introduces the figure of Mr. Jones into his argument, the other animals “had no more to say” (Ibid.). The animals agree to reserve all extra milk and apples for the pigs’ sole consumption, an opposite opinion to the one they had prior to listening to Squealer’s doublespeak.
The key to Squealer’s talent as a propaganda machine for Napoleon lies in his ability to manipulate language to suit the particular demands of his audience and the specific situation itself. When he wants to hide his intentions or the truth, he uses overly complex words and ideas that intimidate the other animals and make them feel intellectually unequipped to join in the discussion. One example of this is Squealer’s reference to “tactics” (22) in explaining that Napoleon had been behind the decision to build a windmill all along. This contradicts his earlier explanation of the issue, but it is no matter for the other animals don’t understand what he means anyway. His constant use of propaganda that goes over their heads ensures that they “[accept] his explanations without further questions” (23) because Squealer has positioned himself as the keeper of knowledge who is essential for the animals of Manor Farm to understand Napoleon’s grand design.
Squealer is also guilty of oversimplifying language when it suits his purposes. He employs this tactic late in the novel in a key instance of propaganda and manipulation when he teaches the sheep the phrase “‘Four legs good, two legs better’” (51) so that they might cry it out at the appropriate moment to silence any dissent that might arise from the other animals when they see the pigs walking upright in direct contradiction to the original maxim of Animalism “Four legs good, two legs bad” (12). Clearly, Squealer is a master at orchestrating events so that they turn in the pigs’ favor, for the sheep bleat out their simple refrain at the exact moment when the brow-beaten, brainwashed animals might have spoken out, “as though at a signal” (51). And, of course, Squealer is the pig behind that signal, manipulating words and events with equal measures of abandon so that the confused animals no longer know what, or how, to think. Instead, they wish only to be told what to do, convinced by Squealer’s propaganda that they are nothing without the pigs’ leadership.
Squealer’s masterful language manipulations result in a state of mind for the other animals that bolsters George Orwell’s statement that “the result of preaching totalitarian doctrines is to weaken the instinct by which free peoples know what is or is not dangerous” (“Freedom”). Although the farm animals are ostensibly free from the abuse of Mr. Jones, they have been brainwashed to the point where they are no longer to tell truth from fiction, even when it stares them plain in the face, such as with the writing on the van that takes Boxer away from the farm. The literate Benjamin is able to read the letters and tells the other animals that the van belongs to “‘Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler, Willingdon. Dealer in Hides and Bone−Meal’” (36). The farm animals react to this news with total horror, however they are unable to save Boxer and, days later, are quite accepting of Squealer’s explanation that “the van had previously been the property of the knacker, and had been bought by the veterinary surgeon, who had not yet painted the old name out” (37). Although the animals should know better, they accept Squealer’s version of the truth because it is easier than thinking for themselves. To think independently means to confront possibly ugly truths and be forced to do something about them–few of the animals are bright enough or strong enough to deal with such a burden.
Additionally, Squealer is able to manipulate this possibly damaging moment by both casting aspersions on the “stupid” (36) animals who spread a “foolish and wicked rumor” (Ibid.) regarding the horse knacker and using Boxer’s death to further bolster Napoleon’s plan for the completion of Manor Farm’s windmill. There are no animals who are able to contradict his claim that he was with Boxer during the popular horse’s final moments, nor are they able to dispute his assertion that Boxer’s final words were used to praise Napoleon by urging his fellow animals, “‘Forward, comrades! […] ‘Forward in the name of the Rebellion. Long live Animal Farm! Long live Comrade Napoleon! Napoleon is
always right.’ Those were his very last words, comrades” (37). This speaks to the key reason why Squealer is such an effective mouthpiece for Napoleon: not only is he able to manipulate language to suit his leader’s needs, but he is able to gauge the temperament of his audience and alter his message to fit their current moods, thereby ensuring that he will be successful in his machinations.
The lies and half truths issued by Squealer do not always have an entirely negative effect. There are instances in Animal Farm when propaganda helps to build a greater sense of community amongst the animals, heightening their sense of kinship and the belief that they are accomplishing the goals that they first set out to achieve in ousting Mr. Jones. This occurs most effectively when the animals’ spirits are at their lowest, such as during the harsh winter when supplies are dwindling and morale is down. Squealer produces statistics that contradicts the reality of their situation by proving that they are much better off. His figures ‘prove’ “that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy, and that they had more straw in their stalls and suffered less from fleas. The animals believed every word of it” (33). Indeed, they take great comfort from such unprovable ‘facts’, in part because of the “greater dignity” (34) that they feel as a result of the increase in speeches and songs, which give greater meaning to their desperate circumstances. The introduction of “Spontaneous Demonstrations” (Ibid.) ordered by Napoleon but carefully orchestrated by Squealer, also aids in their acceptance of their new lot in life. Of course, because they are planned, these demonstrations cannot be spontaneous, but this is a bit of clever manipulation that the animals are no longer capable of recognizing. Instead, they revel in the pomp and circumstance of the events which “celebrate the struggles and triumphs of Animal Farm” (Ibid.), giving the animals something to look forward to in the dreariness of their regular life.
While Napoleon may wear the symbolic crown as leader of the Manor Farm, ruling through terror and fear, and Snowball once represented the hopeful prospect that the animals’ rebellion might succeed by implementing education and a greater sense of egalitarianism, it is indeed Squealer who truly controls the farm animals. With his propaganda tools, he is able to manipulate Napoleon’s subjects to the point where they learn to love their brutal lives, and crave Squealer’s direction as they no longer have a will of their own. Through the character of Squealer, Orwell demonstrates the dangerous power of propaganda in manipulating people to the point where they are no longer able to recognize the truth and must blindly accept whatever their government, and its mouthpiece, sees fit to tell them.
- Orwell, George (1979). Animal farm. New York: Penguin.
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