Benjamin the Donkey

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Benjamin is a fictional donkey in George Orwell's novella Animal Farm. He is the oldest of the animals and is alive in the last scene of the novel. He is less straightforward than most characters in the novel and a number of interpretations have been put forward.

It has been suggested that he represents the aged population of Russia, or that he represents the Menshevik intelligentsia: as intelligent, if not more so, than the novel's pigs. He is very cynical about the Revolution and life in general. For the most part he represents the skeptical people in and out of Russia who believed that Communism would not help the people of Russia, but who did not criticise it fervently enough to lose their lives or approve of a gradualist alternative. He is also quite significant in that he is not quite a horse (the working peasantry) and yet definitely not a leader like the pigs—even if his intellect is equal to theirs. The fact that he also has a Biblical name could also imply that he also represents theJewish populace of Russia whose lives were not remotely improved under Stalin's leadership.

In fact, when asked if he was happier post-Revolution than before the Revolution, he simply remarks, "Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey."

He is one of the wisest animals on the farm, and is able to "read as well as any pig".[1] However, this is an ability he does not exercise until the end of the book, when Boxer is sent off to the Knackers and Benjamin reads the side of the truck and one more time when an illiterate friend asks him to read the public display of the Seven Commandments, as they seem to have changed (because of years of revisions by the pigs); Benjamin reveals that the Commandments now consist entirely of the message "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". For all his age, he is never given the option of retirement. The only outrage that inspires him into action is the pigs' betrayal of Benjamin's best friend, Boxer, after which he becomes more cynical than ever.

Seen from a wider perspective, Benjamin is a symbol of intelligence that during the times of revolution and its aftermath is very much aware about what is going on, but does nothing about it. The general (manipulated) masses are represented by the sheep, who are not aware about their misuse, but it is Benjamin who can see how the basic rules of their society are changing and does not get in any way involved.

He also is one of the most commonsensical characters, understanding that the pigs are altering the Seven Commandments, and that Boxer was killed instead of peacefully dying at a hospital.

Benjamin is a wise donkey, “the oldest animal on the farm and the worst tempered. He seldom talked, and when he did, it was usually to make some cynical remark” (1.3). For all his bad temper, Benjamin seems to be the most intelligent animal on the farm, even more intelligent than the pigs, though probably less cunning. Though he tries to act completely uninterested and detached from everything happening on the farm, it’s clear that he is faithful to Boxer, and often tries to help his horse friend. 

After the rebellion, the other animals want to know what Benjamin thinks of the new organization of Animal Farm. The only thing that he’ll say is, “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey” (3.4). Later, he refuses to grow enthusiastic about the windmill, and when the other animals want to now why, he makes the same claim, “donkeys live a long time” (6.17). Benjamin has long-term vision; he seems to operate on a different time-scale than everyone else, sodoesn’t become excited over what he sees as passing phases or fads. 

What’s sad about Benjamin is that, for all his wisdom, he refuses to act. He seems to regard things as being guided by fate. You get the sense that he sees all actions (including his own) as pointless, and at times he seems to revel in the futility of other...
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