The Old Major’s speech was at the very start of chapter one of the book. It illustrates how animal farm was based on the Russian Revolution and how the Old Major character was modeled on Karl Marx who wrote the communist manifesto which was a guiding principle of the Russian Revolution.
The Old Major used a huge amount of persuasive techniques in many different ways. He used emotive language to make the animals have an emotional, rather than a rational response to his speech.
He creates a number of ideas that he expresses to the animals to make them believe that the revolution is for the right ideas. The first idea is of man as a parasite, a being who ‘consumes without producing’, lazy and weak. This sets up the central theme of injustice that such a creature should be lord of the strong and productive animals. This is reinforced by appealing to each individual set of animals. First the cows, who have given thousands of gallons of milk, then the hens who have laid eggs, then the horses and their foals, then the pigs, then the dogs. This makes the speech much more personal towards the animals as it makes it easier for them relate to because part of the speech is directed at them.
The second idea is that man is a threat, not just to the wellbeing of the animals but to their very lives as ‘no animal escapes the cruel knife in the end’. The hens’ eggs do not hatch into chickens, the pigs will ‘scream’ their lives out at the block, when Boxer’s muscles give out he will be sent to the knacker and when the dogs grow old ‘Jones ties a brick round their necks and drowns them’. This idea is threatening towards the animals which gives them one more reason to agree to the revolution as they would feel threatened an un easy if they did nothing to prevent their fate that the Old Major described.
So first the animals are made to feel aggrieved at supporting the parasitic humans, and then their lives threatened. The third key idea in the speech is that there is a solution, only one solution which is made to feel inevitable ‘I do not know when that rebellion will come ... but I know ... that sooner or later justice will be done’.
The fourth key idea is of unity and common purpose. ‘Among all us animals let there be perfect unity’. Implicit in this idea is the message that any disunity undermines all the animals. Even the rats, who are not a widely liked group, count as animals. This binds the animals together but it also effectively silences any legitimate questioning or dissent.
So this covers the key ideas in the speech, but it’s effectiveness lies not so much in the ideas that are communicated but in the way these ideas are expressed. The Old Major uses many rhetorical devices. The Old Major has a keen sense of his audience. He appeals to each individual set of animals. First the cows, who have given thousands of gallons of milk, then the hens who have laid eggs, then the horses and their foals, then the pigs, then the dogs. Then he binds them together.
He also uses extreme language and brutal images. Piglets don’t simply die, they ‘scream their lives out’. The dogs don’t get put down, they are drowned with a brick tied around their necks. He does this to add more suspense and make the animals future sound more severe than it is.
He also anticipates counter arguments by stating them himself, but minimising and downplaying them. So he concedes that man might feed the animals, but he only gives them ‘the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving’. The idea that the animals might have any common interest with men is dismissed as ‘all lies‘.
When he mentions how the animals get fed ‘the bare minimum’ after working hard to provide food for the humans it includes that the Old Major had become ‘stout’ which clearly means that he had not been underfed and he had been fed far more than the bare minimum, or he wouldn’t be the size that he was. It was also included...