It seems, to warp George Orwell’s elegant phrase, that “All animals may speak freely but some may speak more freely than others” (Ronge, 1998:13). It is the lesson of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a little book I am sure much of the ANC leadership would have read, if not always taken to heart (Carlin, 2001:4). Abstract Orwell= Farm: George Orwell=s Animal Farm: A metonym for a dictatorship George Orwell’s Animal Farm is traditionally read as a satire on dictatorships in general, and the Bolshevik Revolution in particular. This article postulates the notion that the schema of the book has attained the force of metonymy to such an extent that whenever one alludes to the title of the book or some lines from it, one conjures up images associated with a dictatorship. The title of the book has become a part of the conceptual political lexicon of the English language to refer to the corruption of a utopian ideology. As an ideological state, Animal Farm has its vision, which is embedded in its constitution; it has the vote, a national anthem and a flag. It even has its patriots, double-dealers, social engineers and lechers. In this way the title Animal Farm, like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, or Thomas More’s Utopia, functions metonymically to map a conceptual framework which matches the coordinates of the book. The article concludes with a look at contemporary society to show how Orwell’s satire endorses the words of Lord Acton, namely, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Literator 23(3) Nov. 2002:81-96 ISSN 0258-2279 81
George Orwell’s Animal Farm: A metonym for a dictatorship
The critic John Wain, who has written prolifically on Orwell’s work, testifies to the prescience of Animal Farm as a reflection on contemporary reality: Animal Farm remains powerful satire even as the specific historical events it mocked recede into the past, because the book’s major concern is not with these incidents but with the essential horror of the human condition. There have been, are, and always will be pigs in every society, Orwell states, and they will always grab power (quoted in Williams,1974:111).
As we enter a new millennium and dictatorships continue to flourish in some parts of the world, the echoes in Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) acquire an ominous resonance. Voted as one of the top hundred works of fiction in the twentieth century by the Modern Library List and the Radcliffe Publishing Students’ List, Animal Farm is traditionally viewed as a satire on dictatorships in general, and the Bolshevik Revolution in particular. Critical studies of the book generally draw parallels between certain animal characters in it and real people involved in the Bolshevik Revolution. Whilst acknowledging the allegorical dimension of Orwell’s work, this article makes a radical departure from traditional readings by proposing that the book has become a part of the conceptual political lexicon of the English language, in much the same way as the term “Orwellian” has earned its pseudonymous writer a place in the Oxford Concise Dictionary. This paper posits the notion that the schema of Animal Farm may be read as a metonym of a utopian vision that has gone horribly wrong. In metonymy (Greek for a “change of name”), the literal term or the schema of one phenomenon is mapped onto another with which it is closely associated, because of contiguity in common experience. Thus, “reading Milton” would signify reading his works, or the word “crown” may be used to stand for a king. Viewed from this perspective, invoking the title Animal Farm to describe a situation resembling the one in the book, would approximate to a metonymic utterance. The animals are not only representative of certain historical figures in the Russian Revolution, but are also archetypical...