George Orwell



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  • “Four legs good! Two legs bad!”

George Orwell

  • 1903-1950, real name is Eric Blair
  • Born and raised in India, which at the time was a part of the British Empire
  • Became famous for his novels, essays, and as a political and cultural commentator.
  • His two most famous novels, Animal Farm and 1984, both criticize totalitarianism and Stalinism and warn against its dangers.
  • Was proud of his “outsider” status and was extremely wary of government and its willingness to forsake everything for power.

The Russian Revolution

  • Pre-World War I
    • Although the peasants and workers were the most oppressed groups in Russia, they held the common belief that the tsar cared for them and wanted to help them.
    • During the 1800’s it was the smaller, educated class that organized and implemented the revolutionary movement.
    • Most of these educated revolutionaries mistrusted the capitalist, Western system because it caused, in their beliefs, greater inequality and poverty.
    • Instead, Russian revolutionaries wanted a socialist system where the people ran the economy and each person received an equal share of the wealth.

Marxism

  • Based on the ideas of the German philosopher Karl Marx.
  • Marxism said no revolution could occur unless industry was built up and a new class of factory workers (called the proletariat) were the majority.
  • Out of this philosophy came the Bolsheviks, who wanted a dictatorship that would control the proletariat.
  • The Bolsheviks were lead by Vladimir Ulyanov, who became famous under his political alias, Vladimir Lenin.

Tsar Nicholas II

  • Weak ruler who used his police force and often brutal tactics to keep the people under control
  • The February Revolution
    • Increasing unrest and protest by the people against Tsar Nicholas.
    • Tsar Nicholas was eventually forced to abdicate his throne.
    • Tsar Nicholas and his entire family were assassinated by the Bolsheviks in 1918 (think of the story of Anastasia)

Joseph Stalin

  • Took over control of Russia after Lenin’s death and quickly established a dictatorship.
  • Wanted to establish the Soviet Union as a modern industrial power
  • Combined smaller peasant farms into larger, government-controlled farms,
  • giving Stalin total control over
  • what was produced.
  • Under this system most
  • peasants suffered terribly.

The Great Purge

  • Occurred between 1934 and 1938.
  • Stalin’s secret police arrested, coerced confessions from, tortured, and executed anyone who was seen as a threat to his total power, whether or not they supported him.
  • About one million people were executed, with about another 7 million more sent to forced labor camps. Most people did not make it out of these camps alive.
  • This “Great Purge” gave Stalin total control over the Soviet Union, and set up a society of glaring inequality between rich and poor, rather than a society based on cooperation and sharing of resources.

Animal Farm, Communist Russia, and the 21st Century

  • Animal Farm is a satire that depicts the struggle of oppressed animals and the corruption of those who take power over others.
  • Uses animals that exhibit human characteristics to explore the aftermath of revolt, revolution, and power.
  • Animal Farm is Orwell’s critique of communist Russia and Stalin’s reign of terror.
  • Although Animal Farm was written as a response to the Soviet Union, how can it still be applicable to our world today? What connections can you make between this story and our world today?

Important Literary Terms

  • Fable
    • One of the oldest literary forms
    • Usually has a clear moral message
    • Aesop is one of the most famous authors of fables.
    • Uses animals to characterize human qualities

Important Literary Terms

  • Allegory
    • An allegory is a story that personifies abstract qualities; in the case of Animal Farm, the nature of people or the value of ideas.
    • In an allegory there is a double layer of meaning-the literal meaning (Animal Farm is a fable about animals) and the symbolic meaning (the pigs symbolically representing Soviet leaders and the corruptive nature of power).

Important Literary Terms

  • Satire
    • A satire is a work where the author attacks or exposes a serious issue in a ridiculous or humorous light.
    • While the author’s tone may seem humorous or even light-hearted, a satire is actually a serious social critique. It uses humor to exposes the wrongs of society in an attempt to get people to change, or at least take notice of the problem.
    • Animal Farm is a satire poking fun of communism in Soviet Russia, and also of the nature of power in general.
    • What are some modern-day examples of satire?

Rhetorical Techniques

  • Throughout the novel, the pig Squealer will use language to manipulate the other animals. Some terms to know:
    • Propaganda: Ideas, facts, or rumors spread deliberately to further ones cause or damage an opponent’s. Uses several rhetorical techniques:
        • Repetition of words, phrases, ideas
        • Use of metaphor to draw comparisons
        • Use of allusions
        • Use of rhetorical questions, or questions where a direct answer is not expected

Major Themes

  • The Danger of Ignorance
    • It is the animal’s gullibility and willingness to swallow all of Napoleon’s lies that leads to many of their problems.
  • The Power of Language
    • Squealer uses propaganda and rhetorical techniques to twist the truth to fit Napoleon’s dictatorship and keep the animals in ignorance.
  • The Corrupting Influence of Power
    • Once the pigs gain total control, the become at best not better than the humans, and at worst even more corrupt.
    • “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Guiding Questions

  • What makes an individual powerful?
  • Should intelligence be the primary qualification for leadership?
  • How does a society maintain order? Are laws necessary?
  • What qualities should a leader possess? Why?


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