The Corruption of Absolute Power in George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Power is a loaded word. Although it is defined as “strength or force exerted or capable of extorted might”, the word incites different thoughts and feelings in different people. To some, it conjures up images of rebelling masses overthrowing corrupt overlords, or of a colored fist in the air with the triumphant and oppressed cry of “Black power!”. Yet, to others, the word carries a more sinister message, sparking thoughts of labor camps and marching armies that burn villages to the ground, of police brutality and shady men trading valuable secrets in dark alleyways. Lord Acton, considered to be one of the greatest personalities and one of the most learned men of the nineteenth century, once said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”.
Animal Farm is a true depiction of this quote and the brutal effects of power, from the tyrannical rule of Ezar Nicholas H Mr. Jones, to the rebellion of the masses, to the dictatorship of the “brainworkers”, and finally, the transformation from pig to man and man to pig. One such sordid example of abuse of authority is evident in the very opening lines: Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring. (Orwell 1)
While this may seem innocent enough, it gives us insight into Jones’s reign. Despite having to care for his farm and the animals on it, he wastes his time drinking, being, in fact, “too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes”. Through his neglect, the animals starve and the farm deteriorates, shown when the text states that “the fields were full of weeds, the buildings wanted roofing, the hedges were neglected, and the animals were underfed” (Orwell 19). These two details prove that power devoid of action can be just as ignominious as totalitarianism. However, Animal Farm does prove that power can be a blessing if in the hands of those who were previously powerless.
In the beginning of the novel, the power of the people (or animals, in this case) is highlighted in the rebellion: With one accord, though nothing of the kind had been planned beforehand, they flung themselves upon their tormentors. Jones and his men suddenly found themselves being butted and kicked from all sides. The situation was quite out of their control. They had never seen animals behave like this before, and this sudden uprising of creatures whom they were used to thrashing and maltreating just as they chose, frightened them almost out of their wits. After only a moment or two they gave up trying to defend themselves and took to their heels. A minute later all five of them were in full flight down the cart-track that led to the main road, with the animals pursuing them in triumph. (Orwell 19-20)
Although it can be argued that the power of the animals was derived from the randomness of their attack, it is the masses that overthrew Jones, and the masses who enjoyed the spoils of the rebellion. Working together as a team, pooling their strength together, resulted in victory for the animals. The pigs might have been the “brainworkers” of the rebellion, but at the time of uprising, they were still part of the masses. They were oppressed as well, and the power of the animals remained the power of the common folk. However, the brainworkers of the masses were later revealed to have a more sinister agenda.