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Propaganda and Duplicity
Working as a propagandist during World War II, Orwell experienced firsthand both the immense power and the dishonesty of propaganda. Many types of governments make use of propaganda, not only totalitarian ones. Consider, for instance, the arguments that led many United States citizens to go along with the idea of invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Propaganda serves the positive task of uniting the people, sometimes at the cost of misleading them. Orwell takes a firm stance on the harmfulness of propaganda in Animal Farm while acknowledging its value for rallying a mistreated and disillusioned populace.
In Chapter IX, Orwell demonstrates the positive value of propaganda. By this point, the animals are so downtrodden that they are desperate for something in which to believe. (Note the irony, though: it is Napoleon who has robbed them of their belief in the original version of Animalism.) The falsely optimistic statistics, the songs, and especially the Spontaneous Demonstrations give the animals something to live for. This chapter is an exception in terms of portraying propaganda in a positive light. For the majority of Animal Farm, Orwell skewers propaganda and exposes its nature as deception.
Squealer represents a totalitarian government’s propaganda machine. Eloquent to a fault, he can make the animals believe almost anything. This fact is especially clear in Squealer’s interactions with Clover and Muriel. Each time Clover suspects that the Seven Commandments have been changed, Squealer manages to convince her that she is wrong. After the executions, Napoleon abolishes the singing of “Beasts of England” in favor of a new anthem, the lyrics of which contain a promise never to harm Animal Farm. In this propagandist maneuver, Napoleon replaces the revolutionary spirit of “Beasts of England” with the exact opposite, a promise not to rebel. In addition to being a source of manipulation, propaganda is an agent of fear and terror. Orwell demonstrates this quite clearly with Napoleon’s vilification of Snowball and his assurances that Snowball could attack the animals at any minute. He uses similar fear tactics regarding Frederick and Pilkington. The most egregious example of propaganda in the novel is the maxim that replaces the Seven Commandments: “All animals are equal / But some animals are more equal than others.” The idea of “more equal” is mathematically improbable and a nonsensical manipulation of language, but by this time, the animals are too brainwashed to notice.