Two Legged Intentions: Anthropomorphic Allegory and Red Threat Rhetoric

Two Legged Intentions: Anthropomorphic Allegory and Red Threat Rhetoric

A Story by spence

First Year University Assignment- BA Professional Writing


REMIT: Students will examine how speech is used in each text, evaluating the meanings implicit and explicit in spoken language. They will analyse the representation of characters through their speech, and the ways in which the language used within the texts either conforms to or subverts social stereotypes. Students will also be expected to examine ideologies inherent in the characters’ speech acts. Students will also consider the relationship between characters, their speech acts and possible responses from a variety of audiences. This assignment should be 1600 words in length (10% leverage).


Two Legged Intentions: Anthropomorphic Allegory and Red Threat Rhetoric

‘Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’ (Orwell, 1946)

So says George Orwell of his famous allegorical fable, the critical deconstruction of which one half of this essay is concerned. The approach in its entirety juxtaposes the socio-linguistic intentions of the allegory with those of an animated adaptation produced by British based filmmakers Halas and Batchelor; bankrolled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1954.

It is widely accepted that the CIA identified Orwell’s novella as potential anti-communist propaganda and commissioned representatives to buy the rights from his widow following his death in 1950. Thereafter, Animal Farm became part of the embryonic ‘Cold War’ effort to turn post-war western public opinion against erstwhile ally, Soviet Russia; the aim in this instance to make Orwell’s satirical commentary of Russian history, (from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the Teheran Conference of 1943), into a singularly anti-communist fable.

 Some critics argued, and still do, that Animal Farm was more than just an attack on Stalinism and the Soviet state. In their view the book’s target is totalitarianism of any stripe, including that practised by capitalist states.’ (Laeb, 2009)

That Orwell confesses, ‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly and indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism’, (Why I Write, 1946), gives credence to Laeb’s assertion and he extrapolates the issue of subversion further, ‘The CIA personnel involved in making Animal Farm into a propaganda film may have found aspects of Orwell and his book less than palatable. But they ignored these inconvenient aspects of the man’s politics and proceeded as if Orwell’s target had been Soviet totalitarianism, pure and simple.’ (Laeb, 2009)

To the ends of ascertaining the truth of the matter and as a means of demonstrating the significance of text, narrative and dialogue as integral in conveying meaning to an audience, a critical analysis of respective linguistic styles, is paramount. 

Animal Farm is the story of a farmyard uprising inspired by the revolutionary rhetoric of fatally afflicted hog, Old Major, who is symbolic of both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin (allegorical characterisations in this essay are as described by Jean Armstrong, 1985. pp 16-18). Old Major’s part polemic, part didactic oratory is delivered in suitably egalitarian language to characterise a scholar of radically socialist persuasion. Addressing his peers as, ‘comrades’, he goes on to declare, ‘what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious and short,’ and, ‘to that horror we must all come- cows, pigs, hens, sheep, everyone.’

The reference to Thomas Hobbes famous pro-statist quote, ‘… the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,’ (Leviathan, 1651), seems obvious, although it is subverted to advocate anti-authoritarian sentiment as well as adequately describing existing conditions for the ‘proletarian masses’ and foreshadowing the conflict to come.

By contrast the animated version establishes the mood with voice over narration (Gordon Heath, 1918-1991) that has a whimsical, ‘storyteller’ tone despite the typical ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP) of its delivery.

‘RP is not an English dialect. It is an accent and linguistic register closely associated with southern England and a particular social class […] most keenly observed in […] Parliament, the law courts and the Church of England’, (Piercy, 2012). That Heath was of African-American heritage, yet speaks in the prestigious dialect which monopolised contemporaneous British media aptly reflects a policy of promoting ‘Standard English’ as a mainstay of production values.

“For the world we all know- which may or may not be the best world possible- once again springtime has come. But all the magic of spring was not enough to conceal the misery of Manor Farm”

This introduction succinctly conveys the social atmosphere as contrasting to that of the solar season and the drunk and abusive Jones is immediately given screen presence to further expound the situation as foreboding. As in the novel Old Major’s, speech follows, (all animals are voiced by Maurice Denham, 1909-2002), although the cartoon version of Marx/Lenin revealingly abandons the term ‘Comrades’ in favour of ‘Friends’ and speaks in a distinctively, ‘Churchill-like’ dialect, albeit with each grandiose proclamation suffixed by pig grunting. With even an elementary knowledge of contemporary western culture it could reasonably be assumed the symbolism was least as immediately identifiable to the post-war audience for whom it was intended as it is for us.

Similarly pertinent to the amended sociolinguistic aesthetic is the manner in which the revolutionary anthem Beasts of England loses its rousing lyrical content. Stirring words such as “Soon or late this day is coming, Tyrant man shall be o’erthrown, And the fruitful fields of England, Shall be trod by beasts alone,” are replaced by a guttural, onomatopoeic animal chorus that denotes allegiance by consensus to the principles of revolution. The absence of speech conveys a greater dichotomy between levels of intellect than the prose, compounded upon by the comical attempts of non-pigs at attaining literacy. Only the sheep manage to read, bleat and repeat “four legs-two legs”. In both the book and film this implies a higher degree of indoctrination within the more symbolically ‘servile’ species while concurrently elevating the pigs’ social status.

The action of the uprising and supplanting of Jones follows and the state of ‘Animal Farm’ is declared. Under the stewardship and guidance of pigs Snowball (Leon Trotsky) and Napoleon (Josef Stalin) the animals reconfigure their society based on Old Major’s ‘radical’ principles of social justice and equality. The animals agree upon a set of seven commandments that constitute the ideology of ‘Animalism’ which is a truncated redaction of the communist manifesto, ending with “All Animals Are Equal”, and paint them upon the barn. They assign Old Major’s ‘Beast of England’ as their anthem and determine strategies for the continued development of post-revolutionary society.

The film reduces the seven commandments to five. The maxim “four legs good, two legs bad”, replaces both “1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.” and “2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend”’ Point three, “No animal shall wear clothes,” is omitted entirely. Also missing from the film are Moses the Raven, who preaches to the animals of “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died” and Mollie the mare who is inured to human afflictions; ribbons, finery and sugar lumps. Given the filmmakers’ remit and the ideology espoused by their backers it is unsurprising that any suggestion of church or consumer culture contributing to the indoctrination of the masses was avoided.

 The animals’ logistical arrangements include divisions of responsibilities such as the distribution of manual labour and administrative duties. The pigs, portrayed as the most naturally intellectual of the group, are allotted the latter while more robust creatures such as equine affiliate Boxer (symbolic of the proletarian) are tasked with the former. ‘I will work harder,’ is one of two linguistic descriptors that signify the utilitarian spirit Boxer represents. In the film his voice is monotone and flat, connoting low intellect while offering stark contrast to the prestigious dialect shared by the pigs. His unconditional loyalty is represented in both instances as his ceaseless work ethic, but also in the prose with the defeatist dictum, ‘Comrade Napoleon is always right’.

Initially things run according to the commonly held ideal, but when Snowball conceives the idea of building a windmill for the desired long term effects of alleviating the physical workload while providing heating and electricity for the benefit of all concerned, Napoleon baulks at his growing influence and popularity.

What follows is a struggle for dominance instigated by the power hungry Napoleon who uses subterfuge, treachery and coercion to oust his political rival. During a meeting in which Snowball further advances his case for the benefits of the windmill’s construction at the shared cost of short term austerity and toil he is chased from the farm by Napoleon’s regiment of trained dogs and the devious usurper assumes control. Any and all doubts regarding the necessitation of Snowball’s enforced exile are quelled through the language of propaganda. The allegations that portray him as a collaborator with and fraterniser of their two legged enemy are held up as an example of the negative consequences that shall arise from straying from Napoleons twisted version of the revolutionary ideal; in so many words, “the return of Jones”. Propagandist themes are mainly represented by the edifying monologues of Squealer, ‘the living Pravda,’ (Armstrong, 1985) Napoleons porcine ‘spokesman’,

The corruption and nepotism inherent in Napoleon’s decisions and dealings is described through a narrative which, despite portraying increasingly repressive state practices through the execution of dissenters amid a resurgent human influence, is more concerned with the subtleties of ideological indoctrination through linguistic epistemological revisionism. ‘The complex satire of Animal Farm is built upon an awareness of the power language yields’, (Hunter, 1998). The most memorable manifestation of this is through syntactical amendments to the seven commandments during moments of reflection that help the reader recap the chronology of events.

As we reach the final act of the prose we discover that the sheep are now bleating, “Four legs good- two legs better” and that in both cases the commandments are reduced to the nonsensical “All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others”.

‘To the animals it now seemed that their world, which may or may not become a happy place to live in, was worse than ever for ordinary creatures,’ Heath narrates in the penultimate summation of the film. Both stories end with the subjugated farm animals looking into Jones’ former home as Napoleon and his affiliates drink alcohol, (a substance once prohibited by revolutionary law) during a meeting. In the prose a discourse between humans and pigs reveals to the ‘lower animals’ the true extent of their plight while the film has it a meeting of pig delegates from other farms. As the original narrative comes to a close, the pigs and the humans are indistinguishable from the other. The tone is pessimistic and the reader left yearning greater closure within the ambiguity of an inconclusively glib ending. The film, however, has a more optimistic finale. With the guard dogs drunk and unconscious the animals rise up in open revolt to overthrow Napoleon in a calamitously unambiguous ending that leaves the audience with no doubt that the communist threat will collapse under the weight of its failings.



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© 2013 spence

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Added on June 24, 2013
Last Updated on June 24, 2013



Grimsby, United Kingdom

Just returning to WritersCafe after a couple of years in the wilderness of life. I'm a 40 year old (until December 2013, at least) father of two, former youth and community worker, sometime socio-pol.. more..