MAY 23, 2016
Animal Farm by George Orwell – Analysis of Old Major’s Speech
In the allegorical novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, the aging pig Old Major speaks to all the animals on the farm, making a stirring speech calling them to action. He tells them that Man is the enemy, and a rebellion is inevitable, just as Marx and Lenin, who he represents, did during the Russian Revolution. His clever use of rhetorical devices such as appeal to ethos, rhetorical questions, among many others, is what makes his speech so effective.
Before Old Major makes any actual arguments, he appeals to ethos. The first paragraph is entirely dedicated to establishing credibility with the audience. This is further reinforced later on through implications of great knowledge and experience. It is evident that before Old Major gave his speech he already had great authority, since everyone gathered to hear him speak, but his introduction emphasizes that further. He emphasizes that he “has had a long life… had much time for thought” and “understands the nature of life on this earth as well as any animal now living.” These statements about his age and wisdom lend him more credibility as well as give him more weight in convincing the other farm animals.
In addition to the use of ethos, Old Major also employs the strategies of rhetorical questions to further aid in appealing to pathos. In the fourth paragraph of his speech in particular, he asks, “You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk…? And you hens, how many eggs have you laid in this last year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens?… And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore…?” The answers to these rhetorical questions elucidates the injustices the animals have endured for far too long. By taking his claims to an individual and more personal level, Old Major further strikes resentment and fury into the hearts of those listening.
Old Major continues to appeal to pathos in his rousing speech through the use of heavily connotated words and imagery. His diction is in fact instrumental to his success in convincing his audience. He says, “no animal escapes the cruel knife in the end. You young porkers who are sitting in front of me, every one of you will scream your lives out at the block… To that horror we all must come… italics mine” This subtle use of graphic word choice makes for horrific imagery in the animals’ minds, further generating even more hatred and resentment against Farmer Jones. Old Major expounds on the many grievances the animals have suffered, even listing the gruesome fates of individual animals, stating that Boxer will be sold to the knacker, who will “cut your throat and boil you”, and that Jones “ties… a brick round the dogs’ necks and drowns them.” Thus, he turns the animals against Man through exposing the tyranny of Man and listing numerous inherent lackings and vices. Old Major’s selection of heavily connotated and illustrative words makes for a vivid and compelling speech.
Furthermore, Old Major utilizes hyperbole in appealing to the pathos of the animals. He claims that “No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free.” even though he knows that is not entirely the case. He uses nuanced exaggeration in order to work everyone up into a fit of indignation and rouse their sense of injustice so that they will listen to whatever plan he proposes.
Old Major also uses asyndeton multiple times throughout his speech. For instance, he says, “Man does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits.” The omission of the coordinating conjunction generates a sense of incompletion. Thus, Old Major implies that there is no end to the innumerable ways the animals have been mistreated and exploited by Farmer Jones.
These subtle yet powerful rhetorical strategies are in fact key to Old Major’s speech because he relies heavily on the use of listing grievances, both individual and universal, to gain credence and convince his audience. The speech reflects actual historical events; such rhetoric was key to the success of the Russian Revolution. Marx and Lenin, both represented by Old Major were able to convince entire countries through powerful rhetoric, subtly utilizing such strategies. As the saying goes, language is power.