Manipulating The Use Of Language To Gain Power Philosophy Essay

It is already well-know in psychology and also in linguistics that the way we speak and formulate our thoughts influences or – according to some radical approaches – even determines what we think and how we think. It means that our mental and cognitive brain functions and mechanisms are highly in connection with our attitudes in speaking and our language.

This theoretical question whether speaking and language determines or simply influences our thoughts has a rather long history in linguistics. The most popular viewpoint in this matter is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or the linguistic relativity principle. Named after two linguists, namely Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Wholf, this strong linguistic theory claims that language is the result of thoughts. So the idea is that “the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it” (Wikipedia).

The basic notion that thoughts and language are somehow connected with each other remains true and acknowledged. The categories, concepts and frameworks applied in our language usage determine the frames of our thoughts and mental processes. Thus as a result, the perception of the outside world is highly dependent on our way of speaking. Not only reality is perceived from this angle but our inner self and behaviors as well. So the interpretations of our roles, acts and thoughts rely on the categories and frames used in speaking. However, this should be true the other way around as well, namely that communication is the last step in the process of formulation our thoughts and feelings. Communication alters itself the way we think. Whenever one is in a certain mood the communicational style changes its appearance according to it.

Furthermore, uttering out a feeling or a statement in a certain mood and style would not only affect the speaker itself, but it also influences the others paying attention.

The “Orwellian” approach

In George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm playing with the language is put to the extremes. He not even plays with the language but throughout this novel he demonstrates that it is highly possible to apply language as a tool for manipulation and delusion. The corruption of language and the alternation of reality intensify gradually until the end of this fairy tale. It escalates until the point where there is no longer possible to delude the others by using manipulated language.

Animal Farm tries to catch the basic characteristics of the Stalin era even before the World War II. The story reflects also the events that were leading up to the war. All this is put in a fairy tale story filled with various household animals. Although the story itself exaggerate the notion of corruption of a revolution by its leaders and it also represents the foolish animals that follow their leaders even when they are trying to force through unfair rules and non-existing data about their well-being. It could not be done without the cunning use of language and the various tricks in the communication.

Being socialist, Orwell wanted to separate himself both from the extreme right parties but also from the extreme left parties, namely the communists at that time. What he brilliantly does in his novel is the witty and exaggerated mockery about communism and its mechanisms in the society. The story holds a somewhat distorted mirror towards the communist era. Almost every animal has its role in the story, every animal represent a character or a given person in the history of the early communism.

The two pigs Napoleon and Snowball represent Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. The fact that Snowball was expelled out from Animal Farm and the leadership was taken over by Napoleon serve as a clear reference to the similar relationship between Stalin and Trotsky. However, not only the prominent characteristics appear in Orwell’s novel, but every social class is represented in a way throughout the story: chicken, cats, rats stand on the lowest rank. They are followed by the sheeps who are incapable of reasoning properly. Such lowest level of the society is exploited and used by the leading power throughout the novel since they believe false data provided about their conditions in the farm, or even facts that are so obviously lies.

Corrupted rhetoric that develops throughout the novel

Orwell’s most concern in Animal Farm but also in Nineteen Eighty-Four is to demonstrate how language is manipulated in a given society and he tries to depict the characteristics of such a language usage. In both of these novels he represents “nightmarish situations in which modern methods of communication and the perversion of the English language itself can prevent an apprehension of the factual, objective truth of a given event and thereby betray the human mind to the web of unrealities” (Alldritt, 1969). Language is used as a central means for gaining power and through abused language will it be possible to spread whatever ideas and concepts the leaders would like to disseminate. Orwell perfectly knew how propaganda and smart rhetoric speech affect people who listen to it. In writing of Animal Farm, he was inspired by Oswald Mosley, a powerful orator at Orwell’s time. Listening to him, Orwell realized “how easily people could be duped by a few carefully chosen political lies.” (Coote, 1990)

In Animal Farm, the pigs developed such a rhetoric that characterizes the socialist and communist regime’s way of communication. Language should be a central issue in the governing process since through perfect language usage the pigs could legitimate their acts and could hold the other animals in their ignorance. Even if the other animals would care about the accurate figures about the development and improvements on the farm they have no access to it.

The novel opens up with old Major’s noble ideas about their freedom and he tells them his visions which he derives from his dreams. So right at the beginning of the story the reader is presented a beautifully moving language usage to demonstrate a better future for the other animals. In order to fully convince the animals about his right he begins to tell some words about the current situation.

“Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth. But is this simply part of the order of nature? Is it because this land of ours is so poor it cannot afford a decent life to those who dwell upon it? No, comrades, a thousand times no!”…”why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labor is stolen from us by human beings”…”Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.” (Orwell, 1946)

I personally reckon that this opening speech is one of the most important parts of the story since it gives the rhetorical and thematic basis for the whole novel. From this quotation emerge every other speech and the propaganda applied by Napoleon when he regains his sole power. The noble idea outlined by Major becomes corrupted by the pigs later on in the story. But what rhetorical elements can be found in Major’s speech? Why can it be regarded so powerful?

In his introductory part Major uses several smart elements in his speech. First, he opens up by a question which is put not mainly for the animals but for himself. He does not demand answer nor expect that their comrades start to contemplate on their life. The purpose of this question is entirely a rhetorical device, namely to raise attention. Then answering his question he starts to make a list about the features of their lives. In order to raise attention and to achieve some influence upon the others he applies such sophisticated words and visions that demonstrate how miserable their life is. By using reasonable arguments he can persuade the animals that it is worth rebelling against their bad conditions. However, for such rhetoric it is also needed that the orator possesses some noble and respected characteristics. Major is indeed respected by the other animals so the words spoken by him is entirely accepted and acknowledged. The passage mentioned above introduces the communist “ideas to us through our imaginations, through the power, passion and authority with which Major speaks” (Coote, 1990. p. 28).

Later on Major shares his thoughts about manners he regards right or wrong. He mentions several rules about what the animals should do in order to avoid the tyranny of the Man. After chasing away Mr. Jones from the farm, the animals together recollect Major’s ideas and suggestions and they together design the Seven Commandments with the help of the pigs:

Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy

Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

No animal shall wear clothes.

No animal shall sleep in a bed.

No animal shall drink alcohol.

No animal shall kill any other animal.

All animals are equal.

These notions are mainly developed for the sake of the animals, in order that by these ideas they can protect themselves. These were also the means of setting rules within the farm. Such rules are there to create the feeling of democracy and equality. According to Coote “ideas are the most powerful of human creations. It is with ideas that we change the world. And communism is among the most influential.” (1990, p. 6) The fact is though, that there were some animals, like the sheep who were far the silliest animals in the novel and they were unable to read and then to memorize the rules. The pigs then took immediate advantage on it and they simplified those ideas in the Seven Commandments down to one basic rule, mainly that four legs are good, whereas two are bad. In every situation whenever a problem occurs they begin to sing or rather chant this very simple sentence. So despite every animal is given the possibility to think and behave consciously and consider things objectively, since the notion of democracy implies these ideas, there are animals that are incapable of doing so, and consequently the more powerful animals, namely the pigs take advantage of it.

It is also interesting to mention that later on when Napoleon gains power and chase away Snowball, one of the first thing he does in Animal Farm is to abolish free elections because for him democracy is a waste of time (Coote, 1990, p. 6). Democracy would also imply that the other animals are conscious in their opinions and they can make responsible decisions concerning their lifestyle. However, Napoleon wants exactly the contrary. He purposefully blurs reality and the fact that under his reign the other animals perish in reality by hunger. By ousting Snowball, and replacing democracy with tyranny, slowly but surely he breaks with the points of the Seven Commandments. What he does is overturning those ideals that originally determined the revolution in the farm. However, he would not have been able to do it without the help of his fellow pig, Squealer who gains more and more power besides Napoleon. Squealer is basically responsible for conviction of the others and who disseminate the always changing ideas of Napoleon. All in all, he represents the propaganda and the corruption of language throughout the novel. He embodies the mechanism that was so representative in the communist era and under Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union.

Squealer is the “figure who will persuade the animals that, regardless of what happens, the pigs are always right”. (coote, 1990, p. 32) However, the rhetorical elements used by him somewhat differs from that of Major’s. Although Old Majors used many exaggerations in his speech he talked about noble and uplifting ideas. Squealer uses “lies, phony arguments, threats, indeed anything that justifies his masters’ action. Squealer is wholly indifferent to the truth and he will twist facts and language in any way he can” (Coote, 1990, p. 32) A good example for Squealer’s distortion of the truth is when he declares to the others that the pigs need more apples then the rest of the animals and so they already reserved it for themselves. For explaining the reason for doing so, Squealer applies very smart and emotional rhetoric with which he is able to persuade the animals that their act is entirely reasonable. He says that actually they do not even like apples but pigs need to preserve their good health since a good state of health is necessary for the pigs involved in such difficult brain-work. Since Squealer is seen as to be the most powerful representative of the corruption of language throughout the novel I would like to cite Peter Lewis who catches the core principles of his behavior:

“Squealer is portrayed with especial insight and loathing… Squealer is the essential tool of dictatorship. It is he who justifies the turnabouts of policy, who downgrades the reputation of the rival leader, Snowball, from hero to traitor, who doctors the original revolutionary ideals by repainting them under cover of darkness on the wall of the barn…and it is Squealer who is the first to be seen walking on his hind legs. He is not merely the skilled propagandist but the falsifier of history, the destroyer of objective truth.” (1981, p. 93)

Although I fully agree with Lewis in his portrayal of Squealer, I do not think that he does not constitute the portray of a good propagandist. He is indeed a very good propagandist in the way he presents the “truth” altered by the pigs. Probably the basic ideas do not originate from Squealer though he is the only one who can interpret them in such a way that is also understandable for the other animals and persuasive enough to lead them by the nose.

Sometimes he says so silly and unreal statements, that even Boxer is troubled by them. Nevertheless Squealer is capable of explaining everything while discrediting Snowball’s reputation. The effect of this kind of persuasion can be clearly seen in Boxer’s statement when he is convinced by Squealer: “Napoleon is always right”. He never even questions whether Squealer or the other pigs are right, he simply works even harder and this becomes his second motto. Lie penetrates the everyday language in such a system so it and the truth hardly matters anymore.

George Orwell became deeply disillusioned from the political views of his times. Realizing the bad effect of capitalist-imperialist and also the communist ideas he tried to reject both political system, though he was engaged first with notions of the communists and appealed to it as well. But by the time of writing of the Animal Farm he was entirely aware of the corruption of the socialist regime. He realized how such political powers exploit the language and use it as a tool for propaganda, gaining more power, and for the delusion of the people. Animal Farm is thus a funny though deeply satirical novel that depicts a contemporary societal criticism. My opinion is that on one hand the novel opens up the wickedness of the pigs who exploits the other animals until they no longer endure it, but on the other hand it is a deep satire about people who are not able to make clear decisions and perceive things consciously.

So Orwell developed his own idea about revolutions and democracies and he concludes that “the truth is that any real advance, let alone any genuinely revolutionary change, can only begin when the mass of the people definitely refuse capitalist-imperialist war…so long as they show themselves willing to fight in defense of democracy or against Facism, or for any other flyblown slogan, the same trick will be played upon them again and again” (Williams, 1971. p. 62)

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