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Wednesday, 17 October 2012 19:51

Old Major's Speech in Consonants

‘Cmrds, y hv hrd lrdy bt th strng drm tht hd lst nght. Bt wll cm t th drm ltr. hv smthng ls t sy frst. d nt thnk, cmrds, tht shll b wth y fr mny mnths lngr, nd bfr d, fl t my dty t pss n t y sch wsdm s hv cqrd. hv hd lng lf, hv hd mch tm fr thght s ly ln n my stll, nd thnk my sy tht ndrstnd th ntr f lf n ths rth s wll s ny nml nw lvng. t s bt ths tht wsh t spk t y.

‘Nw, cmrds, wht s th ntr f ths lf f rs? Lt s fc t: r lvs r msrbl, lbrs, nd shrt. W r brn, w r gvn jst s mch fd s wll kp th brth n r bds, nd ths f s wh r cpbl f t r frcd t wrk t th lst tm f r strngth; nd th vry nstnt tht r sflnss hs cm t n nd w r slghtrd wth hds crlty. N nml n nglnd knws th mnng f hppnss r lsr ftr h s yr ld. N nml n nglnd s fr. Th lf f n nml s msry nd slvry: tht s th pln trth.

‘Bt s ths smply prt f th rdr f ntr? s t bcs ths lnd f rs s s pr tht t cnnt ffrd dcnt lf t ths wh dwll pn t? N, cmrds, thsnd tms n! Th sl f nglnd s frtl, ts clmt s gd, t s cpbl f ffrdng fd n bndnc t n nrmsly grtr nmbr f nmls thn nw nhbt t. Ths sngl frm f rs wld spprt dzn hrss, twnty cws, hndrds f shp – d ll f thm lvng n cmfrt nd dgnty tht r nw lmst bynd r mgnng. Why thn d w cntn n ths msrbl cndtn? Bcs nrly th whl f th prdc f r lbr s stln frm s by hmn bngs. Thr, cmrds, s th nswr t ll r prblms. t s smmd p n sngl wrd – Mn. Mn s th nly rl nmy w hv. Rmv Mn frm th scn, nd th rt cs f hngr nd vrwrk s blshd fr vr.

‘Mn s th nly crtr tht cnsms wtht prdcng. H ds nt gve mlk, h ds nt ly ggs, h s t wk t pll th plgh, h cnnt rn fst ngh t ctch rbbts. Yt h s lrd f ll th nmls. H sts thm t wrk, h gvs bck t thm th br mnmm tht wll prvnt thm frm strvng, nd th rst h kps fr hmslf. r lbr tlls th sl, r dng frtlss t, nd yt thr s nt n f s tht wns mr thn hs br skn. Y cws tht s bfr m, hw mny thsnds f gllns f mlk hv y gvn drng ths lst yr? nd wht hs hppnd t tht mlk whch shld hv bn brdng p strdy clvs? vry drp f t hs gn dwn th thrts f r nms. nd y hns, hw mny ggs hv y ld n ths lst yr, nd hw mny f ths ggs vr htchd nt chckns? Th rst hv ll gn t mrkt t brng n mny fr Jns nd hs mn. nd y, Clvr, whr r ths fr fls y br, wh shld hv bn th spprt nd plsr f yr ld g? ch ws sld t yr ld – y wll nvr s n f thm gn. n rtrn fr yr fr cnfnmnts nd ll yr lbr n th flds, wht hv y vr hd xcpt yr br rtns nd stll?

‘nd vn th msrbl lvs w ld r nt llwd t rch thr ntrl spn. Fr myslf d nt grmbl, fr m n f th lcky ns. m twlv yrs ld nd hv hd vr fr hndrd chldrn. Sch s th ntrl lf f pg. Bt n nml scps th crl knf n th nd. Y yng prkrs wh r sttng n frnt f m, vry n f y wll scrm yr lvs t t th blck wthn yr. T tht hrrr w ll mst cm – cws, pgs, hns, shp, vryn. vn th hrss nd th dgs hv n bttr ft. Y, Bxr, th vry dy tht ths grt mscls f yrs ls thr pwr, Jns wll sll y t th knckr, wh wll ct yr thrt nd bl y dwn fr th fxhnds. s fr th dgs, whn thy grw ld nd tthlss, Jns ts brck rnd thr ncks nd drns thm n th nrst pnd.

‘s t nt crystl clr, thn, cmrds, tht ll th vls f ths lf f rs sprng frm th tyrnny f hmn bngs? nly gt rd f Mn, nd th prdc f r lbr wld b r n. 1mst vrnght w cld bcm rch nd fr. Wht thn mst w d? Why, wrk nght nd dy, bdy nd sl, fr t vrthrw f th hmn rc! Tht s my mssg t y, cmrds: Rblln! d nt knw whn tht Rblln wll cm, t mght b n wk r n hndrd yrs, bt knw, s srly s s ths strw bnth my ft, tht snr r ltr jstc wll b dn. Fx yr ys n tht, cmrds, thrght th shrt rmndr f yr lvs! nd bv ll, pss n ths mssg f mn t ths wh cm ftr y, s tht ftr gnrtns shll crry n th strggl ntl t s vctrs.

‘nd rmmbr, cmrds, yr rsltn mst nvr fltr. N rgmnt mst ld y stry. Nvr lstn whn thy tll y tht Mn nd th nmls hv cmmn ntrst, tht th prsprty f th n s th prsprty f th thrs. t s ll ls. Mn srvs th ntrsts f n crtr xcpt hmslf. nd mng s nmls lt thr b prfct nty, prfct cmrdshp n th strggl. ll mn r nms. ll nmls r cmrds.

‘Cmrds, hr s pnt tht mst b sttld. Th wld crtrs, sch s rts nd rbbts – r thy r frnds r r nms? Lt s pt t t th vt. prps ths qstn t th mtng: r rts cmrds?

‘hv lttl mr t sy. mrly rpt, rmmbr lwys yr dty f nmty twrds Mn nd ll hs wys. Whtvr gs pn tw lgs s n nmy. Whtvr gs pn fr lgs, r hs wngs, s frnd. nd rmmbr ls tht n fghtng gnst Mn, w mst nt cm t rsmbl hm. vn whn y hv cnqrd hm, d nt dpt hs vcs. N nml mst vr lv n hs, r slp n bd, r wr clths, r drnk lchl, r smke tbcc, r tch mny, r ngg n trd. ll th hbts f Mn r vl. nd, bv ll, n nml mst vr tyrnns vr hs wn knd. Wk r strng, clvr r smpl, w r ll brthrs. N nml mst vr kll ny thr nml. ll nmls r ql.

‘nd nw, cmrds, wll tll y bt my drm f lst nght. cnnt dscrb tht drm t y. t ws drm f th rth s t wll b whn Mn hs vnshd. Bt t rmndd m f smthng tht hd lng frgttn. Mny yrs g, whn ws lttl pg, my mthr nd th thr sws sd t sng n ld sng f whch thy knw nly th tn nd th frst thr wrds. hd knwn tht tn n my nfncy, bt t hd lng snc pssd t f my mnd. Lst nght, hwvr, t cm bck t m n my drm. nd wht s mr, th wrds f th sng ls cm bck – wrds, m crtn, whch wr sng by th nmls f lng g nd hv bn lst t mmry fr gnrtns. wll sng y tht sng nw, cmrds. m ld nd my vc s hrs, bt whn hv tght y th tn, y cn sng t bttr fr yrsls. t s clld Bsts f nglnd.’

Old Major’s speech at the opening of George Orwell’s Animal Farm [1] is patterned on Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, a historical and economic analysis of the class struggle. Drawing a parallel between the exploitation of the proletariat by the rich and Man’s control of animals, Orwell intended in Animal Farm “to analyze Marx’s argument from the animals’ point of view” [2]. “A majestic-looking pig,” “wise and benevolent,” Old Major is modeled on Marx, theorist and visionary, who, predating Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, died before the Russian revolution. In Major’s revolutionary vision for a better society, Man is positioned as exploitative master, “lord of all the animals.” “Man serves the interests of no creature except himself,” Old Major says, addressing his “comrades.” “He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.” Major calls for the overthrow of the human race, Rebellion! “And among us animals,” he says, “let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.” “And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him.”

Three nights following, Major dies peacefully in his sleep and during the succeeding months his teachings are systemised into an ideology, Animalism, by two young boars, Snowball and Napoleon (representing Trotsky and Stalin respectively) together with a porker named Squealer. Following on is the “sudden uprising of creatures” on Manor Farm (their Rebellion, a Communist revolution), and the expulsion of farmer Jones (capitalism). ‘Manor Farm’ is renamed ‘Animal Farm’ and the principles of Animalism distilled to Seven Commandments, “an unalterable law by which all animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after.” In the power vacuum following Jones’s usurpation, the pigs, recognised as “the cleverest of all the animals,” quickly assume authority. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single maxim: ‘Four legs good, two legs bad.’

Orwell goes on to allegorise the fractional dispute between Snowball and Napoleon on farm policy, the exile of Snowball and the rise to power of Napoleon, under whose tyranny Old Major’s ideology is perverted and the Commandments defied. The pigs take up residence in the farmhouse, take advantage of the other animals, and assume all privilege. Napoleon is ensconced in his position (“rarely appeared in public”) and any animal opposing his totalitarian rule (“Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon”) is executed. “No animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind,” Old Major had warned. “No animal must ever kill another animal. All animals are equal.” “If [Animal Farm] does not speak for itself, it is a failure,” Orwell said” [3]. Years into his corrupt reign, Napoleon appears “in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings,” “strolling in the farmhouse garden” on his hind legs, and with a “pipe in his mouth.” ‘Animal Farm’ is re-renamed ‘Manor Farm,’ and the farm’s “lower animals” compared to society’s “lower classes” by Mr. Pilkington on an evening when the neighbouring farmers come to join the pigs for dinner. “From man to pig, and from pig to man […] it was impossible to say which was which.”

With the vowels removed, "Old Major’s Speech in Consonants" reflects Orwell’s lampoon on the corruption of Socialist ideals under Stalinism. In the literal perversion of the text, Major’s own manifesto for equality, is the perversion of Marx and Engel’s ‘theory of freedom,’ where Marxism was transformed into an ideology used to justify the existence of a totalitarian state. On the collapse of ideology to class tyranny, Orwell said, “what you get is over and over again is a movement of the proletariat which is promptly canalized and betrayed by astute people at the top, and then the growth of a new governing class. The one thing that never arrives is equality” [4]. Here, the consonants represent what in Animal Farm is “the new governing class” – the pigs – and the vowels, the “lower classes” – hens, sheep, cows, the goat and donkey (the dogs are distinguished as the pigs’ guards). The discrepancy between Old Major’s speech with vowels and the corrupt version without vowels reflects the pigs’ moral decline, from Major’s words for liberation to a self-serving and abusive control. “It was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled,” Clover the horse says, reflecting on the leadership of Napoleon. “The scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on the night when Old Major first stirred them to rebellion.” In Major’s legible manifesto is the promise of “a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak” – all letters supporting each other to make words. The speech of consonants foreshadows the domination of a ruling class and the denied existence of an exploited class; what Clover refers to as “a time when no one dared to speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.”

In Clover’s reflection, but incomplete realisation, of the truth is the relationship between language and power. “Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them.” The process of deleting the vowels from Major’s speech represents “the execution of the traitors” on Animal Farm and Stalin’s Great Purge, in which anyone perceived to be a threat to the government was intimidated into confessing to imaginary crimes and killed. Manipulating Major’s manifesto to absent it of apparently dissenting vowels reflects the pigs’ manipulation of the rhetoric of Socialist revolution in their abuse of power. Orwell describes Napoleon’s mouthpiece, Squealer’s, “readjustment” of the reality of life on the farm: “Reading out the figures in a shrill, rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones’s day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy [...] The animals believed every word of it.” “Meanwhile life was hard.” Clover is “unable to find” words to express herself because the language of Animal Farm is so contrived as to perpetuate the existence of the ruling class – consonants only. Squealer literally adjusts the Commandments to accommodate the pigs’ ever-expanding corruption: the Fourth Commandment to ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets’ when the pigs appropriate the more luxurious quarters of the farmhouse; the Fifth Commandment to ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess’ after Napoleon gets drunk on Jones’s whisky; the Sixth Commandment to ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause’ to justify “the tale of confessions and executions.” Reflecting the garbling of Old Major’s manifesto in removing the vowels in favour of the consonants, the pigs’ make nonsense of language as a means of securing their rank: ‘All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.’ On Animal Farm, oppressed is transformed to oppressor; the fundamental nature of Old Major’s speech is turned on its head and its tenets become indecipherable.

In reinterpreting Major’s manifesto in consonants, two words that are completely obliterated are the personal pronoun ‘I’ and the indefinite article ‘a’. “Of course I intended [Animal Farm] as a satire on the Russian revolution,” Orwell wrote to a friend. “But […] I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters” [5]. Individuality (‘I’) and singularity (‘a’) of expression are absorbed into the pigs’ dictatorship. Napoleon mounts the platform from which Major had previously delivered his speech and announces that “all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself […] there would be no more debates.” The three words which retain their form in ‘Old Major’s Speech in Consonants’ are ‘why’, ‘my’ and ‘by’. The appearance of the fully formed ‘why’ in the midst of consonants highlights the pigs’ distortion of Major’s reasoning in their accumulation of ‘my’s. ‘By’ way of rhetoric. “The whole management and organization of this farm depends on us,” Squealer tells his comrades. “Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.” “Do not imagine, comrades,” he says on another occasion, “that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” “I meant the moral [of Animal Farm] to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement,” Orwell continued in his letter, “when the masses […] know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job […] there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship” [6]. A society in which ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ lacks the full perspective of Old Major’s original document. Without vowels, the consonants are incapable of forming comprehensive ideas for progress. They are merely pigs masquerading in human clothing. “One is almost driven to the cynical thought,” Orwell reflected, “that men are only decent when they are powerless” [7]. 


[1] G. Orwell, Animal Farm (London: Penguin, 1989).

[2] G. Orwell in V.C Letemendia, ‘Revolution on Animal Farm: Orwell’s Neglected Commentary’, Journal of Modern Literature, 18.1 (1992): p. 131.

[3] Ibid., p. 127.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 135–6.

[6] Ibid., p. 136.

[7] Ibid., p. 127.

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