Empathy can be defined as ‘the power of identifying oneself mentally and emotionally with a person or object’. When reading novels, we are able to relate to some characters through similar experiences and emotions and so these characters often invite our understanding and empathy. In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, Boxer the horse invites our empathy. We empathise with Boxer and the way in which the pig Napoleon, the leader of Animal Farm, takes advantage of his good-natured personality and manipulates him into following all orders.
Boxer is unaware of the fact that he is being taken advantage of and that Napoleon has forced him into being the main labourer in the long, strenuous construction of the windmill. Despite his apparent simple-mindedness and gullibility, Boxer is an interesting and complex character used by Orwell to show how leaders, conservative and revolutionary alike, cruelly exploit the working class masses for their own advantage. In Animal Farm, the role of Boxer exemplifies the abused and manipulated Russian working class.
He is one of those working people who never complains about their work and never questions the authority of the state. Boxer is a perfect example of a leader’s ideal disciple because of his gullibility, hardworking demeanor and his loyalty to his superiors. One of his mottos, “Napoleon is always right,” demonstrates his devotion to Napoleon. Even though he is an older horse, Boxer is physically strong, hardworking and maintains a strong sense of determination which is demonstrated through his other main quote, “I will work harder”.
During the building of the windmill, Boxer works extremely hard, and often over night time for an hour or two whilst the other animals are asleep. Even in times of adversity, Boxer continues to display his characteristics of determination and willingness. For example, when the “Battle of the Windmill” occurs and the windmill has been destroyed by Frederick and his men from Pinchfield Farm, Boxer is severely injured with bleeding knees, a split hoof and a dozen pellets wedged deeply in his hind leg.
Despite this injury and the fact that animals’ morale had been shattered, Boxer began hard work again and refused to take a day off. Boxer only had one aspiration left which was to see the windmill well into action before it was time for him to retire. Another example of Boxer’s strong personality in times of hardship is the night in which the executions of the animals that admitted to having been deceitful to their fellow comrades by taking Snowball’s side took place and Boxer stated that to overcome the faults amongst the farm’s animals, he was going to work harder.
By now the responder clearly realises that the strong relationship between Boxer and Napoleon is obviously a negative one. It saddens the responder and invites their empathy to find Boxer to be so oblivious to what is going on around him and at the same time his level of incomprehension creates a feeling of slight frustration in a sympathetic type of sense. A strong feeling of dislike is formed towards Napoleon as he so easily controls Boxer, forcing him to do such tough, punishing labour as he is aware that Boxer is extremely loyal to his superiors and happily prepared to complete all set tasks.
Boxer and the other animals fall victim to the pigs’ cunning ways, but besides the easily convinced sheep and Boxer, the other animals are aware of this but are too frightened or cowardly to put a stop to it, for fear of being accused of treachery and then executed. Boxer also shares a strong relationship with both Benjamin the donkey and Clover the female horse on the farm. They always support each other and this can be shown when Boxer becomes very weak and fragile after being injured in the “Battle of the Windmill”.
Clover treats Boxer’s split hoof with poultices of herbs every night whilst Benjamin also comforts him and encourages him to work less due to his old age. Boxer was waiting for the day that he and Benjamin could retire and spend their days together relaxing in the small separate paddock that had been put aside as a place of rest for those who were getting old and past their working days. This simple aspiration, and the responder’s knowledge that it will never come to fruition, arouses sympathy for Boxer.
Boxer undergoes many upsetting experiences in the novel, during all of which he displays his typically courageous and determined personality. One of his first memorable experiences was in the “Battle of the Cowshed” when Mr. Jones with his men and half a dozen other men from both Pinchfield and Foxwood began to move in, declaring war against the animals. During the ferocious battle, Boxer trampled a stable-lad from Foxwood on the head, leaving him lifeless in the mud. When the battle had ended, what Boxer had done properly sunk in and he was devastated.
He was feeling a strong sense of remorse over the killing and expressed this to Snowball. Boxer sadly cried to Snowball, “I have no wish to take life, not even human life. ” This statement perfectly expresses Boxer’s good-natured personality and the concern he has for others. Another time that was significant to Boxer was the night in which the animals that had admitted to taking Snowball’s side were executed. This somehow left Boxer feeling guilty as he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. His solution was to work harder, getting up an hour earlier each morning to do so.
A very hurtful moment in the story is the time when after all his hard work and staying loyal to Napoleon his leader for so long, Boxer falls weak and ill as a result of his old age and exertions. When he becomes dispensable in the working of the farm, he is carted off in a horse slaughterer van, by the pigs’ orders and taken to a knacker’s yard, to be boiled and turned into glue. Orwell shapes the responder’s perception of Boxer through a skilful use of language. He portrays Boxer as a simple but decent, honest, hardworking and loyal horse.
This is reflected through his first description of Boxer being ‘not of first-rate intelligence’ but then Orwell goes on to say that he is ‘universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work’. In writing Boxer’s dialogue, Orwell uses short, simple sentences with fairly straightforward, unsophisticated language to represent Boxer’s simple personality. For example, without a lot of thought, Boxer’s solution to everything is always announced to be, “I will work harder” which is barely appropriate for many situations.
My personal response to Boxer is based on mixed feelings. When reading Animal Farm, I was initially frustrated by Boxer’s lack of awareness and the ease with which he was manipulated and exploited by the pigs. But, Boxer is Orwell’s symbol of the downtrodden and vulnerable in every society, those for whom justice and equality are almost unattainable. This aroused feelings of sympathy and empathy, and, so, I became attached to the fictional character of Boxer.
The way he is portrayed as a down-to-earth, uncomplicated character who suffers because of his own good nature is most upsetting. In conclusion, through reading George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, I found that Boxer is a character that could easily invite the responder’s empathy and understanding, in relation to his unfortunate experiences and the fact, that with complete obliviousness to the situation, he was so harshly manipulated and mistreated by his leader Napoleon, despite having been so loyally devoted to him the entire time.