Social Criticism in Literature Essay
Many authors receive their inspiration for writing their literature from outside sources. The idea for a story could come from family, personal experiences, history, or even their own creativity. For authors that choose to write a book based on historical events, the inspiration might come from their particular viewpoint on the event that they want to dramatize. George Orwell and Charles Dickens wrote Animal Farm and A Tale of Two Cities, respectively, to express their disillusionment with society and human nature.
Animal Farm, written in 1944, is a book that tells the animal fable of a farm in which the farm animals revolt against their human masters. It is an example of social criticism in literature in which Orwell satirized the events in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. He anthropomorphises the animals, and alludes each one to a counterpart in Russian history. A Tale of Two Cities also typifies this kind of literature. Besides the central theme of love, is another prevalent theme, that of a revolution gone bad.
He shows us that, unfortunately, human nature causes us to be vengeful and, for some of us, overly ambitious. Both these books are similar in that both describe how, even with the best of intentions, our ambitions get the best of us. Both authors also demonstrate that violence and the Machiavellian attitude of the ends justifying the means are deplorable. Timothy Gardner, a literary critic stated that, George Orwell wrote Animal Farm to discredit the Soviet system by showing its inhumanity and its back-sliding from ideals [he] valued.(Gardner, 106) Orwell noted that there exists in England almost no literature of disillusionment with the Soviet Union.Instead, that country is viewed either with ignorant disapproval or with uncritical admiration.(Gardner, 96) The basic synopsis is this: Old Major, an old boar in Manor Farm, tells the other animals of his dream of animalism; he said, get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own.Almost overnight we would become rich and free. (Orwell, 10) The other animals take this utopian idea to heart, and one day actually do revolt and drive the humans out. Two pigs emerge as leaders: Napoleon and Snowball. They constantly argued.Finally, due to a difference over plans to build a windmill, Napoleon exiled Snowball. Almost immediately, Napoleon established a totalitarian government. Soon, the pigs began to get special favors, until finally, they were indistinguishable from humans to the other animals. The reader can immediately begin to draw parallels between the books characters and the government in 1917-44 Russia. For example, Old Major, who invented the idea of animalism, is seen as representing Karl Marx, the creator of communism. Snowball represents Trotsky, a Russian leader after the revolution. He was driven out by Napoleon, who represents Stalin, the most powerful figure in the country. Napoleon then proceeded to remove the freedoms of the animals and established a dictatorship under the public veil of animalism. Pigs represent the ruling class because of their stereotype: dirty animals with insatiable appetites. Boxer, the overworked, incredibly strong, dumb horse represents the common worker in Russia. The two surrounding farms represent two of the countries on the global stage with Russia at the time, Germany and England. Orwell begins his book by criticizing the capitalists and the ruling elite, who are represented in Animal Farm by Mr. Jones, the farmer. He is shown as a negligent drunk, who constantly starved his animals.His character is already established as self-indulgent and uncaring. (King, 8) Orwell shows us that if only animals became aware of their strength, we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat. (Gardner, 97) What was established in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution was not true communism (animalism), which Orwell approved of, where the people owned all the factories and land.Rather, state communism was established, where a central government owned them. Orwell thought that such a political system, state communism, was open to exploitation by its leaders. Napoleon, after gaining complete control, did anything he wished – reserved the best for the pigs, and treated the animals cruelly. The animals could not do anything, unless they again realized their strength in numbers against their own kind. Unfortunately, they were too stupid to realize this and accepted the status quo. It began when the milk and apples were appropriated to the pigs, and continued to when the pigs could drink and sleep on beds, until finally the pigs were the human masters to the rest of the animals. Orwell criticized Germany, representing it as Pinchfield Farm, which betrayed Animal Farm by paying for lumber with counterfeit money. In real life, this represents the Soviet-Germany non-aggression pact during World War II, which Germany eventually broke. Eventually, towards the end of the story, the term, absolute power corrupts absolutely, is proven, as the pigs, who retained all the privileges for themselves, have evolved into a different caste from the other animals. Orwells implication is that real communism cannot exist in the countries that claim to be communist. The ruling classpoliticiansowns everything and ironically is therefore in total control. A Tale of Two Cities is a love story that chronicles the lives of Charles Darnay, a Frenchman who renounced his link with the aristocracy, and Sydney Carton, a wastrel who lived in England. Both these characters fall in love with Lucie Manette, the daughter of Dr. Alexandre Manette, unjustly imprisoned in France for 17 years. Though Lucie marries Darnay, Carton still loves her and in the end, gives his life to save Darnay for her. Dickens, who was fascinated with French history, especially the French Revolution, begins by criticizing the aristocrats treatment of the poor people of France. In the seventh chapter of book two, the Monsieur Marquis had accidentally driven his carriage over a young child, killing him. Instead of worrying about the childs welfare, the Monsieurs reaction was to worry about his horses: One or the other of you is for ever in the way. How do I know what injury you have done to my horses. (Dickens, 111) He deemed their lives inferior and insignificant, as illustrated when he threw a gold coin to the childs devastated father as compensation. The Monsieur Marquis revealed his true sentiments to his nephew: Repression is the only lasting philosophy. . . fear and slavery, my friend, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip. . .(Dickens, 123) Dickens makes it abundantly obvious that the aristocrats are to meet doom, with symbolic references to fate and death. For instance, as the Monsieur Marquis rides through the country, a glowing red sunset appeared over him, signifying his bloody death. In the words of the author, the sun and the Marquis going down together(Dickens, 114). Madame Defarges knitting is also a symbol of impending doom, as she records the names of all those who are to die when the revolution takes place. Dickens also expresses his disillusionment with some of the outcomes of the French Revolution. He believed that the people did not just liberate themselves, but also took vengeance towards the aristocracy. This is confirmed in the conversation between the revolutionaries: Well, well, but one must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where? At extermination, said madame.(Dickens, 341) Madame Defarge embodies this attitude, as she wants to have Charles Darnay killed, not because he has done something wrong, but because he is related to the Evr monde family, which killed her relative. Though Dickens seems almost to regard violence as the one way to bring about social change,(Lucas,288) he then began to denounce the actions taken by some of the revolutionaries. The citizens let their righteous cause turn into vengefulness. Even servants and maids to the aristocrats were beheaded, although they had not really done anything wrong. Animal Farm and A Tale of Two Cities were written to express their authors disenchantment with the state of evolution of human nature. They seem to be saying that even when we begin with honorable intentions, there will be some of us who will let their base instincts take control. Orwell, in Animal Farm portrays this nature by parodying events in real history. Given the right conditions, those events could happen anywhere – a leader becoming overly ambitious, to the point of harming his people for more power. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens examines the inner soul, and shares with us how people are driven to the valley of human emotions, where desperation and anger reign, and what could happen afterwards if we let these emotions build up inside. Every human being is capable of becoming a ruthless, opportunistic being like Napoleon or Madame Defarge, if placed in the right place, at the right time. Gardner, Timothy. Social Criticism in Animal Farm.
New York: Clarion Bks., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971.
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