Social Criticism in Literature


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.

 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": " . . . Only 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, but one day, 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 favours, until finally, they were 
indistinguishable from humans to the other animals. Immediately the 
reader can begin to draw parallels between the book's 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 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 how, "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. Orwell's implication is that "real" communism cannot exist in 
the countries which claim to be communist. The ruling class - 
politicians - own everything and ironically are therefore in total 

 A Tale of Two Cities is a love story which 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 the Marquis had accidentally driven 
his carriage over a young child, killing him. Instead of worrying 
about the child's welfare, the Monsieur's 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 child's devastated father as compensation. 
The Monsieur the 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 the 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 Defarge's 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 honourable 
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 morepower. 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. 


King, Martin. Students' Guide to Animal Farm.
Scotland: Tynron Press, 1989.

Lucas, John. The Melancholy Man: A Study of Dickens' Novels.
London: N.P., N.D.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm.
London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Shelden, Michael. Orwell: The Authorised Biography.
London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1992.

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