Free Essays - The Seven Commandments of Animal Farm
Length: 809 words (2.3 double-spaced pages)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Seven Commandments of Animal Farm
The Seven Commandments are the basic principles of animalism worked out by the pigs and described originally as "unalterable laws" by which the animals were to live. The Seven Commandments were written on the barn wall for all animals to see and read if they could. The original Commandments are:
1. Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes on four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
Almost immediately after the Commandments are written the cows have to be milked. The milk they produce is taken by the pigs exclusively so the seventh Commandment seems to be undermined from the very beginning. When the pigs also start claiming the windfall apples, Squealer explains that they are not taking them as privilege but because science has shown that milk and apples are necessary for the pigs' "brain work". This at least satisfies the animals that they are equal to the pigs but it does not fool the reader.
The first two Commandments are subtly broken in the first years of Animal Farm but there is no attempt to rewrite them. Snowball, the hero of the Battle of the Cowshed, becomes an enemy of the farm after his expulsion by Napoleon, while the resumption of trade via Mr Whymper causes some discussion but, as Squealer points out, trade was not banned in writing and Mr Whymper is not treated as a friend.
The first alteration to the Commandments comes after the pigs move back into the farmhouse. The ban on sleeping in beds is changed in Napoleon's favour by the addition of the words "with sheets". At this point in the history of the farm the pigs do not quite have enough power to do what they like and Squealer is forced to change the Commandments to fit new circumstances. But sleeping in beds is a minor matter compared to murder, and the next alteration to the Commandments is far more shocking. After the failures of the winter and the collapse of the first windmill, the pigs use Snowball as scapegoat.
This leads to the 'show trials' in which animals 'confess' to crimes inspired by Snowball. The horrific executions that follow are in direct contradiction of the original sixth Commandment but when this is checked the words "without cause" have been added.
Napoleon's selfish behaviour is the cause of the alteration to the fifth Commandment. When he and the other pigs get drunk, Napoleon's hangover is a cause for alarm but all that eventually happens is that the words "to excess" are added to the Commandment. It is at this point that Squealer's part in the changes to the Commandments is revealed to the reader as he falls off the ladder he was using to reach the barn wall. After this incident, more and more of the farm's resources are diverted to the provision of alcohol for the pigs. The sale of Boxer's body to the knackers results in the delivery of a crate of fine food and alcohol.
No minor alteration is ever made to the third Commandment about wearing clothes. This is because by the time the pigs adopt clothes they are so powerful, and the other animals are so fearful, that it is unnecessary. Instead, all pretence of "unalterable laws" is abandoned and the Commandments are replaced by the meaningless slogan
"All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."
Orwell's use of the Seven Commandments provides a kind of checklist of betrayal. The original Commandments express the ideals of animalism and the hopes for a new life by the animals on the farm. It is significant that the betrayal of these ideals begins almost immediately, as this is an important part of Orwell's message about revolutions - that all power corrupts. The Commandments make it easy for the reader to trace the progress of Napoleon and the other pigs' corruption and, as each one is broken, the original ideals are brought to mind.
The Seven Commandments are a successful way of tracing the decline of the rebellion because they show how the pigs alter the rules on the farm to suit themselves. The other animals trust in writing and it is the pigs' control of writing that gives them a great deal of their power. The alterations to the Commandments are sometimes funny, like the one about alcohol, and sometimes shocking, like the one about killing. In the end, the slogan "All animals are equal" sums up the sad decline of the fortunes of the idealistic animals of the farm.