The cult of personality in Orwell’s Animal Farm
How does George Orwell demonstrate the effects of 'The Cult of Personality' in Animal Farm?
Cult of personality in Animal Farm
A ‘cult of personality’ arises when an individual works to create an idealised and heroic image of themselves by various means, usually through propaganda. The animals in Animal Farm overthrow the human farm owner and establish their own community, setting up a list of ‘commandments’ to build a fair society, but Napoleon the pig works tirelessly throughout the book to gain sole power over the other animals. He does this in two ways: by building up (and inflating beyond the point of truth) his own credentials, and by demeaning or devaluing the contributions of others, such as Snowball. Initially, Snowball and Napoleon are jointly in power at Animal Farm – however, Snowball is chased away by dogs and Napoleon proceeds to claim credit for his windmill idea, denigrate Snowball’s heroic and strategic victory in the ‘Battle of the Cowshed’, and blame him for the destruction of the windmill the animals worked hard to build (a windstorm was the real culprit). While convincing the animals that Snowball is a villain, Napoleon works through a young pig named Squealer to imply his own heroic characteristics, encouraging the other animals to adopt the mantra ‘Napoleon is always right!’. As the novel progresses, Napoleon begins to act more like a man – sleeping in the farmer’s house, drinking alcohol, wearing clothes – and flagrantly flouts the commandments the animals set initially. By the end of the novel, many of the animals that participated in the initial revolution are dead, and Napoleon has abridged the commandments into one: ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ The book is an allegorical portrayal of the USSR, with Napoleon representing Joseph Stalin – who established a real-life cult of personality using similar techniques – and Snowball a composite of Trotsky and Lenin.
Orwell, G. (2000). Animal Farm. London: Penguin Classics.