Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hyper-Masculinity and Female Degradation in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

Hyper-Masculinity and Female Degradation in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

Feminist criticism of George Orwell reaches far and wide into his vast collection of work. Historically, male authors have received much criticism over their portrayal of female characters. Orwell is an example of someone who has been on the receiving end of this criticism, and rightfully so. Daphne Patai is a feminist scholar of Orwell, and her book, The Orwell Mystique: A Study in Male Ideology, is one of the most complete and extensive pieces of Orwell criticism. There are a number of other criticisms, but none so complete and so wholly feminist. Arthur Eckstein, in his review of Patai’s book, says, “[Patai’s] radical feminism has led her to an insight about Orwell which is of the greatest value: his obsession with masculinity of the most traditional, Hemingway-esque type.”[1]He continues by stating that it is not hard to find examples in Orwell’s texts, but no one had pointed to the phenomenon so blatantly before Patai. Eckstein is correct that there are not any other Orwell critics who have pointed so obviously to the obsession with hyper-masculine identity in his writing. 

Daphne Patai’s book was the beginning of the onslaught of feminist criticism regarding George Orwell. There were a number of journal articles and small books that were published after, but there seemed to be something missing in almost all of them—criticism surrounding his novel Animal Farm.For instance, Patai’s book devotes only 18 of the more than 300 pages to Animal Farm, while a number of Orwell’s essays and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Fourtake up the rest of the space. Between his novels, essays, journals, and criticisms, George Orwell authored over 600 pieces or writing in his lifetime. He gave critics plenty of ammunition in his essays and novels, and they took the bait for most of it. Nineteen Eighty-Four is arguably his most famous novel, and also the centerpiece to most feminist criticism, but Animal Farmseems to have flown under the feminist radar.
George Orwell had very clear intentions when he wrote. In fact, in an article titled “Why I Write” he states, “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”[2]He succeeded in drawing attention to the prevalent political oppression in many of his essays and books, most notably in his novel Animal Farm. The novel, described originally by Orwell as a fairy story, uses a group of farm animals in England to tell the history of Soviet communism. Orwell is clearly criticizing Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin through the use of his characters Snowball and Napoleon, respectively; however, many readers may criticize Orwell for the limited positive portrayal of females.  
Christopher Hitchens writes, in his novel Why Orwell Matters, “It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that Orwell wrote for a male audience. Moreover, in neither his fiction nor his journalism is the word ‘feminist’ ever used except with, or as, a sneer.”[3]This statement is supported by the fact that Orwell included feminism in his famous list of strange beliefs in his essay “The Road to Wigan Pier.”[4]This is not the only time females get a bad rap in Orwell’s writing. Elizabeth and Ma Hla May from the novel Burmese Days, and Dorothy and Mrs. Creevy in A Clergyman’s Daughterare written in very negative terms.Orwell writes of a peasant girl who is working at a brothel in “Down and Out in Paris and London,” but it’s clear that her presence in the brothel is frowned upon. Then there is Hilda, the depressing and negative wife in Coming Up for Air, who is an example of a predominantly negative minded female who suffers from depression. Finally, there is Julia—the main female in Nineteen Eighty-Four, who cannot keep her eyes open when Emmanuel is reading her a mysterious and forbidden manuscript. In fact, Nineteen Eighty-Fouras a whole paints the female in a negative light, because women are feared by men as possible spies. These are only a handful of the examples of Orwell’s obsession with hyper-masculine identity, and they do not include the characters in Animal Farm.
            Animal Farm has few female characters, and none of them have significant roles. The female characters—Clover the motherly mare, Mollie the foolish mare, Murial the goat, the unnamed cat, and the hens—do not have any apparent redeeming qualities, and they certainly are not given any type of leadership role. Patai repeatedly states that Orwell tended to generalize women in demeaning and derogatory ways.[5]Scholars celebrate Orwell’s passion, courage, morality, and honesty in his writing[6]—and for his blatant criticism of Soviet Russia in Animal Farm—but many critics have overlooked the female degradation throughout most of his writing. 
            Orwell leaves the reader feeling that there is much to be desired on the feminine front in Animal Farm, one of his most famous and bestselling books. From the opening page, it is clear that the female and the male characters accept very different, and very gendered, roles. The animals of Manor Farm overthrow the farmer, Mr. Jones, and take back their freedom, but they soon realize that freedom may not taste as sweet as they had once imagined. At the very beginning of the book, Major, the oldest and wisest boar on the farm, rallies the animals into excitement with the hope of rebellion. It is here that we encounter the first utterance of hyper-masculine, misogynistic language. To the male animals, Major speaks of strength, honor, labor, and mistreatment, but to the females he says: Hens, how many eggs have you laid this year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens?... And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age? Each was sold at a year old—you will never see one of them again.[7]The narrator immediately introduces the reader to the idea that the women are nothing more than a means for reproduction. These are the only female animals Major bothers to include in his speech, and he mentions only reproductive aspects of their lives. The persuasive speech “excites” all the animals, but the real issue—the obsession with hyper-masculine identity, and the degradation of the women in the novel due to this obsession—lie in the ideas and values that are written into the speech.[8]
One of the first female animals spoken of in a similar way is the cat—who is never named. The narrator says, “Last of all came the cat, who looked round, as usual, for the warmest place, and finally squeezed herself in between Boxer and Clover; there she purred contentedly throughout Major’s speech without listening to a word of what he was saying.”[9]  The first female to be written of individually from the mass of animals is unworthy of a name; names hold meaning, but this character is not important enough to have been given a name to remember her by. The narrator makes it clear to the reader that the cat does not find the idea of this rebellion for her freedom interesting in the slightest. Patai says about Orwell’s representation of the silent female, “While Orwell himself is vocal on the subject of women, his women characters are themselves muted.”[10]This description is quite applicable to this passage from Animal Farmbecause the next, and only other, time we see the cat we hear about her conversation with some sparrows, but through narration instead of through dialogue. She does not talk for herself: rather, the narrator talks for her. Furthermore, the narrator speaks of the cat as a trickster. She tries to convince the sparrows she has had a change of heart and that it is safe for them to come “perch on her paw,” but it is clear that the sparrows do not trust her words. So, the one instance that the reader is given her exact words they deem her an untrustworthy female character. 
Untrustworthiness is a common trait among the female characters in Animal Farm, and Mollie the foolish mare is no exception. The narrator mentions Mollie nearly at the same time as the cat, before Major starts his speech, and he describes her as “the foolish, pretty white mare who drew Mr. Jones’ trap.” The narrator describes her entrance: “[she] came mincing daintily in, chewing on a lump of sugar.”[11]Mollie is the target of a lot of criticism in Animal Farm; it seems as if she cannot do anything right from the very beginning of the novel. After she prances in, she sits in the front row preparing for Major’s speech, but then, “began flirting her white mane, hoping to draw attention to the red ribbons it was painted with.”[12]Mollie is a caricature of an appearance-obsessed, shallow woman who cares about nothing but getting attention for her looks. This is not the only time the narrator describes her in such a way. Once the animals take over the farm, the reader sees Mollie inside Mrs. Jones’s room where she holds ribbons up to herself while “admiring herself in the glass in a very foolish manner.”[13]Roger Fowler explains that “language can be used in a perverted way in order to support a distorted, untruthful, version of reality.”[14] Here, in this moment when the animals are inside the farmhouse, the narrator communicates what is happening rather than the giving dialogue to the female actor herself. Mollie is not given the space to speak for herself. Instead, the narrator tells the reader that she is acting foolish, and uses her to represent the shallowly vain nature of women. 
Moreover, Mollie is not only shallow: she is also lazy. In fact, she and the cat are apparently both very good at getting out of their daily work responsibilities. Mollie is apparently “not very good at getting up in the mornings, and had a way of leaving work early on the ground that there was a stone in her hoof.”[15]Then, there is the cat who “always made such excellent excuses, and purred so affectionately, that it was impossible not to believe in her good intentions.”[16]This is another instance where the obsession with hyper-masculine identitycomes out in the language of the narrator. The narrator singles out both Mollie and the cat, and he describes them as lazy workers who continue to swindle their way out of the daily work. There are many instances of the male animals doing incredible amounts of work, especially Boxer: “Boxer was the admiration of everybody…From morning to night he was pushing and pulling, always at the spot where the work was hardest… [he] would put in some volunteer labour at whatever seemed to be the most needed, before the regular day’s work began.”[17]Following this example of Boxer’s hard work is a section of text that uses only male pronouns to represent the hard work of the group. There is not a single instance of a female character being praised for the hard work she has contributed to the farm. 
The narrator describes Mollie’s behavior as getting worse and worse as winter draws closer, and some of the animals start to take notice: “She was late for work every morning and excused herself by saying that she has overslept, and she complained about mysterious pains, although her appetite was excellent. On every type of pretext she would run away from work and go to the drinking pool, where she would stand foolishly gazing at her own reflection in the water. But there were also rumors of something more serious.”[18]Here, the narrator once again shows the reader Mollie’s propensity for shallow, vain behavior, but he extends this representation of the female to show she is also lazy and disloyal. There were rumors that Mollie was speaking with the farmer from next door. Mollie and Clover, the other mare, have a healthy friendship, so the other animals enlist her help in confronting Mollie. Clover’s description is almost strictly about her maternalism and nothing else. With this new description the narrator adds to the short list of qualities a woman may possess. It is only fitting that Clover, with the aid of her maternal capabilities, is the one to confront the young Mollie about her behavior regarding the other farmer. Mollie vehemently denies having anything to do with him, but it is not three days later that she disappears and is later seen eating sugar cubes with ribbons in her hair on the neighboring farm. This turncoat behavior solidifies the narrator’s previous degrading description of the mare, and it provides evidence for the hypothesis that she is shallow, vain, and lazy.
Ivett Császár describes Orwell as a critic of political manipulation who is blind to his own manipulative tendencies. She writes, “…[H]is exploration of racial and economic oppression was never coupled with a revelation of gender polarization, the values dictated by his ‘democratic socialism’ failed to question the notion of male superiority. It is this weakness which… invalidates his concern for social justice.”[19]In other words, Orwell is using Animal Farmto criticize a number of injustices, but it is ironic that he cannot seem to recognize the obsession with hyper-masculine identity, and lack of “social justice” regarding gender within his own writing.
            Clover, the maternal mare, is the next example of a one-dimensional female who lacks any redeeming qualities that do not tie back to her reproductive abilities. Her description is limited to her role as one of the elder females who save the baby ducklings from getting lost, and nurture the animals that need a warm place to lie down. Describing an older female character that has a maternal instinct is not necessarily something to criticize in and of itself, but, as Christopher Hitchens puts it, “Every female character is devoid of the least trace of intellectual or reflective capacity.”[20]Clover is such a representation, and the lack of intelligence in female animals is highlighted again later in the novel. For example, the narrator describes the horses as less than intelligent, so Clover has to ask Murial to help her read one of “The Seven Commandments” on the wall.[21]The commandment in question was about whether or not an animal should sleep in a bed, and when Murial reads the newly edited version of the commandment to Clover, “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,” she accepts it without any hesitation.[22]Murial and Clover both say nothing, exemplifying again the passivity and inability of Orwell’s female characters to reflect in situations where they should. 
            Finally, the presents the reader with the hens. Again, the hens only mention happens to be  coupled with reproductive woes when Major gives his speech at the beginning: “you hens, how many eggs have you laid in this last year and how many of those eggs have hatched into chickens?”[23]After this initial mention we do not hear from them again for a while. When we do hear from them again, it is almost unbelievable how much the rallying ideas from Major’s speech at the beginning have changed. The pigs tell the hens that they have to give them their eggs, and obviously there is a great uproar from the hens. One of the main points in Major’s rallying speech is that people claim offspring that does not belong to them, or they claim the eggs that have the potential to grow into chickens. The hens, who do not get any dialogue, are described by the narrator as having “just [gotten] their clutches ready for spring sitting, and they protested that to take the eggs away now was murder.”[24]In response, the pigs deprive them of food until nine hens die, and then the rest of the hens have no choice but to give them the eggs. 
This is a complete reversal of the message that was spoken to them at the beginning of the book, and potentially a knock at “birth-control fanatics”[25]who have been featured in Orwell’s writing previously. In his essay, “The Road to Wigan Pier,” Orwell writes, “‘Socialism’ calls up on the one hand a picture of aeroplanes, tractors and huge flittering factories of glass and concrete; on the other, a picture of vegetarians with wilting beards, …of earnest ladies in sandals, … birth-control fanatics, and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers.”[26]To take this a step further, the hens are forced to give up their eggs—and not long before they would have hatched—but a short while later, ironically, there are thirty-one new pigs to feed and “as Napoleon was the only boar on the farm, it was possible to guess at their parentage.”[27]Orwell crafts this section of the novel to criticize those who support birth control, but he is also exemplifying the male dominance and hyper-masculinity that runs rampant in his work. The pigs, who hold all the power in the novel, are procreating without a care in the world. But, when the hens lay their eggs, the pigs claim them as their own in order to make a profit—the hens are not given any power over the babies they produce, and they mourn the lives taken from them. Orwell believed birth control was nonsense, and that England should rapidly reproduce in order to grow its population.[28]These misogynistic and hyper-masculine themes are found in his writing, as previously established by scholarship and the connections made between Animal Farm and his other works. 
            “It was apparently easier for Orwell to identify with the animal kingdom, exploited at the hands of ‘humans,’ than to note that buried in class and race divisions in the human world lay the issue of gender oppression,” says Patai.[29]Whether he intended to or not, Orwell represented women in a critical light. He typically represents them as untrustworthy, flat, reproductive machines, who are pretty insignificant in the grand arc of his stories. Many of his essays and books have been torn apart looking for the evidence, but somehow Animal Farm was able to stay somewhat under the radar. Perhaps it is because the story has been highly praised for what it is criticizing, but once you are looking for the evidence it is impossible to miss. Animal Farm may have been a roaring success in its criticism of Soviet Russia, but it fails to hide the rampant misogyny present in Orwell’s body or work. As George Orwell once wrote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”[30]`


[1]Daphne Patai, The Orwell Mystique (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).
[2]George Orwell, Animal Farm (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1945), 229-230. 
[3]Christopher Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 142.
[4]George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier(London: Secker and Warburg, 1986), 201.
[5]Orwell, Animal Farm, 15, 17, 20, 98.
[6]For additional discussion, see John Rodden’s George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation.
[7]Orwell, Animal Farm, 19.
[8]Ibid., 23.
[9]Ibid., 17.
[10]Patai, Orwell Mystique, 43.
[11]Orwell, Animal Farm, 17.
[12]Ibid., 17.
[13]Ibid., 31.
[14]Roger Fowler, The Language of George Orwell(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 177.
[15]Orwell, Animal Farm, 37.
[16]Ibid., 37.
[17]Ibid., 26-27.
[18]Ibid., 51.
[19]IvettCsászár, “Orwell and Women's Issues --a Shadow over the Champion of Decency” (Eger Journal of English Studies, 2010), 43.
[20]Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters, 148.
[21]Orwell, Animal Farm, 43. 
[22]Ibid., 69.
[23]Ibid., 19. 
[24]Ibid., 76.
[25]George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier(London: Secker and Warburg, 1986), 201.
[26]Ibid., 201.
[27]Orwell, Animal Farm, 106.
[28]For additional discussion, see Orwell’s “St Andrew’s Day, 1935” and Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
[29]Patai, Orwell Mystique, 202.
[30]Orwell, Animal Farm, 123.

Császár, Ivett. “Orwell and Women's Issues --a Shadow over the Champion of Decency.” 
Eger Journal of English Studies, 2010.

Eckstein, Arthur. “Orwell, Masculinity, and Feminist Criticism.” Amherst: University of 
Massachusetts Press, 1984.

Fowler, Roger. The Language of George Orwell. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. 

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. England: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1945.

______.  All Art is Propaganda. London: Harcourt, 2008.

______. Facing Unpleasant Facts.New York: Harcourt, 2008.

______. Keep the Aspidistra Flying. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.,1936.

______. The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Secker and Warburg, 1986.

______.“St. Andrew’s Day.” The Orwell Foundation,

______. “Why I Write.” London: Gangrel, 1946.

Patai, Daphne. The Orwell Mystique. Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 1984. 

Rodden, John. George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1989.

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