George Orwell’s Animal Farm exemplifies the influence of literacy on power, and draws a direct relationship between the two, attributing the novel’s leaders’ rise to power due to their abilities to read and write. Using manipulation, propaganda, vague language, and misinformation, the pigs were able to control the farm and it’s affairs, establishing the significance of the role of knowledge or lack thereof in the susceptibility to manipulation of the general population. Written as political satire and an allegory to the Bolshevik revolution, Orwell makes a statement in Animal Farm establishing the lack of literacy and the ability for self sustained critical thinking to be one of the contributing factors to the manipulation of the general population of the time.
The pigs exercised control over the intellectually inferior. Their system of leadership and philosophy relied on the willingness of the animals to accept the doctrine of animalism without question. Despite Snowball’s attempts at explaining the concepts of Old Major’s teachings, efforts at teaching the animals to think for themselves were futile. “the birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart.” (Orwell 51). The animals blindly follow the authority figure solely due to fact that the pigs established themselves to be more intellectually capable compared to the other animals, thus granting them positions of power. This power imbalance due to the discrepancies in the level of literacy allowed for leadership without opposition, and a society easily manipulated due to ignorance and illiteracy. The relationship between power and literacy can be explored in the quote “As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly… [but] none of the other farm animals could get further than the letter A” (Orwell 50). This ability to read and write allowed for the pigs to remain in power without opposition in a society that knows nothing other than to follow blindly.
The peasants of the Russian revolution were largely illiterate and easily manipulated by their government due to their lack of knowledge and critical thinking. A rudimentary education system ensured that the peasant and working classes continued to be illiterate and easy to control and manipulate. This systematic oppression of education due to the leadership’s desire to rule without opposition is reminiscent of the same tactics used by the pigs in Animal Farm. The animals and the peasants had the opportunity to learn, but they were in a system in which learning was not of value.