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Social Justice – Measure for Measure, Animal Farm, American History X

Social justice is a topic known all to well in today’s society. Such issues as social heirarchial structure and unjust representatives of citizens of nations are issues in need of attention by those in power. Corruption, lies and greed by those in power however stand in the way of this form of justice from occurring, leaving many with little or no social status open to prejudice on race, religious and sexual grounds.

Outlined by William Shakespeare in Measure for Measure and George Orwell in Animal Farm is the ease in which power can corrupt.

A utopian society is created once a farmer is overthrown from his position in charge of all the animals on “Manor Farm”. A set of rules to govern the citizens of the revolutionary society was decided upon and these were to be the fairest and least controversial rules for the citizens of “Animal Farm” to abide by:

“The Commandments were written on the tarred wall in great white letters that could be read thirty yards away. They ran thus:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a freind
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.

It was very neatly written, and except that “friend” was written “freind” and one of the “S’s” was the wrong way round, the spelling was correct all the way through. Snowball read it aloud for the benefit of the others. All the animals nodded in complete agreement, and the cleverer ones at once began to learn the Commandments by heart.”

As months passed on Animal Farm, the pigs, who thought they were the dominant force in the running of the animal farm, became more and more in control. Animal Farm, had now become the fairest it would ever be.

Word of what had happened to Manor Farm had spread across all of Ireland and England. Animals all over the country were following in their paths led by pigs Napoleon and Snowball. However, as this was happening, Animal Farm was heading to ruin as the pigs became selfish and ignorant. They would now consider themselves above the laws and commandments they had set, as they believed they had set the way for the new society. To a greater extent, leaders Snowball and Napoleon would control and decide the fate of the farm, setting rations, “In January food fell short. The corn ration was drastically reduced”, deciding hours on the Mill, and even who would live to see another day, as we saw in Chapter 7 when Snowball had been declared a traitor:

The three hens who had been the ringleaders in the attempted rebellion over the eggs now came forward and stated that Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon’s orders. They, too, were slaughtered. Then a goose came forward and confessed to having secreted six ears of corn during the last year’s harvest and eaten them in the night. Then a sheep confessed to having urinated in the drinking poolurged to do this, so she said, by Snowballand two other sheep confessed to having murdered an old ram, an especially devoted follower of Napoleon, by chasing him round and round a bonfire when he was suffering from a cough. They were all slain on the spot. And so the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones.”

The farm which had once been the source of inspiration with a democratic society was now a farm of death, destruction and communism.

This is the impact of social injustice on what was once a just community in a revolutionary society. When power corrupts as happened in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, there is no telling where it will end or what damage will be caused. Such social injustice also occurred in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, wherein a leader corrupted the legal system for his own benefit.

Vienna is being lead by Angelo, a name reflecting ‘bad angel’, and the city has been outraged due to his corrupt ways. The play is based around the court case of Claudio and the injustice delivered to him by the corrupt leader for a crime that some would consider being trivial.

Claudio had made love to his fiance prior to their marriage. At this time in Vienna, this was a crime punishable by death and Angelo was quick to pounce on this fact, sending Claudio to gaol and sentencing him to death. In studies of justice we have learnt that justice depends on the situation and this seems grossly unjust for a couple planning to be wed.

After Claudio is sentenced to death, Shakespeare creates an interesting turn of events showing just how corrupt leadership can be. Once Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun approaches Angelo to dispute his decision and begs for mercy, he tells her that in order to save her brother, she will have to give up her virginity to him:

“Admit no other way to save his life-
As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
But in the loss of question- that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desired of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-binding law, and that there were
No earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer:
What would you do?”

“As much for my brother as myself:
That is, were I under the terms of death,
Th’impression of keen whips I’d wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I’d yield
My body up to shame.”

“Then your brother must die.”

“And ’twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than a sister by redeeming him
Should die forever.”

This passage shows that the question of Angelo is not whether he is corrupt or not, but how corrupt he is. His hypocritical ways were characteristic of the leader in action. On one hand he was condemning Angelo and Juliet for their sin but on the other was encouraging the exact same sin with Isabella, the signs of true hypocrisy. As we can see in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, those in leadership roles often let their responsibilities fall short and the power they obtain influences their duties to their underlying citizens negatively and due to this an injustice may occur.

One’s mind may be distorted and filled with negative opinions when young by those we respect. Racism, prejudice against those of different religions or against those of a different sex, are just a few examples of ideas that are drilled into a young person’s mind by those influencing the youth, especially by one’s parents.

In the film American History X, the ease in which a youth’s mind can be directed is only too present. A respectable young man going by the name of Derek is a teen who holds no racist opinions until after admiring his class teacher’s (Dr. Bob Sweeney) work on black issues and works. His father bluntly tells Derek not to have any respect for those who are not white people of the Protestant faith, sparking the beginning of a racist developmen- producing a man who would kill a black man just for the sake of it. This is made clear when his father is murdered, but nobody knows by who and Derek boldly accuses every black man of being a suspect on national television: “Every problem is race related. Immigration, aids….”.

Not only was Derek now a racist, but his little brother, Danny would blindly follow in his brother’s footsteps. Looking up to Derek as a fatherly figure, Danny believes if Derek says it then it must be true. The Neo-Nazi movement expresses hatred for many cultures and believe in the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ catch cry of white power. Derek is sent to gaol after murdering two black men outside his house who are trying to steal his car. He learnt valuable lessons while carrying out his sentence because he was outnumbered by black men and the white men turned on him. “Yeah, I know your kind. Bad ass pecker wood with an attitude. Let me tell you something, you better watch your ass, cause in this joint, you’re the nigga, not me.”

However, while Derek had learnt these lessons, Danny had not. After writing a school report on Hitler’s Mein Kampf he is placed in a class by himself with Dr. Bob Sweeney and is told to research his older brother on the very day he is released from prison.It is an assignment designed to open Danny’s eyes.

Danny then finds out about his brother’s time in the prison system and Danny still respects Derek as a fatherly figure. He is told of the struggles his brother went through, how he was able to break the shackles of racism through the help of Dr. Sweeney and once again Danny follows in Derek’s footsteps and breaks free from the “Skinhead Tribe”, the nickname for the Neo-Nazi group founded by Derek.

On the morning Danny is to hand in his essay on his older brother to Dr. Sweeney after shedding his racist opinions, he is shot in the toilets by a black boy who he had previously aggravated and who was the brother of one of the black men that Derek had murdered.

Injustice is a strong word and in all three cases I have portrayed here all contain some sort of injustice. Whether it be Animal Farm and their corrupt society run by the communist pigs, Measure for Measure and the hypocritical leader or American History X and the Neo-Nazi society that one was able to associate themselves with, all these are able to relate back to each other in that there was an injustice caused by one to disadvantage the rest of their society.

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