The Old Major’s speech was at the very start of chapter one of the book. It illustrates how animal farm was based on the Russian Revolution and how the Old Major character was modeled on Karl Marx who wrote the communist manifesto which was a guiding principle of the Russian Revolution. The Old Major used a huge amount of persuasive techniques in many different ways. He used emotive language to make the animals have an emotional, rather than a rational response to his speech. He creates a number of ideas that he expresses to the animals to make them believe that the revolution is for the right ideas.
The first idea is of man as a parasite, a being who ‘consumes without producing’, lazy and weak. This sets up the central theme of injustice that such a creature should be lord of the strong and productive animals. This is reinforced by appealing to each individual set of animals. First the cows, who have given thousands of gallons of milk, then the hens who have laid eggs, then the horses and their foals, then the pigs, then the dogs. This makes the speech much more personal towards the animals as it makes it easier for them relate to because part of the speech is directed at them.
The second idea is that man is a threat, not just to the wellbeing of the animals but to their very lives as ‘no animal escapes the cruel knife in the end’. The hens’ eggs do not hatch into chickens, the pigs will ‘scream’ their lives out at the block, when Boxer’s muscles give out he will be sent to the knacker and when the dogs grow old ‘Jones ties a brick round their necks and drowns them’. This idea is threatening towards the animals which gives them one more reason to agree to the revolution as they would feel threatened an un easy if they did nothing to prevent their fate that the Old Major described.
So first the animals are made to feel aggrieved at supporting the parasitic humans, and then their lives threatened. The third key idea in the speech is that there is a solution, only one solution which is made to feel inevitable ‘I do not know when that rebellion will come … but I know … that sooner or later justice will be done’. The fourth key idea is of unity and common purpose. ‘Among all us animals let there be perfect unity’. Implicit in this idea is the message that any disunity undermines all the animals. Even the rats, who are not a widely liked group, count as animals.
This binds the animals together but it also effectively silences any legitimate questioning or dissent. So this covers the key ideas in the speech, but it’s effectiveness lies not so much in the ideas that are communicated but in the way these ideas are expressed. The Old Major uses many rhetorical devices. The Old Major has a keen sense of his audience. He appeals to each individual set of animals. First the cows, who have given thousands of gallons of milk, then the hens who have laid eggs, then the horses and their foals, then the pigs, then the dogs.
Then he binds them together. He also uses extreme language and brutal images. Piglets don’t simply die, they ‘scream their lives out’. The dogs don’t get put down, they are drowned with a brick tied around their necks. He does this to add more suspense and make the animals future sound more severe than it is. He also anticipates counter arguments by stating them himself, but minimising and downplaying them. So he concedes that man might feed the animals, but he only gives them ‘the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving’.
The idea that the animals might have any common interest with men is dismissed as ‘all lies‘. When he mentions how the animals get fed ‘the bare minimum’ after working hard to provide food for the humans it includes that the Old Major had become ‘stout’ which clearly means that he had not been underfed and he had been fed far more than the bare minimum, or he wouldn’t be the size that he was. It was also included that he was old (the ‘Old’ Major) and the irony is that he told the animals that they would be slaughtered when in fact he has lived a long life and has not been subject to hostility.
The animals clearly did not realise this at the time because the one main point about the book is that the pigs are cleverer than the rest of the animals more easily. It’s worth discussing the way in which the Old Major speaks. He alternates rhetorical questions – questions where the answer is self-evident. Occasionally he will ask a question which he then proceeds to answer himself ‘Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There are many questions in the speech but none of them are genuine questions, the answers are all either implicit in the question or given in the speech. Each time he is pushing the animals along and forces them to think along the channels he has chosen. In parts of the speech he had a very clever idea of how to use the rhetorical questions for lots of purposes. He makes them believe that they are thinking for themselves, but really he is intentionally forcing the answers through the questions that he is asking. He does this partly to mask the fact that he is manipulating them into agreeing with him.
When the Old Major isn’t asking questions, he is exclaiming. ‘Fix your minds on that, comrades, throughout the short remainder of your lives! ’ The speech he makes isn’t a quiet one, you can tell from the exclamations that his voice is raised and designed to be rousing. The Old Major doesn’t just repeat his ideas, he repeats certain words. Take the word ‘comrades’ which reinforces the idea of unity, this is used no fewer than a dozen times. A word or a phrase used in one sentence is repeated in the next to make sure that the message is heard and reinforced. ‘Rebellion!
I do not know when that Rebellion will come… ’ The use of the repetition is very skilled because it is a rhetorical trick as he only repeats key works to enforce that the message gets heard more clearly. He cleverly compares what the humans do and what the animals do – ‘He does not give milk, He does not give eggs’ and ‘OUR labour tills the soil, our dung fertilises it’ which is a clear comparison of how in his eyes, the humans do nothing but make the animals work, and the animals do all the work and get nothing in return. He also says how the humans are ‘The Lord of the Animals’ and the animals get nothing.
This gives the animals yet another reason to go ahead with the resolution. The Old Major also makes his thought process seem natural and logical, so that each idea flows into the next and takes his audience with him. It all builds to a natural conclusion ‘Is it not crystal clear then that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings’. The conclusion feels logical even though it might not stand up to scrutiny. The conclusion is that man is to blame for all the ills that attend the animals. The Old Major’s speech is emotive – i. e. t engenders certain emotions in his audience. First he makes them feel miserable, enslaved, downtrodden. Then he presents a solution, which offers hope. Then he binds them together and makes them feel unified and resolute against a common enemy. But underpinning all this there is a certain sort of sentimentality. He appeals to the animals to remember the days of their own youths and the youth of their offspring. He refers to the chickens that never hatched, the foals that never stayed with their dam and his own youth ‘Many years ago when I was a little pig‘.
Another use of emotive language is when he says to the animals ‘I don’t have much time left. ’, as if it were his final dying wished for the revolution to be carried out. They are made to feel sympathetic towards him. This made them feel obliged to agree to his suggestions (which was what he intended) as they would feel guilty if they did not because he did not have much of his life left. I would go as far as saying it was emotional blackmail because he was putting the animals in a position where they couldn’t decline. There were many emotive language examples throughout the speech.
Another one was ‘and even the miserable lives we lead are not allowed to reach their natural life span’. He used strong adjectives e. g miserable to make the animals feel sorry for themselves and each other because they are made to think that their lives have been bad and they have been deprived and they deserve more. He makes them feel like they are being exploited by man by saying this. Another point is that the Old Major intentionally leaves out the fact that the humans feed him and look after him and the rest of the animals.
This proves that he is biased because he has purposely not included any of this information. The was that he presents the whole idea is clever because he presents it so there is only one resolution to what he is saying. This strategy is enforced when he threatens the cows, pigs and dogs by creating an image of an extremely brutal and severe future for all of them which is not entirely true. At the end he briefly warns he animals- as if he knows what is going to happen, when he says ‘Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. So he is trying to explain that they should not turn into the enemy. The speech finishes with a song, a rousing song, that ‘threw all the animals into the wildest excitement’. All the animals start singing it, and in singing in unison, their unity is cemented. Overall Old Major’s speech worked very effectively and his intentional outcome of the speech was fulfilled because the animals had been influenced to such an extent that they agreed and felt partially obliges to go ahead with the rebellion, suggested by him.