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Animal Farm And The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper

Throughout many centuries we have seen numerous revolutions take place all over the world, take for example in France, Cuba, and Japan. A revolution by definition is a cycle of phenomena or time, a great upheaval and a complete and radical change. Whether the need for change is political or economic, fundamentally, all revolutions are similar. As such, they all follow a common pattern with only slight variations depending on the circumstances. We will outline this pattern by comparing Orwell’s vision of revolution, found in the novel Animal Farm, and that of the actual upheaval in France, 1789.

There are several stages of revolution. Firstly, there must be a growing need for change, and that is usually found in a state of oppression. This need would be addressed by the more educated and respected individuals as they have the tools to inform everyone else. Secondly, there must be a catalytic event that would push the masses into revolt. The heads of those movements will then usually take control of the situation. The final stage is totalitarian oppressive leadership, under which the people are generally no better off than they were under the previous regime. In both of the cases that we will be looking at, the stages enumerated above are fairly clear. To begin, let us take a closer look at France toward the middle of the 18th century, a nation who foresaw the growing need for political change.

People will generally be content as long as they are living reasonably well, and that mainly requires some generosity from the supreme authority within the given land. In France the peasants and working classes were being abused again and again as the monarchy usually spent more each year than it collected in taxes.

A political revolution may have been avoidable, even with the discontent of the French people, if there had not been a fiscal crisis toward the late 1780s.The monarchy’s financial system was quite dated and very inefficient, much like the rest of the regime. When France decided to participate in several wars, ( the war of the Austrian succession, the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution) they were forced to borrow to pay for the rising costs. They continued to borrow money throughout the 18th century placing themselves in more and more debt with each passing year. By 1789, the state was forced to pay half of the yearly income on the interest it owed. The monarchy had no choice but to raise taxes, consequently enraging the people. The French aristocrats were sucking the life out of the country. After a drought in 1785, grain was taken out of the public granary to feed the richer classes, as food was becoming increasingly scarce. Prices were rising and the unemployment rate was astounding. Laborers were forced to work overtime and as a result they were not compensated for it. At that point even courtiers were questioning the validity of the Old regime as they could see it was falling apart. Many propositions for change were made but by that time flyers were already being strewn about the cities daily, turning the citizens against the richer classes.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, inadvertently brought the French people at arms with his controversial writings ” . . . the concept of public opinion had appeared in France as early as the middle of the century, with Rousseau generally granted the honors of precedence.”

In his famous political dissertation The Social Contract, written in 1762, he developed a case for civil liberty and helped prepared the ideological background of the French Revolution by defending the popular will against divine right, “L’ob?issance ? la loi qu’on s’est prescrit est libert?s.”

In Orwell’s Animal Farm, we have a situation analogous to the same state of oppression as France did in the 18th century. The animals were being mistreated by their owner however, not their established government. The farmer, Jones, cared little for his livestock and as a result they were often underfed and overworked. Similar to the French people, the animals were tired of their miserable lives, as proclaimed by Sage the pig “Quelle est donc, camarades, la nature de notre existence? Regardons les choses en face: nous avons une vie de labeur, une vie de mis?re, une vie trop br?ve. Une fois au monde, il nous est tout juste donn? de quoi survivre, et ceux d’entre nous qui ont la force voulue sont astreints au travail jusqu’? ce qu’il rendent l’?me.”

It is quite probable that the animals, much like the French citizens, would have continued to live such hopeless lives if it had not been for Jones’ excessive drinking and increasing abuse. However it still took a revolutionary leader to eventually set of the powder keg. Sage the pig, an older member of the farm known for his great wisdom. Comparable to Rousseau, it was Sage’s new ideas of sovereignty that brought about the turmoil within the farm walls. The animals were quickly turning against all humans, “Il est possible de nourrir dans l’abondance un nombre d’animaux bien plus consid?rable que ceux qui vivent ici. (…) L’homme est notre seul v?ritable ennemi. (…) L’homme est la seule cr?ature qui consomme sans produire.(…)Il distribue les t?ches entre eux (les animaux), mais ne leur donne en retour que la maigre pitance qui les maintient en vie.” It would not be long before both France and the Manor farm would be in turmoil.

For there to be a revolutionary movement one must assume that one single event can turn the tides of oppression. Along with the teachings of social philosophers, there has always been one incident among all revolutions that has pushed the balance of power into more than just a protest, turning it into a physical revolt. On July 14, 1789, the French citizens stormed the Bastille, a large political prison, as they believed it harbored many inmates of despotism. Although there were only a few prisoners within its walls the Bastille was a hated symbol of the hated system and the act marked French history for ever. Th feeble attempts at reform failed, leading to the full-scale revolution. Many rural peasants were gripped with panic and attacked their landlords in hope of protecting the local grain supplies and reducing the rents on their own land.

As the wave of popular violence grew, the leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris began the restructuring of the state. Nobleman upon nobleman renounced his personal privileges and the National Assembly declared the end of the feudal system in France. By the end of the summer in 1789, the National Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a prologue to the upcoming constitution. For the first time, the people were sovereign, not a king.

Leading the movement were two key figures, Danton and Robespierre. They began as allies but it wasn’t long before Danton’s civil diplomacy with the aristocrats enraged Robespierre. Whereas Danton foresaw a peaceful but equal relation with the richer classes, Robespierre saw them as a threat. The Jacobins, a revolutionary group, sided with Robespierre and made him president. It was not long before he was elected as a member of the chief executive body, the Committee of Public Safety. The absence of any opposition became quite dangerous and soon after his election he began persecuting both the radical and moderate revolutionaries. Danton was the first of eighty-six revolutionaries to be charged and guillotined by Robespierre. He believed that they threatened the safety of the new republic.

Just as the French took up their arms, so did the animals. At the Manor farm in June nearing St. John’s day the animals had not been fed because their owner was too drunk to remember and his farm hands did not care either. This day was the catalyst for the events to come “C’?tait plus que n’en pouvaient souffrir des affam?s. D’un commun accord et sans s’?tre concert?s, les meurt-la-faim se jet?rent sur leur bourreaux.(…)Devant le soul?vement, les hommes perdir ent la t?te, et bient?t, renon?ant au combat, prirent leurs jambes ? leur coup.” . They were starving and desperate. Finally they chased their oppressor off the farm and proclaimed to be free. Like the French, both were fed up and tired of being lied to and mistreated, so they took matters into their own hands.

Snowball, Napoleon and Brille-Babille were the three pigs who took charge during the turnover. They wrote up an animal code of seven commandments, to be followed by each member of the farm. The triumvirate also created a philosophical system which they called Animalism. Measures were taken to be able to live and prosper without the aid of humans. All three pigs began working together on projects to make the farm profitable and more comfortable. This newfound security did not last long however.

Napoleon grew increasingly vicious and chased Snowball off the farm and Brille-Babille then became only a henchman for him. Snowball was declared a public enemy and soon other animals were accused of fraternizing with him, resulting in their disappearance. It was not long before Napoleon was running the farm his way, as did Robespierre and his Committee.

Once the tide has been turned and the power reestablished, the people must start their lives over again. Under the new regime however, sometimes it can be difficult if the new power is no better than the Old Regime. In France, the people traded a life of misery to live a life of fear. On September 5th the convention approved the reign of terror, a policy through which the state used violence to crush resistance to the government.

Robespierre began the reign of terror arresting thousands of citizens accused of dissidence, of whom 40,000 were guillotined. Blood flowed across the country as crowds turned out to see the traitors die. Fear had enslaved the republic. Robespierre believed that the constitutional government would have to wait until all the enemies of the republic were guillotined. Children would turn their parents in for the good of the nation. Friends would betray friends. France was being turned upside down and inside out because the revolutionaries feared the return of the old government.

The new government of France was much more efficient than that of King Louis XVI, but the people suffered just as much. They were fed and taken care of, but the slightest sign of treacherous behavior and they would be arrested and possibly beheaded. The reign of terror protected the government from outside intervention but within the country boundaries the people lived in fear of their lives. This became a model for future ruthless revolutionaries, like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and the Khmer Rouge.

The idea of protecting the new government against the return of the old one can also be seen in Orwell’s novel. Once Napoleon had taken control of the farm, accusations of treachery were often announced and those animals died for the sake of animalism, the new form of government. The animals feared Napoleon as he had raised newborn pups into vicious blood thirsty hounds to be his protectors. He began a reign of terror within the farm, “….les chiens bondirent en avant, saisissant quatre cochons par l’oreille et les trainant, glapissants et terroris?s, aux pieds de Napol?on. Les oreilles des cochons saignaient. (…) Leur confession achev?e, les chiens, sur-le-champ, les ?gorg?rent. Alors, d’une voix terrifiante, Napol?on demanda si nul autre animal n’avait ? faire des aveux.”

The animals had traded one oppressor, Jones, for another, Napoleon and his pigs. They wanted the freedom promised at the Animal Farm but it cost them many lives, and in the end they were once again simply animals, without rights, slaving away at the Manor Farm. The oppressed had become the oppressors, “Dehors, les yeux des animaux allaient du cochon ? l’homme, et de l’homme au cochon, et de nouveau du cochon ? l’homme; mais d?j? il ?tait impossible de distinguer l’un de l’autre.”

For years revolutions have changed and molded our history, bringing about new forms of government to replace older ones. However, as we have just seen, they all do follow a certain outline and in the end the new government will still be far from perfect. In France, once the wave of corruption subsided, the new government rebuilt the country, completely erasing all vestiges of the feudal system. Napoleon, the French emperor after the revolution, was much more popular than the monarchy, but he was still one man above the law. France had gained much once all was said and done, especially with the abolition of the monarchy. They continued to form laws and protect human rights, which was the basic purpose for revolting in the first place. That is the difference found in Animal Farm, they fought for their freedom and as soon they had it within their grasp, a strong figure head stole from under their noses, and began turning things back around to the way it was before. Animal Farm, however, was but a novel and the revolt was much smaller in proportion than the one in France.

As Lord Byron stated, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The absolute power usurped by the revolutionaries, and the subsequent bloodbath of their reigns illustrates this all too well. There is, however, one eternal question that remains unanswered, can we, as imperfect beings, ever find the perfect balance of power?

1- Blanning, T.C.W, The Rise and Fall of the French Revolution, Chicago, The university of Chicago press, 1996, 512 pages

2- Forrest, Alan, Soldiers of the French Revolution, London, Duke University Press, 1990, 224 pages

3- Hampson, Norman, The French Revolution- A concise History, London, Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1975, 190 pages

4- Jordan, David P., The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre, London, Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1985, 308 pages

5- Lefebvre, Georges, The French Revolution From its Origins to 1793, New York, Columbia University Press, 1962, 365 pages

6- Lock, F.P., Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1985, 228 pages

7- Orwell, George, La ferme des animaux, Paris, ?ditions Champ Libre, 1981, 151 pages

8- World Book Millennium 2000 encyclopedia, keywords: French Revolution, IBM, San Diego,1999

9- Wordsworth Reference, Concise English Dictionary, Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Editions ltd., 1994, 1195 pages


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