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In the allegorical novel Animal Farm, George Orwell uses animals to represent humans or groups in Stalin’s Russian Revolution. A character who is integral to the development of the storyline is Benjamin, an aged donkey. It is unclear which group or person in Stalin’s Revolution Benjamin represents. However, one theory is that Benjamin is used to portray the sceptics living in the revolution, especially those who do not criticise Stalin’s regime publicly. Orwell uses Benjamin to represent the sceptics as he is is strong minded, yet smart enough to keep his beliefs low profile so as not to face repercussions. His interactions with the other animals are typically abrupt and rude and he is not renowned for his hard work. However he is respected by all the animals. His stubbornness is evident throughout the text, and despite his rudeness he is undeniably loyal and helpful to those in need.
Throughout the novel, it becomes apparent that Benjamin is an extremely intelligent and mentally strong animal. Orwell states that Benjamin ‘could read as well as any pig’, which immediately leads the reader to assume that he is one of the, if not the, smartest animal on the farm. However this is not the only piece of evidence that suggests Benjamin is intelligent or strong minded. He is the only animal on the farm that immediately differentiates his opinion from what the pigs want him to believe. This is shown through the general impression of scepticism he emanates, this can be inferred from his opinions on minor issues on the farm. Benjamin believes that as far as he knows, ‘there is nothing worth reading’ and he also refuses to ‘meddle in such matters’ as reading a commandment for Clover, Boxer’s discerning beliefs can be compared to the beliefs of another animal such as Boxer, who is willing to devote his whole life after retirement to learning and studying the ‘remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet’. Through his ability to resist the ‘propaganda’ spread by the pigs, specifically Squealer., Benjamin’s mental strength is shown. Another display of Benjamin’s intelligence is shown by his approach to his beliefs mentioned above. Not only does he have the mental strength to formulate these views but he has the intelligence to not boast about what he believes. Orwell lets the reader infer that Benjamin keeps his beliefs and scepticism low profile around the farm. As readers, we can make this conclusion as we never hear his beliefs spoken to a large audience or to many people – they are always phrases muttered by Benjamin under his breath to other trusted animals. He acts in this manner for he knows that if he spreads or publicises his beliefs he will be killed, just like the hens who were starved to death after their rebellion in protest of Napoleon wanting to sell their spring eggs. All these features of Benjamin’s personality can be drawn back to the characters Benjamin represents from Stalinist Russia. These quiet sceptics were not dragged into the vortex of propaganda, they had the mental strength to forge their own opinions and constantly avoided trouble by keeping their opinions low profile. As it is now clear, Benjamin’s intelligence and mental strength are designed to represent the sceptics from this era.
Benjamin’s interactions with animals also gives us an insight into his characteristics and their parallels with the sceptics of Stalinist Russia. We can ascertain two major characteristics from viewing Benjamin’s interactions: mysteriousness and unearned respect. Orwell leads us to make the conclusion that Benjamin is a respected animal by eluding to his seniority. On the first page he states that Benjamin is ‘the oldest animal on the farm’. Instantly Benjamin is seen as a senior figure, and with seniority comes a type of respect. Another example of Orwell inferring the mutual respect which the Animals have for Benjamin is in the way that other animals look to him for assistance. An example of this is Clover instantly turning to Boxer to assist her in reading the commandments. The reader is invited to conclude that the animals value Benjamin, this value puts him a position of natural leadership, albeit an unwanted, and quite possibly an undeserved one. With this leadership comes the animals respect. Benjamin is also a mysterious figure. he keeps mainly to himself throughout the whole text, however he still forms very strong opinions. It is clear that Benjamin does have strong preferences. However when he is asked to vote for either Snowball or Napoleon to lead Animal Farm he ‘did not side with either faction’ and chose to remain impartial. This act of indifference could be seen as a sign of rebellion – through saying nothing he is making the biggest statement. It is also the only sign of rebellion that is not realised and stopped by the pigs. These acts adds to Benjamin’s mysterious figure as they separate him from the rest of the animals. The same can be said for the sceptics from Stalinist Russia. Their mystery around their lives are what separate them from the working class and earn them the respect of the people around them. This is another example of how Benjamin’s characteristics can be used to relate him back to the sceptics of the Russian Revolution.
Benjamin is a donkey of mixed emotions, he is extremely stubborn, yet shows uncompromising loyalty and helpfulness to those in need. This shows that although Benjamin may sometimes be self-centered, at heart he wants the best for others as well. The quality of stubbornness can be linked to Benjamin by analysing his quotes. On several occasions he says that ‘Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.’ This cryptic remark leaves the animals puzzled, but he continues with this remark. Through this quote we can infer that Benjamin is a single minded character who may be perceived to be stuck in his ways. The repetition of this quote suggests that he only sees things a certain way and does not want to change his views. His physical appearance also relates him to stubbornness. Mules, which are descendants of donkeys are notoriously stubborn. Benjamin’s loyalty is a surprising quality to attribute to such a seemingly rude animal. When boxer is injured after the second battle with the humans, he cares for him and is by his side. He also risks his life for his friend Boxer when Boxer is being taken away in a horse slaughterer van. As soon as he understands what the pigs have planned for boxer he alerts the other animals, in the process giving the pigs all the reason they need to execute him. Through these acts the reader infers that Benjamin cares for his fellow animals and although at times seeming spiteful, he has their best interests at heart. These qualities can be related back to the sceptics in Stalin’s era through the single-mindedness these sceptics would have only had their beliefs and would not have led anything or body change their views. He also can be loyal and caring for his fellow ‘comrades’ to keep them on his side and to retain friends in an era where is was so easy to have enemies.
To conclude, the text Animal Farm is one which is dependent on the understanding of the characters. Benjamin proves to be a stubborn animal who is single minded yet intelligent. He is a mysterious character who gains a position of respect and leadership amongst his peers. Benjamin’s characteristics combine to portray the sceptics of Stalinist Russia
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