Old Major’s Speech: A Rhetorical Analysis

Animal Farm, a book by George Orwell, begins with a leader, an old, wise boar that delivers a speech after their tyrant owner, Mr. Jones, goes to sleep. He speaks about how the animals are oppressed at the farm, and allows them to see how badly they are treated. Old Major is in favor of a rebellion, and although he knows that he will die soon, he wanted to spread his ideas, later named Animalism, before he passed. During Old Major’s speech, the animals felt inspired, and they listened attentively before they all broke out singing “Beasts of England.” What got the animals to come and listen to Old Major was his wisdom, age, and the respect that he received from the animals on the farm; however, what made them listen was his skills in making a speech. He uses many effective rhetorical devices that give his speech more character, and to make it something worth listening to. In Old Major’s speech he uses repetition and rhetorical questions in order to emphasize the animals’ mistreatment and to get them to follow his ideas.

Throughout Old Major’s speech, he repeats words and phrases such as “comrades” and “all animals in England.” Both of these give the animals a sense of belonging, as he is not only addressing some animals specifically, but all of them. This creates an attentive environment because he had all of the animals listening to him for what they should all do in order to succeed in the rebellion. His repetition of the phrase “no animal” is used to set out a list of rules that the animals must follow in order to ensure that they must not come to resemble men, and to remind them of the tyranny that they have faced. For example, Old Major tells them that “no animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old.” This gives the animals at Manor Farm a feeling of sorrow, as it dawns upon them that they have been used their entire life. This can create animosity between Man and animals, which could make Old Major’s mission a success, due to the uprisings that it may cause. Along with the phrase “no animal,” Old Major repetitively uses the word “comrade.” His use of the word portrays him as an equal to the rest of the animals, and works to persuade them that he has experienced the oppression of Man along with the rest of them. His line “‘Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours?’” he is exemplifying the fact that, although he is lucky to have lived a full life, he is equal to the rest of the animals in the way that they have all been treated poorly. Although all of the animals respect Old Major, and look up to him, by relating to them with the repetition of “comrades” he creates a friendlier environment that allows him to persuade all of the farm animals. Relating to the rest of the animals will help the rebellion in the future, as it may inspire them to fight together despite their differences.

Together with repetition, Old Major uses many rhetorical questions in his speech. His use of rhetorical questions invoke an overwhelming amount of feelings within the animals such as anger, betrayal and blame. He also uses rhetorical questions to remind the animals of the brutality that they have faced. During his speech, Old Major angers the animals by asking them what Mr. Jones has allowed them to do with their own lives. Old Major did not expect them to answer the questions because he already knew the answers to them, as did the rest of the animals. However, his clever use of the question angers the animals enough to follow his ideas and start a rebellion. He also gains support for the rebellion by blaming all of the disasters on Man: “‘Is it not crystal clear, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours springs from the tyranny of human beings?’” Of course the uneducated, impressionable animals used this question to see that he blames the struggles that they have faced on the human race. As Old Major continues on with the speech, the animals begin to realize how terrible their lives have been. This only reminds them of the lowest points in their lives, and how they have no control over things like when they will have kids and what they will do with those children. Rhetorical questions give Old Major an overwhelming amount of support, which allows the animals to fight together, and win the rebellion against Man.

Old Major and his ideas clearly have a strong influence on the animals, as they are followed religiously even after his death. His iconic speech proves to be very influential due to his use of repetition and rhetorical questions. These rhetorical devices create a significant, and inspiring speech that expresses many ideas that are used throughout the rest of the book, and in real life today. Many people use Old Major’s speech as an example for standing up for a certain cause in real life situations, such as standing up to a bully which simply proves that his brilliant use of rhetorical devices create an encouraging message for people (and animals) to follow.

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