The Frightening Power of Language
Sylvia Plath, a confessional poet, once said, “I talk to God but the sky is empty,” (Plath 199). When one talks to God, they know He is there, but they do not see Him. They ask for help and expect it right away, which leads to conflict. Plath is well-known for her death due to carbon monoxide inhalation, caused by sticking her head in an oven as her children slept (Rollyson 7). She had committed suicide because of the effect of unseen impacts on her mental and emotional health, especially in her state of helplessness. Said forces and the like have a role in everything. While Animal Farm by George Orwell and Lord of the Flies by William Golding seem to be completely different on the surface, beneath they are both driven by unseen forces.
Scapegoats are an important part of both works, as they take all of the blame for occurrences that no party wants to accept responsibility for. In Animal Farm, Snowball is blamed for any and every misfortune that occurs after he is driven off the farm and declared an enemy. For example, he is blamed for the ruin of the windmill in chapter six — Napoleon says, “Comrades, do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!” (Orwell 82). Lord of the Flies’ Piggy is Snowball’s human counterpart — but an underlying scapegoat, one that is not clearly detectable, would be Piggy’s aunt. Constantly, Piggy laments about one thing or another and makes reference of his aunt, inadvertently blaming her for his shortcomings. For instance, in the beginning scene where he does not run, he says, “‘My auntie told me not to run,’ he explained, ‘on account of my asthma’” (Golding 7). He often accuses his aunt of being the reason why he cannot do things, even though she is not around to chastise or berate him. This may be because he is secretly afraid of her, and of displeasing her.
Whereas a scapegoat is mainly used as someone or something to blame, fear tactics enable one to subjugate a group through invisible terrors and bring them under control. Mr. Jones is used more as a scare tactic than a scapegoat. In Animal Farm, the pigs constantly threaten the other animals with the return of Jones, their former abusive owner. For example, this argument is constructed by Squealer, master orator: “One false step, and our enemies would be upon us. Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?” (Orwell 70). In Lord of the Flies, the Beast is used to justify the evil dormant within the boys. It is first mentioned when one of the small boys admits to have seen it. “‘He says the beastie came in the dark.’ ‘Then he couldn’t see it!’” (Golding 31). Nevertheless, the boys still start to believe in the Beast despite Jack and Ralph’s attempts to refute the small boy’s claim.
Collectively, scapegoats and fear tactics can be used to gain power and persuade a group without having to demonstrate anything physical, but are only some of an entire range of ways to influence a group. They all utilize verbal persuasion — most importantly, two of the three rhetorical appeals: ethos, or the credibility/trustworthiness of the speaker, and pathos, the appeal to the audience’s emotions and/or imagination. Old Major of Animal Farm “was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour’s sleep in order to hear what he had to say” (Orwell 25). His speech draws on the horrors of each individual animal, and is what ultimately drives them to begin the revolution. However, as Napoleon gains power and revises the seven commandments to his liking, Old Major’s influence progressively fades away. The years since the revolution go by, and things change. “There was nothing there [on the wall of the barn] except a single Commandment. It ran: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS” (Orwell 133). The conch in Lord of the Flies has its own power, allowing the bearer to have their turn to speak out, as seen in the beginning of the story, when there is still order: “‘I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking…. And he won’t be interrupted: Except by me’” (Golding 29). Like Old Major and his commandments, the effects of the conch soon wear away as Jack’s faction dominates over the boys.
Power can inflate one’s ego so much so that they perceive themselves as God Himself, who is never seen but yet is always there. Dictators, including current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, are particularly guilty of this hamartia. This is the case with both Napoleon and Jack, the main antagonists of Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, respectively. They both get so engrossed in the influence they have that they do not ever put things into perspective, which, in turn, ruins everything. This is nothing more than human, or humanly, in Napoleon’s case, predisposition — studies show that power fundamentally changes how the brain operates (Benderev 2). Ultimately, the situation in its entirety is ironic, because the animals and the boys are rising up against, or fleeing from dictators (Mr. Jones in Animal Farm; Adolf Hitler in Lord of the Flies), only to become dictators themselves. The two prevailing antagonists develop a god complex, which undoubtedly alters the courses of both stories.
God Himself could even be an influential part of both Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies — He is omnipresent and almighty. However, the authors of both books had different beliefs and religious standpoints. Orwell, for one, “disliked Roman Catholicism” but “seemed unable to leave the subject alone,” which is quite typical and paradoxical of him (Gray 2). “In his mind religious dogmatics and right-wing dictatorships were indissolubly linked” (4). In short, he thought that religion was only for one’s convenience; one could thank God for their blessings and later turn to Him as a scapegoat for His supposed shortcomings. On the contrary, Golding thought, according to an interview with his daughter, that, “‘I am fairly sure he believed in some sort of version of God — but not in an afterlife (at least he hoped there wasn’t one), and not in the whole — what you might call the Christian superstructure, the doctrine and the theology’” (Jordison 4). Golding wasn’t fully committed to the Church, but unlike Orwell, who detested Roman Catholicism, he did somewhat believe in God. Nevertheless, there are biblical allusions in both stories. God may still have been the reason for the events that occurred throughout the books, despite the beliefs of Orwell and Golding.
Orwell and Golding both make allusions to the Bible, especially to the Garden of Eden, which, after Adam and Eve were expelled, was never seen again. God was watching the entire time whilst Adam and Eve cavorted in the Garden, not making His presence clear, but still keeping his power over them intact. When the Devil, disguised as a snake, coerced them to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, which directly disobeyed the word of God, they are immediately cast out of the Garden of Eden — “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 3:23). In Lord of the Flies, the fly-infested pig’s head, which speaks to Simon in a hallucination, is the “Lord of the Flies.” According to the Dictionnaire Infernal, Beelzebub in Greek translates to “lord of the flies” (Collin de Plancy 209). In the New Testament, “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons’” (The Holy Bible, Mark 3:22). This would then make the pig’s head on the stick in the book a symbol for the Devil. This is much like the situation between Adam and Eve and the Devil. And yet, if Adam and Eve’s psyches had been strong, had they not secretly wanted to try the fruit, they would not have been cajoled into taking the bite that led to the inception of Original Sin amongst all of their descendants.
The subconscious is a funny thing. One does not acknowledge it, or even see it, for that matter; however, it is the “thing” that pushes one to do what they do. It is not about when push comes to shove, but more of what makes the push — the energy in one’s surroundings, the influences of the environment, other people, and everyday life in general — and all of it is unseen. The subconscious is what is easily influenced; it is swayed by the words and actions of others. Words, among other forces, have powers superior to those of brute strength; it is not by force, but by the word — non vi, sed verbo.
Benderev, Chris. “When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart.” NPR. NPR, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.
Collin de Plancy, Jacques Auguste Simon. Dictionnaire Infernal, Ou Bibliothèque Universelle, Aur Les Ertres, Les Personnages, Les Liores, Les Faits Et Les Choses. Paris: La Libr.Universelle De P. Mongie Aînè, 1825. Print.
Golding, William, James R. Baker, and Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. Lord of the Flies: A Novel. New York: Perigee, 1983. Print.
Gray, Robert. “Orwell vs God.” The Spectator. The Spectator, 10 June 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. “Journal: 22 November 1955 – 18 April 1956.” The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962: Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts at Smith College. New York: Anchor, 2000. 199. Print.
Rollyson, Carl. “The Last Days of Sylvia Plath.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Globe, 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New. Oxford: U of Oxford: Printed by John Baskett, 1719. Print.
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