The novella, Animal Farm was penned down by British author George Orwell and published on August 17, 1945. In her book, British Literature and American Literature (1996), Leila Borges states that this novella portrays the events which led to and which occurred during the Stalin era before World War II.
In the novella, the characters, embodying animalistic forms, portray the revolutionaries of the Communist Bolshevik and overthrow the human leadership on the farm.
Then they make it a Utopian society where all the animals are equal on the basis of the Seven Commandments that the animals create on their own to govern themselves.
Later, with the passage of time, inequality starts to prevail and the socially and politically powerful people begin to manipulate the weaker ones.
The Seven Commandments shrink to only One Commandment: all animals are equal but some are more than the others. It reminds the readers of the famous maxim by Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
During and after the Rebellion, there is only one animal on the farm: Benjamin who can read as well as pigs and is intelligent enough to understand what is going around him but chooses to remain silent.
He can be called as a bystander who knows about the intentions of the pigs but does not want himself to get involved in it.
A Cynic of the Russian Revolution
Benjamin’s attitude alludes to the cynics who, during Russian Revolution (1917), although did not oppose the Revolution yet believed that it all would lead nowhere and the situation would remain as it was then or as it had been in the past.
According to critics, the character of Benjamin resembles Orwell himself and depicts his own political pessimism. Khalida Meghaouri writes in her dissertation titled as The Use of Personification in George Orwell & Novel Animal Farm (2013) that according to Morris Dickstein, there is a touch of Orwell himself in this creature’s timeless scepticism and indeed, friends called Orwell ‘Donkey George’, after his grumbling donkey Benjamin, in Animal Farm.
When Benjamin is asked by the animals on the farm about his opinion, he simply states that donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.
It indicates towards the fact that being the oldest among them, he has witnessed many rebellions that were of no avail and this observation makes him believe that nothing can be changed and the efforts to change things would go futile, sooner or later.
For him, the Rebellion would not make a difference and life would go on as it had always gone on – that is bad, so he remains indifferent to it even though all the other animals are excited about it.
A Flat Character
Benjamin is a flat character and shows no development in his personality throughout the novella except for certain noticeable but temporary changes like when he helps the animals of the farm by reading to them the last and only commandment or when he hears the news of Boxer being taken to hospital: it was the first time that they had ever seen Benjamin excited – indeed it was the first time that anyone had ever seen him gallop.
He has read the label of the slaughterhouse to which Boxer is being taken in the name of the hospital but when he reveals it to the other animals, it was too late for the animals to take any action to save Boxer.
In spite of his indifference to the Rebellion, Benjamin does not stay idle and contributes his part to the society just like the hard-working Boxer, for example, in the building of the windmill. After the death of Boxer, he becomes more morose and taciturn than ever and isolates himself from the other animals.
His pessimistic approach to future gets more intense: things had never been, nor ever could be much better or much worse – hunger, hardship, and disappointment being the unalterable law of life.