George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a true depiction of the quote, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. The tragic fable exhibits a central theme of the power and its corrupting effects when it is concentrated in the hands of one. The story begins as a farm run on the backs of hard labour by the animals, controlled by a tyrant farmer, Mr Jones. As the animals rebel and drive out the farmer, this power is bestowed upon a pair, Snowball and Napoleon. But Napoleon’s thirst for power is great, and as he eventually expels Snowball from the farm, he finds himself with complete control of the whole farm, and at this stage his absolute power finally corrupts him, absolutely.
Jones and his farm hands held moderate power over the animals because of the simple fact that they were the humans and they possessed whips and brute force. However, from the beginning the animals hold secret meetings to plot his ultimate demise. This shows that he doesn’t have full control of the animals’ thoughts and emotions. Jones and his farm hands are corrupt and abuse their power over the animals. Jones spends his time soaking up the luxury of the animals’ sweat and tireless work and satisfying his alcohol addiction at the pub, while his ‘idle and dishonest’ men neglect the buildings, grounds and most importantly, the animals. Mr Jones often spends whole days away from the farm, drunk at the Red Lion and his men don’t ‘bother to feed the animals’. When the animals break into the store-shed to feed themselves, Jones and his men resort to physical abuse to control the animals, with ‘whips in their hands, they lashed out in every direction.’ When the animals can stand it no longer, they lash back at the men and gain control of Animal Farm.
Following the revolution, the pigs, and in particular Snowball and Napoleon, attain power due to their superior intellect over the other animals. They appear sincere and truly want to grant equality to the animals but their motive soon becomes tainted with their selfish lust for power, and it is quickly established that this had begun to corrupt them. Within hours of the revolution, after Napoleon sends the animals off to the harvest, the ‘milk disappears.’ However, the animals soon learn what has become of the milk. The pigs have begun claiming privileges for themselves, including milk in their mash and all the apples. They justify these actions through Squealer, who claims it is ‘for their sake that the pigs drink that milk and eat those apples.’ Snowball tries to initiate and education program for the animals, which Napoleon cuts short as he knows it is easier to manipulate the animals if they lack intellect. Neither Snowball nor Napoleon holds full control over the farm which proves difficult when it comes time to make decisions, as they are always in disagreement and cannot impose any new rules. Snowball produces many brilliant ideas and schemes and gains popularity through his charismatic personality, whereas Napoleon puts forward nothing except criticism for Snowball. However, This struggle for power is short-lived, as Napoleon eliminates Snowball with an army of dogs he has brainwashed behind everyone’s backs.
After Snowball’s expulsion, the animals are subjected to Napoleon’s dictatorship, as he now holds absolute power over the farm. His first duty is to discontinue the meetings, essentially putting an end to democracy on the farm. Napoleon continues to pay lip service to the principles of the revolution but his corrupt actions are far removed from the ideals of Animalism. The corruption of his principles is illustrated in the altering of the Seven Commandments. These commandments are warped over the course of his ruling to the extent that the once overarching maxim, ‘All animals are equal’, becomes ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.’ Napoleon initiates purges to eliminate anyone who doubts his authority. With the aid of his army of dogs, he strikes terror into the hearts of the animals. Napoleon begins to establish a military society where the pigs and dogs sit on a raised platform and the rest of the animals on the ground facing them. Through Squealer, Napoleon effectively rewrites history to manipulate the animals into believing his lies. He portrays Snowball as a ‘dangerous character and a bad influence’, as well as a liar, a thief and a criminal. Whenever something goes wrong, it becomes customary to blame it on Snowball, who is ‘Jones’ secret agent’. Napoleon even goes so far to suggest that Snowball fought against them at the Battle of the Cowshed to ‘lure them to their doom.’
The book’s final passage makes the extent of Napoleon’s absolute corruption most clear. In every way, he has transformed into what the principles of Animalism stood so firmly against- man. The lower animals witness a meeting of men and pigs, but already ‘it had become impossible to say which was which.’ Under Jones’ regime, he held some power over the animals and in turn was corrupt in his cruel actions towards them. When Snowball and Napoleon run the farm, neither of them holds complete power, and as a result their corrupt actions are limited by each other. Finally, when Napoleon overtakes the Farm, his absolute power leads to absolute corruption in his actions and ultimately, the downfall of Animal Farm.