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Hypocrisy of power in literature

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The hypocrisy of power suggests that those higher up the hierarchy do not adhere to their own imposed moral rules and principles. The power which these people possess often undermines their sense of morality, corrupting their thoughts and behaviour. In Animal Farm George Orwell retells the development of communism through paralleling it to the Russian revolution. Orwell seeks to demonstrate through the theme of corruption that the hypocrisy of power can be very destructive and can cause damage to a society that once co-operated peacefully. In the Millers Tale Chaucer satirises the church through the characterisation of Absolon as the church’s teachings supported mainstream beliefs about morality, the meaning of life and afterlife. As a parish clerk Absolon should be morally correct, however he looks to commit infidelity by seeking relations with married women who attend his parish. This corruption of power within the church is hypocritical and reflective of Chaucer’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church as it preached against the sin of greed, but was extremely wealthy during a time of famine and poverty.

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Genres of the texts: Chaucer parodies

Orwell presents an almost dystopian sense of fear.

Orwell presents a satirical political allegory that retells the Russian Revolution with the replacement of animals instead of humans. Napoleon is characterised as a corrupt opportunist whom Orwell parallels with the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Throughout the novella Napoleon gradually seizes control and is portrayed as a megalomaniac whose thirst for power over rides the genuine care for the welfare of the other animals. Before Napoleon becomes the president, the pigs demonstrate a flare of prestige, which allows them to not participate or follow certain rules as ‘the pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised knowledge it was natural they should assume the leadership’, utilising the elitist imagery of ‘superior’ and ‘natural’ is already suggestive that the supposed idealised society was not all it proclaimed, and possibly deeply flawed. This is furthered as the elimination of Snowball places Napoleon in a position of power to implement his own ideology and rules without the consultation and disapproval of Snowball, he was able to hold an absolutist position of dictatorship, therefore the theme of corruption is evident when ‘Napoleon announced that there would be work on Sunday afternoons as well. This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented from it would have his rations reduced by half’, therefore Orwell demonstrates that power allows the character to redefine language so that ‘strictly voluntary’ means ‘in order to eat’.

Orwell’s portrayal of Napoleon’s floundering policies parallels with the failure of Stalin’s Five-year-Plans. A radical attempt to emerge the Soviet Union as an industrial powerhouse, bringing all industry under state control the plans did modernise Russia, however resulted in widespread famine and decline of living standards. Therefore, through the characterisation of Napoleon, as a megalomaniac dictator, Orwell is suggesting that the hypocrisy of power is corruptive and damaging on a society which once functioned peacefully. Similarly, Chaucer utilises the characterisation of Absolon, a parish clerk, to symbolise the corruption of the church at the time. Absolon is characterised as a passionate and determined character in his relations and wooing of Alison. As a parish clerk, he is expected to be Godly in his language, chaste in his behaviour, moderate in his appetites and honest in his preaching, however these morally correct expectations of his character are contrasted severely with his corrupted behaviour while in and outside of Church.

During his parish service he is ‘sensynge the wyves of the parisshe faste;’ and ‘namely on this carpenteris wyf’, alluding to the suggestion that Absolon is not the morally correct and respectable parish clerk that would be expected of the 14th century. Chaucer choses to critique the hypocrisy of the church due to the fact the Catholic Church was most wealthy and powerful institution in medieval society, and from 1347-1351 England was faced with the Black Death, wiping out almost a third of the population, ultimately causing a widescale distrust of church’s authority. Many church officials began to be seen as corrupt, bribing and obtaining money for the church under false pretences, while the rest of England tried to recover from the poverty and devastation left by the Black Death. Chaucer therefore utilises Absolon to highlight many of the problems corrupting the medieval Church as he is supposed to be celibate, but seeks to commit infidelity. It is even more prevalent towards the end of the story as Chaucer satirizes the church further by as ‘he kissed her naked ass’ a noted use of farce by Chaucer, however the comedy could possibly have a much deeper underlying tone as it is an embarrassment and punishment towards Absolon, alluding to the suggestion Absolon’s abuse of power is a clear critique of religious hypocrisy as the Church preached against the sin of greed, but was incredibly greedy during economic turmoil in England. Hypocrisy of power is prominent all the way through Animal Farm as the pigs Utopian ideals do not correspond with their own practices.

Orwell uses dramatic irony in certain scenes where the reader is given further insight than the animals themselves. This is prevalent in chapter 9 when ‘Boxer has fallen!’ and the true betrayal of the other animals by the pigs becomes even more evident as Boxer, the dedicated horse is sent to be turned into glue. The hypocrisy of the pigs therefore is highlighted by the fact Boxer is slaughtered for profit. By indirectly killing Boxer for profit, the pigs demonstrate the vices

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