I just recently read Animal Farm, which is an allegory of the Russian Revolution, each animal and situation on the farm correlating to real people and historical events. It’s easy to understand why Orwell portrayed some of them as he did. For example, he used a pig to represent Stalin. However, some of his metaphors are trickier to understand.
In chapter 2, we meet a raven named Moses. Immediately, you think of religion and the biblical Moses, just as Orwell wanted you too. Moses represents the church in Russia.
But perhaps you also think of death and evil, as you also should. Ravens are carrion birds; they feed on death. Their feathers are pure, ominous black. Throughout Western culture, we see ravens as messengers of death, such as in Shakespeare’s Othello, “O, it comes o’er my memory, as doth the raven o’er the infected house, boding to all.” Or perhaps a more obvious example: The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, in which he describes the raven as a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore.”
We see in Moses the Raven one who lives according to his true nature, and fails to live up to his name.
The Biblical Moses was a strong leader. He stood up to tyrants, worked miracles, freed his people from slavery, and pointed them to God.
Orwell’s Moses is a messenger of evil. He sits around, telling his people fairy tale stories about heaven while they work, and then abandons them at the very top of the treacherous slope down to slavery.
These two alike in name only.
And isn’t this the case so often today? Politicians or televangelists seem like great leaders, but they are merely frauds who run away when even the smallest of troubles threaten them. They use flowery words to mask their true, ugly natures, just like Moses the Raven.
“Action is the chief end of existence.”
-Samuel Coleridge, Lecture on Hamlet
Orwell’s Moses emphasized this quote to me. We cannot be deceived by false names and empty words. We needs to look at a person’s actions to know their true character. Moses the Raven ran away. He was a fraud. Moses of the Bible lead his people out of slavery and pointed them to God. He was a true Christian. This past Sunday was Easter Sunday, a day to remember what Christ did. He died a humiliating death for us, and that action speaks louder than words ever can.