Benjamin is a fictional donkey in George Orwell’s novella Animal Farm. He is the oldest of the animals and is alive in the last scene of the novel. He is less straightforward than most characters in the novel and a number of interpretations have been put forward. It has been suggested that he represents the aged population of Russia, or that he represents the Menshevik intelligentsia: as intelligent, if not more so, than the novel’s pigs.
He is very cynical about the Revolution and life in general. For the most part he represents the skeptical people in and out of Russia who believed that Communism would not help the people of Russia, but who did not criticise it fervently enough to lose their lives or approve of a gradualist alternative. He is also quite significant in that he is not quite a horse (the working peasantry) and yet definitely not a leader like the pigs—even if his intellect is equal to theirs.
The fact that he also has a Biblical name could also imply that he also represents theJewish populace of Russia whose lives were not remotely improved under Stalin’s leadership. In fact, when asked if he was happier post-Revolution than before the Revolution, he simply remarks, “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey. ” He is one of the wisest animals on the farm, and is able to “read as well as any pig”. 1] However, this is an ability he does not exercise until the end of the book, when Boxer is sent off to the Knackers and Benjamin reads the side of the truck and one more time when an illiterate friend asks him to read the public display of the Seven Commandments, as they seem to have changed (because of years of revisions by the pigs); Benjamin reveals that the Commandments now consist entirely of the message “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. For all his age, he is never given the option of retirement.
The only outrage that inspires him into action is the pigs’ betrayal of Benjamin’s best friend, Boxer, after which he becomes more cynical than ever. Seen from a wider perspective, Benjamin is a symbol of intelligence that during the times of revolution and its aftermath is very much aware about what is going on, but does nothing about it. The general (manipulated) masses are represented by the sheep, who are not aware about their misuse, but it is Benjamin who can see how the basic rules of their society are changing and does not get in any way involved.
He also is one of the most commonsensical characters, understanding that the pigs are altering the Seven Commandments, and that Boxer was killed instead of peacefully dying at a hospital. Benjamin is a wise donkey, “the oldest animal on the farm and the worst tempered. He seldom talked, and when he did, it was usually to make some cynical remark” (1. 3). For all his bad temper, Benjamin seems to be the most intelligent animal on the farm, even more intelligent than the pigs, though probably less cunning.
Though he tries to act completely uninterested and detached from everything happening on the farm, it’s clear that he is faithful to Boxer, and often tries to help his horse friend. After the rebellion, the other animals want to know what Benjamin thinks of the new organization of Animal Farm. The only thing that he’ll say is, “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey” (3. 4). Later, he refuses to grow enthusiastic about the windmill, and when the other animals want to now why, he makes the same claim, “donkeys live a long time” (6. 7).
Benjamin has long-term vision; he seems to operate on a different time-scale than everyone else, sodoesn’t become excited over what he sees as passing phases or fads. What’s sad about Benjamin is that, for all his wisdom, he refuses to act. He seems to regard things as being guided by fate. You get the sense that he sees all actions (including his own) as pointless, and at times he seems to revel in the futility of other animals’ efforts at order.
When he realizes that the humans are going to blow up the windmill, the narrator tells us, “Slowly, and with an air of almost amusement, Benjamin nodded his long muzzle” (8. 19). Part of Benjamin seems to enjoy the fact that the windmill is going to come crashing down. Yet Benjamin pays a price for his own inaction. After Boxer is injured, Benjamin stays with him and Clover and helps take care of his friend. One suspects that Benjamin should be able to see what is coming when the pigs say that Boxer is going to be taken to a hospital at Willingdon.
He waits until the last possible minute to do something. Only when Boxer is actually being taken away does Benjamin come running to alert the other animals; “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” (9. 16). Even then, the other animals think that Benjamin simply wants them to say farewell to Boxer. Benjamin has to explain to them that Boxer is on his way to be slaughtered. After Boxer’s death, the old donkey is “more morose and taciturn than ever” (10. 2).
When the other animals want to know whether things were better before or after the Rebellion, he replies with a characteristically cynical answer, “things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse – hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life” (10. 6). One can only wonder to what extent Benjamin’s bleak viewpoint is a result of his own guilt. He can’t help but think that perhaps if he had spoken up against the pigs sooner, then Boxer would not have worked himself to breaking-point and been sold off to the knackers (a man who slaughters old farm animals).
It has been suggested by Morris Dickstein and other critics that there might be something of Orwell himself in the cynical old donkey. It’s easy to see in Benjamin something of a writers’ point of view. He is philosophical and removed, and always speaks with an all-knowing air. Yet simply by writing Animal Farm, Orwell creates a sharp distinction between himself and Benjamin. Both see injustice, but Orwell speaks out against it rather than letting it unfold with a sense of resignation and dark amusement. Old Benjamin, an elderly donkey, is one of Orwell’s most elusive and intriguing characters onAnimal Farm.
He is described as rather unchanged since the rebellion. He still does his work the same way, never becoming too exited or too disappointed about anything that has passed. Benjamin explains, “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey. ” Although there is no clear metaphoric relationship between Benjamin and Orwell’s critique of communism, it makes sense that during any rebellion there or those who never totally embrace the revolution— those so cynical they no longer look to their leaders for help.
Benjamin symbolizes the older generation, the critics of any new rebellion. Really this old donkey is the only animal who seems as though he couldn’t care less about Napoleon and Animal Farm. It’s almost as if he can see into the future, knowing that the revolt is only a temporary change, and will flop in the end. Benjamin is the only animal who doesn’t seem to have expected anything positive from the revolution. He almost seems on a whole different maturity lever compared to the other animals. He is not sucked in by Napoleon’s propaganda like the others.
The only time he seems to care about the others at all is when Boxer is carried off in the glue truck. It’s almost as if the old donkey finally comes out of his shell, his perfectly fitted demeanor, when he tries to warn the others of Boxer’s fate. And the animals do try to rescue Boxer, but it’s too late. Benjamin seems to be finally confronting Napoleon and revealing his knowledge of the pigs’ hypocrisy, although before he had been completely independent. After the animals have forgotten Jones and their past lives, Benjamin still remembers everything.
Orwell states, “Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse— hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life. ” As horses are known for their strength, donkeys are known for their stubbornness, and Benjamin stubbornly refuses to become enthusiastic about the rebellion. While all of his comrades delight in the prospect of a new, animal-governed world, Benjamin only remarks, “Donkeys live a long time.
None of you has ever seen a dead donkey. ” While this reply puzzles the animals, the reader understands Benjamin’s cynical yet not-unfounded point: In the initial moments of the rebellion, Animal Farm may seem a paradise, but in time it may come to be another form of the same tyranny at which they rebelled. Of course, Benjamin is proven right by the novel’s end, and the only thing that he knows for sure — “Life would go on as it had always gone on — that is, badly” — proves to be a definitive remark about the animals’ lives. Although pessimistic, he is a realist.