Animal Farm (full title: Animal Farm: A Fairy Story) is a novella by George Orwell, and is perhaps the most famous satirical allegory of Soviet totalitarianism. Published in 1945, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era. Orwell, a democratic socialist, and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Stalin, and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences with the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War.
The novel was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to present) and was number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels.
The plot is an allegory in which animals play the roles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and overthrow and oust the human owners of the farm, setting it up as a commune in which, at first, all animals are equal, but soon disparities start to emerge between the different species or classes. The novel describes how a society’s ideologies can be changed and manipulated by individuals in positions of power.
Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm (or “Willingdon Beauty” as he is called when he is exhibited) calls the other animals on the Farm for a meeting, where he compares the humans to parasites and teaches the animals a revolutionary song, “Beasts of England.”
When Major dies three days later, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command, and turn his dream into a full-fledged philosophy. The animals revolt and drive Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it “Animal Farm.”
The Seven Commandments of Animalism are written on the wall of a barn for all to read. The most important is the seventh, “All animals are equal.” All animals work, but the workhorse, Boxer, does more than others and adopts the maxim — “I will work harder.”
Snowball the pig attempts to teach the other animals to read and write (though few besides the pigs learn to read well), food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership, demonstrating their elitism by setting aside special food items for their personal health. Meanwhile, Napoleon takes the pups from the farm dogs and trains them privately. When Mr. Jones tries to retake the farm, the animals defeat him at what they call the “Battle of the Cowshed.” Napoleon and Snowball begin a power struggle for leadership. When Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, Napoleon quickly opposes it. Snowball makes a passionate speech in favour of the windmill, then Napoleon summons his nine attack dogs, which chase Snowball away. In Snowball’s absence, Napoleon declares himself leader and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held and instead a committee of pigs will decide what happens with the farm. Resembling a bourgeois ruling class, a social class classification which functions as a highly important feature of the philosophy of Marxism.
Screenshot from Animal Farm (1954 film)
Screenshot from Animal Farm (1954 film)
Napoleon, using a young pig named Squealer as a mouthpiece, announces that Snowball stole the idea for the windmill from him. The character of Squealer in this instance may be seen as an allegory for a political spin doctor. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. After a violent storm, the animals find the fruit of their labour annihilated. Napoleon and Squealer then manage to convince the animals that Snowball was the one who destroyed windmill, although it is suggested through the scorns of the neighbouring farmers that the destruction of the windmill was in fact due to the walls being too thin. Once Snowball is made to be a scapegoat, Napoleon begins to purge the farm, killing many animals he accuses of consorting with Snowball. Meanwhile, Boxer takes up a second maxim, “Napoleon is always right.”
Napoleon abuses his powers, and life becomes harder for the animals; the pigs impose more controls while reserving privileges for themselves. The pigs rewrite history to villainize Snowball and glorify Napoleon, for example stating that Snowball fought for the humans in the Battle of the Cowshed, and that Napoleon bit Snowball, when Snowball was actually hit by a pellet from Jones’ gun. Squealer justifies every statement Napoleon makes, even the pigs alteration of the Seven Commandments of animalism. “No animal shall drink alcohol” is soon changed to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess” when the pigs discover the farmer’s stash of whisky. The song “Beasts of England” is also banned as inappropriate, as according to Napoleon the dream of Animal Farm has been realized. It is replaced instead by an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals, though cold, starving, and overworked, remain convinced through subtle psychological conditioning that they are still better off than they were when ruled by Mr. Jones, the human owner of Manor Farm. Squealer abuses the animals’ poor memories and invents numbers to show their improvement.
Mr. Frederick, one of the two neighbouring farmers, swindles Napoleon by buying lumber with forged money, and then attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the recently restored windmill. Though the animals of Animal Farm eventually win the battle, they do so at a great cost, as many of the animals, including Boxer, are wounded. Squealer was mysteriously absent from the fight. Boxer continues to work harder and harder, until he finally collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer to the veterinarian, explaining to the worried animals that better care can be given there. However, Benjamin notices as Boxer is loaded up that the van really belongs to “Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler”, but the animals’ last desperate attempts are futile. Squealer quickly reports that the van had been purchased by the hospital and that the writing from the previous owner had not been repainted yet. He recounts a dramatic and tear-felt tale of Boxer’s death in the hands of the best medical care. In reality, the pigs sent Boxer to his death in exchange for money to buy more whiskey. They soon get drunk from all the whiskey.
Many years pass, and the pigs learn to walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and the humans of the area (in the adjacent Foxwood Farm, run by Mr. Pilkington), who congratulate Napoleon on having the hardest-working animals in the country on the least feed. Napoleon announces his alliance with the humans, against the labouring classes of both “worlds”. He then abolishes practises and traditions related to the Revolution, and reverts the name of the farm to “Manor Farm”.
The animals, overhearing the conversation, notice that the faces of the ruling pigs have begun changing. During a poker match, an argument breaks out between Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington when they both play the Ace of Spades, and the animals realize that the faces of the pigs now look almost exactly like the faces of humans and they can no longer tell the difference between them. [more information about this book, click here]