Animal Farm

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Animal Farm book cover

Animal Farm is a satirical novel (which can also be understood as a modern fable or allegory) by George Orwell, ostensibly about a group of animals who oust the humans from the farm they live on and run it themselves, only to have it corrupted into a brutal tyranny on its own. It was written during World War II and published in 1945, although it was not widely recognized until the late 1950s.

Animal Farm is a thinly veiled critique on the Russian Revolution and satire of the totalitarian political system of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

Plot (short)

Template:Spoiler After a revolution on Manor Farm (duly renamed Animal Farm), the pigs, who have developed the doctrine of Animalism and lead the revolution, gradually take over. The two boars, Napoleon and Snowball, engage in a power struggle culminating in the expulsion of Snowball by force. Life on the farm becomes harder and harder for the rest of the animals. The pigs impose more and more controls on them while reserving privileges for themselves, until ultimately all that remains of the Principles of Animalism is that "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Each step of this development is justified by the pig Squealer, effectively the farm's propaganda minister. With a pack of vicious dogs as enforcers, Napoleon conducts show trials and executions, grants himself glorious titles, and progressively annuls all the Principles of Animalism. The pigs finally take to walking on two legs and carrying whips, treating the other animals more or less as they were treated when humans ruled. In the last scene of the book, the animals observe the pigs and men carousing together but can see no difference between them.

Plot (long)

Template:Spoiler

The local prize-winning pig, Old Major, calls a meeting of all the animals of Manor Farm. He tells them that he has had a dream where mankind is gone, and animals are free to live in peace and harmony. He then proceeds to teach them a song, "Beasts of England". The other animals begin to hope and dream for the revolution of such a day. When Old Major dies a mere three days later, three pigs, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer assume command, and turn his dream into a full-fleged philosophy. One night, the starved animals suddenly snap and drive Mr. Jones, his wife, and his pet Raven off of the farm and take control. The farm is renamed "Animal Farm" as the animals work towards a future utopia, to which the workhorse Boxer does more than his fair share and adopts a maxim of his own - "I will work harder."

It seems, at first, that Animal Farm is off to a great start. Snowball teaching all to read, Napoleon taking newborn puppies to teach them of Animalism. Even when Mr. Jones tries his last-ditch effort to control the farm, the animals are easily able to defeat him at the later named, "Battle of the Cowshed". Soon however, things begin to unravel as Napoleon and Snowball begin an epic power struggle over the farm. When Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, Napoleon quickly opposes it. A meeting is held, and when Snowball makes his passionate speech, Napoleon only makes a brief retort and then a strange noise. This noise signals the arrival of the nine puppies Napoleon had "educated", who had grown into vicious attack dogs. They burst in and chase Snowball off of the farm. In his absence, Napoleon declares himself the leader of the farm and makes changes instantly. Meetings were to be held no longer, and the pigs alone would decide what happened with the farm.

Napoleon changes his mind about the Windmill, claiming Snowball had stolen the idea, and the animals begin to work (Boxer especially so). After a violent storm, the animals wake to find the fruit of their labor utterly anihilated. Though neighboring farmers scoff at the thin walls, Napoleon (and Squealer, his 'propaganda minister') convince everyone that Snowball destroyed it. Napoleon begins to purge the farm, killing many animals accused of consorting with Snowball. In the meantime, Boxer has taken a second mantra, "Napoleon is always right". Napoleon begins to abuse his powers even more, rewriting history to villanize Snowball and glorify himself even further. As time draws on, Napoleon begins to live more and more like a human, with Squealer rewriting the rules in the dead of night to justify the deeds. The animals, though cold, starving, and overworked, remain convinced that they are still better off than when they were ruled by Jones.

Mr. Frederick, one of the two neighboring farmers, swindles Napoleon into using cheap timber, and then attacks the farm and uses dynamite to blow up the recently restored windmill. Though Animal Farm wins the battle, it comes at a great cost, as Boxer is wounded. He continues to work harder and harder, however, until he finally collapses while working on the Windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to come and take Boxer to the veterinarian; however, once Boxer is loaded up and the van drives away, the animals realize that the van is from a glue factory. Squealer quickly responds with an elaborate cover-story, and then reports that Boxer died in the hospital with none the wiser.

Many years pass, and the pigs have learned to walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. As well, the Seven Commandments have been 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. He announces his alliance with the humans against the laboring classes of both worlds. As he changes the farm's name back from "Animal" to "Manor", the other animals peer in through the window, and are unable to tell Pig from Man.

Characters

The events and characters in Animal Farm are all carefully drawn to represent the history of the Soviet Union; Orwell makes this explicit in the case of Napoleon, whom he directly connects to Stalin in one of his letters. The other characters have their analogies in the real world, but care should be taken with these comparisons as they do not always match history exactly and often simply represent generalised concepts.

  • Napoleon - The pig who becomes the leader of Animal Farm post-Rebellion. Created based on the actions of Joseph Stalin, he uses his military (of nine attack dogs) to cement his power from fear. In this craftiness, Napoleon dispatches his opponent, Snowball.
  • Snowball - The pig who fights Napoleon for control post-Rebellion. Inspired by Leon Trotsky, Snowball is both a passionate intellectual, and far more upfront about his motives. Snowball easily wins the loyalty of most of the animals.
  • Boxer - Possibly one of the more popular characters, Boxer is the avatar of the working class: Loyal, dedicated, and strong. His major flaw, however was his blind trust of the leaders and inability to see corruption. Used and abused as much, or more, by the pigs as he had by Jones. His death serves to show just how far the pigs were willing to go. It is worth noting, that prior to his death, Boxer played a huge part in keeping the Farm together.
  • Squealer - All during his life, George Orwell made it a point to show how politicians used language. In Animal Farm, Squealer abuses the language to excuse Napoleon's actions regardless of what it takes. By simplifying it (Four legs good, Two legs bad) he limits the debate and by complicating it he confuses and disorients (A bird's wing...is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation). To squeal is to betray, something Squealer does often to his fellow animals.
  • Old Major - As a fellow socialist, Orwell held Karl Marx in fond regard, and even respected Vladmir Lenin. In fact, the satire in Animal Farm is not of Marxism, or Lenin's revolution, but of the corruption that occurred later. Major who is based upon both Lenin and Marx is the inspiration which fuels the rest of the book. Though it is a positive image, Orwell does slip in some flaws in Old Major, such as how during his complaints about the abuse of animals he admits that he has been largely free from those terrors.
  • Clover - Boxer's close friend. Blames herself for forgetting the complete seven commandments when Squealer revises them. Represents the common people who acquiesce to the subversion of principles by the powerful.
  • Moses - Tame raven who spreads stories of Sugarcandy Mountain, the "animal heaven". Represents how tsarism and later communism exploited religion, could represent Rasputin, the "Mad Monk" of the story.
  • Mollie - Horse who likes wearing ribbons (ribbons representing luxury) and being pampered by humans. Represents upper-class people (The Bourgeosie) who fled from the U.S.S.R after the Russian Revolution.
  • Benjamin - A donkey who is cynical about the revolution. Said to be inspired by Orwell himself.
  • Muriel - Goat who reads the commandments. Intelligent labor, perhaps.
  • Mr. Jones - Original owner of Manor Farm. Likely based on Tsar Nicholas II.
  • Mr. Frederick - Tough owner of Pinchfield, a well kept neighboring farm. Highly probably based on Germany and/or Adolf Hitler.
  • Mr. Pilkington - Easy-going but crafty owner of Foxwood, a neighboring farm. Represents Britain and/or Winston Churchill.
  • Mr. Whymper - Human whom Napoleon hires to represent Animal Farm in human society. Based loosely on George Bernard Shaw.
  • Jesse and Bluebell - Two dogs who give birth in Chapter III. Their puppies are nurtured by Napoleon to inspire fear, without doubt representing formation of the NKVD/KGB.
  • Minimus - A poet pig who writes a song about Napoleon, representing admirers of Stalin both inside and outside of the USSR.

Significance

The book was an allegory about the events following the revolution in the Soviet Union, and in particular the rise of Stalinism. Many of the characters in the book are identifiable as historical figures. Napoleon and Snowball are direct representations of Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky respectively. Their disagreement about the direction the farm should take is meant to represent the ideological disagreement between Trotsky (whose theory of "Permanent Revolution" would have sought to advance the revolution across the world) and Stalin (whose theory was to consolidate the revolution in Russia, commonly referred to as "Socialism in One Country"). Boxer, the ever-loyal cart horse, portrays the ill-educated and unskilled proletariat. Boxer, and the other cart-horse Clover, are manipulated by the persuasive arguments of the pigs but are ultimately taken for granted and fail to reap the benefits of the "Revolution". Comparisons can be drawn between Boxer and Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, after whom the Stakhanovite movement was named. The Hen's small rebellion, driven by their desire to keep the eggs they lay, draws close comparisons to when many peasants burnt their farms in the USSR, instead of handing them over to the government.

There are many other small references scattered throughout the book. For example, the animals originally sung an anthem called Beasts of England, but later, Napoleon and the other pigs ordered that a new song be sung in its place. This is a reference to the replacement of The Internationale with the Hymn of the Soviet Union, probably for the purpose of distancing Soviet state socialism with Trotsky's revolutionary socialism.

Orwell wrote the book following his experiences during the Spanish Civil War which are described in another of his books, Homage to Catalonia. He intended it to be a strong condemnation of what he saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals, in which he believed and continued to believe after he saw a revolution betrayed, as in Spain.

In recent years the book has been used to compare new movements that overthrow heads of a corrupt and undemocratic government or organization, only to become corrupt and oppressive themselves over time as they succumb to the trappings of power and begin using violent and dictatorial methods to keep it. Such analogies have been used for many former African colonies such as Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo, whose succeeding African-born rulers were thought to be as corrupt as the European colonists they supplanted.

A most remarkable parallel history has been unfolding in China till this day, with a lag of roughly 30 years compared to Soviet equivalents (Current Chinese leader Hu Jintao being the counterpart of Leonid Brezhnev). The pervasive corruption and the convergence of communists-in-power with capitalists are unmistakable.

References and post-publication views of the book

Orwell originally prepared a preface on freedom of the press for the book which noted "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. ... [Things are] kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact." Somewhat ironically, the preface itself was censored and is not published with most copies of the book.

The book was the basis of an animated feature film in 1955 (Britain's first full-length animated movie), directed by John Halas and Joy Batchelor and quietly commissioned by the American CIA, which softened the theme of the story slightly by reducing the role of Moses, the character representing religion, and adding an epilogue where the other animals successfully revolt against the pigs. There was also a 1999 live action film directed by John Stephenson, with voices by Kelsey Grammer as Snowball, Patrick Stewart as Napoleon, and Ian Holm as Squealer. Despite a few differences (such as completely different songs and Jesse being the first to question the pigs), plot-wise, the film was more loyal to the book. The film also included an epilogue in which Jesse and several animals escape and return years later to a post-Napoleon era Animal Farm. In addition, radical socialist rappers Dead Prez released a song called "Animal in Man" off their debut LP, Let's Get Free, re-telling the story.

Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals was partially inspired by Animal Farm, categorising people as either pigs, dogs or sheep.

A modern revisionist view of the book's premise

In 2002, the American author John Reed published Snowball's Chance. This book adopts Orwell's allegory in order to conduct a parallel critique of capitalism. This decision reflects a long standing resentment among socialists at what they see as propagandistic exploitation of Orwell's novel by their political opponents. Using Animal Farm to praise capitalism over socialism does indeed change the ideas of the book somewhat, because pigs end up being just the same as farmers, not worse.

However, concentrating on the contrasts of capitalism and socialism, as portrayed in the book, fails to recognize the book's message of the corruption of the ideals of the Russian Revolution and the progressive subversion of the ideals of Lenin (Old Major) and Trotsky (Snowball) by Stalin (Napoleon). The humans (capitalists, fascists, and the tsar) are in no way portrayed sympathetically. Nevertheless, the book was released at a time when Stalin was widely admired by portions of the Western Intelligentsia, partly because the Soviet Union had suffered less from the Great Depression than most western countries, and because Stalin had led the Soviet Union in the successful and dearly-won victory over Nazi Germany. The Destalinization of Russia under Nikita Khrushchev was still more than a decade in the future.

ISBN numbers

See also

External links