For Further Study
When Animal Farm was published in 1945, its British author George Orwell (a pseudonym for Eric Arthur Blair) had already waited a year and a half to see his manuscript in print. Because the book criticized the Soviet Union, one of England's allies in World War II, publication was delayed until the war ended. It was an immediate success as the first edition sold out in a month, nine foreign editions had appeared by the next year, and the American Book-of-the-Month Club edition sold more than a half-million copies. Although Orwell was an experienced columnist and essayist as well as the author of nine published books, nothing could have prepared him for the success of this short novel, so brief he had considered self-publishing it as a pamphlet. The novel brought together important themes—politics, truth, and class conflict—that had concerned Orwell for much of his life. Using allegory—the weapon used by political satirists of the past, including Voltaire and Swift—Orwell made his political statement in a twentieth-century fable that could be read as an entertaining story about animals or, on a deeper level, a savage attack on the misuse of political power. While Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a pointed criticism of Stalinist Russia, reviews of the book on the fiftieth-anniversary of its publication declared its message to be still relevant. In a play on the famous line from the book, "Some animals are more equal than others," an Economist reviewer wrote, "Some classics are more equal than others," and as proof he noted that Animal Farm has never been out of
print since it was first published and continues to sell well year after year.
George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal, India, in 1903, into a family that had to struggle to make ends meet. The son of a British civil servant, Orwell was brought to England as a toddler. The boy became aware of class distinctions while attending St. Cyprian's preparatory school in Sussex, where he received a fine education but felt out of place. He was teased and looked down upon because he was not from a wealthy family. This experience made him sensitive to the cruelty of social snobbery. As a partial-scholarship student whose parents could not afford to pay his entire tuition, Orwell was also regularly reminded of his lowly economic status by school administrators. Conditions improved at Eton, where he studied next, but instead of continuing with university classes, in 1922 he joined the Indian Imperial Police. Stationed in Burma, his class-consciousness intensified as he served as one of the hated policemen enforcing British control of the native population. Sickened by his role as imperialist, he returned to England in 1927 and resigned his position. He planned to become a writer, a profession in which he had not before shown much interest.
In 1928, perhaps to erase guilt from his colonial experiences, he chose to live amongst the poor of London, and later, Paris. In Paris, he published articles in local newspapers, but his fiction was rejected. His own life finally provided the material for his first book, published in 1933. Down and Out in Paris and London, which combined fictional narrative based on his time spent in those two cities with social criticism, was his first work published as George Orwell. The pseudonym was used so his parents would not be shocked by the brutal living conditions described in the book. The next year, Orwell published Burmese Days, a novel based on his stay in Burma. Subsequent novels, including A Clergyman's Daughter, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Coming Up for Air, all contain autobiographical references and served as vehicles for Orwell to explore his growing political convictions.
In 1936, Orwell traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to write about the Spanish Civil War and ended up joining the battle, fighting against Spanish leader Francisco Franco on the side of the Republicans. Wounded, he returned to England. Two nonfiction books, The Road to Wigan Pier, a report on deplorable conditions in the mining communities of northern England, and Homage to Catalonia, the story of his participation in the Spanish Civil War, allowed Orwell to explicitly defend his political ideas. Dozens of pointed essays also revealed his political viewpoint.
By that time, Orwell clearly saw himself as a political performer whose tool was writing. He wrote in a 1946 essay, "Why I Write," that "every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."
Orwell's next book, Animal Farm, a fable about the events during and following the Russian Revolution, was well liked by critics and the public. He had had trouble finding a publisher during World War II because the work was a disguised criticism of Russia, England's ally at the time. When it was finally published, just after the war, it was a smashing success.
The money Orwell made from Animal Farm allowed him, in 1947, to rent a house on Jura, an island off the coast of Scotland, where he began to work on 1984. His work was interrupted by treatment for tuberculosis, which he had contracted in the 1930s, and upon his release from the hospital in 1948 Orwell returned to Jura to complete the book. Under doctor's orders to work no more than one hour a day, but unable to find a typist to travel to his home, he typed the manuscript himself and collapsed upon completion of the book. For the next two years he was bedridden. Many critics claim that Orwell's failing health may have influenced him to make 1984 so pessimistic, and Orwell admitted that they were probably right.
Orwell did plan to write other books, according to his friends, and married while in the hospital, but three months later in 1950 he finally died of tuberculosis.
As Animal Farm opens, Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, is drunkenly heading to bed. The animals gather in the barn as Old Major, the prize boar, tells them that he has thought about the brutal lives that the farm animals lead under human bondage and is convinced that a rebellion must come soon, in which the animals throw off the tyranny of their human oppressors and come to live in perfect freedom and equality. Major teaches the animals Beasts of England, a song which will become their revolutionary anthem.
A few days later, Major dies. The animals, under the leadership of the pigs, begin to prepare for the Rebellion. Two of the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, elaborate Major's ideas into a complete system of thought known as Animalism. The Rebellion comes much sooner than anyone thought, and the animals break free of Jones's tyranny and drive the humans from the farm. Snowball and Napoleon paint over the name "Manor Farm" on the gate, replacing it with "Animal Farm." They also paint the basic principles of Animalism on the wall of the barn:
THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
The farm passes through an idyllic time in which the animals work joyously together and make a great success of the harvest. The animals all attend weekly planning meetings at which the decisions for the future of the farm are made. After realizing that some of the other animals cannot read or remember the Seven Commandments, Snowball boils these commandments down to a single maxim: "Four legs good, two legs bad." But all of the milk and apples on the farm, it seems, are now to be reserved for the pigs alone.
News of the Rebellion at Animal Farm begins to spread, and animals across the countryside are singing Beasts of England. The neighboring farmers, led by Mr. Pilkington of Foxwood and Mr. Frederick of Pinchfield Farm, attempt to retake Animal Farm by force. The animals, led by Snowball, successfully fight off the invaders in what comes to be known as the Battle of the Cowshed. Snowball is decorated as an Animal Hero, First Class.
Snowball and Napoleon fight a number of battles over policy, culminating in the controversy over a windmill which Snowball has designed and thinks should be built on the farm. Napoleon argues that the animals need to concentrate on food production. As the debate reaches fever pitch, Napoleon calls in nine dogs which he raised to be loyal only to him. The dogs chase Snowball from the farm. Napoleon declares an end to the planning meetings. Squealer, another pig who serves as Napoleon's functionary, convinces the other animals that Snowball was a criminal. A few days later, Napoleon declares that the windmill will be built after all, and Squealer explains that the idea had belonged to Napoleon from the beginning, but that Snowball had stolen the plans.
The animals' workload is repeatedly increased throughout the following year as construction begins on the windmill. Napoleon announces that the farm will begin trading with the neighboring farms, which seems to violate one of the early resolutions passed by the animals, but Squealer convinces them otherwise. The pigs, moreover, have moved into the farmhouse, and it is rumored that they are sleeping in the beds. The animals check the barn wall, vaguely remembering an injunction against this—but the commandment says that "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets." When the windmill is knocked down during a storm, Napoleon blames its destruction on Snowball and pronounces a death sentence on this traitor. The animals begin the laborious process of rebuilding.
Rumors begin to fly that Snowball is sneaking into the farm at night, causing small bits of mischief. Moreover, it is asserted that certain of the animals on the farm are in league with Snowball. Napoleon orders a full investigation. A meeting is held in which the animals are invited to confess their connections with Snowball. All the animals that do confess are promptly ripped to pieces by Napoleon's dogs. The others are shocked at such bloodshed and try to comfort themselves by singing Beasts of England, only to be told that the song has now been abolished.
In the days after the purges, the animals seem to recall a commandment prohibiting the killing of animals, but when they check the barn wall, they discover that it reads "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." Napoleon bargains to sell Mr. Pilkington a pile of timber. The animals do not trust Pilkington, but they prefer him to Frederick, who, it is whispered, is torturing his animals; in fact, Napoleon declares Frederick to be an enemy of the farm. But several days later it is announced that he has sold the timber to Frederick, and now Pilkington is the enemy. Frederick fools Napoleon by giving him forged banknotes for the timber, and, with a group of men, attacks Animal Farm and destroys the windmill. Squealer, however, informs the animals that the battle was a victory for the animals. Shortly after, the pigs discover a case of whiskey in the basement of the farmhouse, and a raucous celebration is heard throughout the night. The next day, it is announced that Napoleon is near death. When he recovers, the animals discover that the commandment which they thought said that no animal should drink alcohol in fact reads "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess."
That winter, rations are repeatedly reduced on the farm, for everyone but the pigs. The animals are kept content, however, through an ever-increasing number of formal ceremonies. An old cart-horse, Boxer, who has worked tirelessly for Animal Farm, suddenly takes ill. Napoleon announces that arrangements have been made to treat Boxer in a hospital in town. However, the truck that arrives to take Boxer away belongs to a horse slaughterer, and the animals erupt in a great outcry. They are pacified by Squealer, who tells them that, in fact, the truck has been purchased by the veterinarian but has not been repainted.
The years pass, and the animals lead harder and harder lives, though at least no animal is lorded over by a human. Then, one day, Napoleon emerges from the house on two legs. The sheep's traditional chant of "Four legs good, two legs bad" has now, somehow, been changed to "Four legs good, two legs better." And the Seven Commandments have now all been erased from the barn wall and replaced with a single Commandment: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." The pigs begin reading newspapers, wearing clothes, and carrying whips in the fields. They call for a meeting between themselves and the human owners of the surrounding farms, at which Napoleon announces that the name of Animal Farm has been changed back to Manor Farm. The other animals peek in the windows of the farmhouse as this meeting progresses and are stunned to discover that they cannot tell the difference between the men and the pigs at all.
Benjamin, a donkey, is "the oldest animal on the farm, and the worst tempered." He is a sad cynic who believes that whatever the animals do, conditions on the farm will remain equally as bad. Although he usually refuses to read, he is the one who reads the side of the truck that comes to take Boxer away and realizes it belongs to the horse slaughterer. Benjamin is moved to action, but he is too late to save his friend. Benjamin represents the cynical intellectual who refuses to get involved in politics and so fails to affect meaningful change. His cynicism is much like Orwell's own attitude toward life.
One of the two cart-horses on the farm, Boxer's biggest triumph is his work on the windmill. Despite his strength, he is sensitive to the feelings of others. During the Battle of the Cowshed, when he accidentally stuns a stable-boy with blows from his hoofs, he is remorseful: "I have no wish to take life, not even human life." Boxer has such blind faith in Napoleon that he refuses to question anything the pig says, reasoning, "If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right." He constantly repeats the slogans: "I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right." In the end, once Boxer's health fails and he is no longer able to work, Napoleon sends him to the horse slaughterer. In Orwell's tale, he represents the common working class who unwittingly accept their base existence, because they believe by hard work they will get ahead and that their leaders will protect them. Boxer's lung trouble seems to refer to Orwell's own bouts with tuberculosis.
A "stout, motherly mare," Clover is one of the two cart-horses on the farm, and one of Boxer's closest friends. She tries to lead the other animals to see events as they really are but is often frustrated in her attempts. She questions the change in the fourth commandment of Animalism, yet she accepts Squealer's explanation of why it seems different. When Benjamin sounds the alarm that Boxer is being taken to the horse slaughterer, Clover runs after the van but is unable to stop it. Like Boxer, she represents the working class, particularly those who should realize they are being exploited but do not because of their own laziness or apathy.
Mr. Frederick is a neighbor of Mr. Jones who runs the farm called Pinchfield. His farm is better run than Pilkington's, but he is always involved in law suits. In Orwell's allegory, Frederick represents Germany and its leader, Adolf Hitler. Like Hitler, Frederick is treacherous, and after signing an agreement with Napoleon he attacks Animal Farm, destroying the animals' windmill.
Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, gets the animals thinking about revolution when he gets drunk and is unable to perform all of the chores around the farm. When, in his drunkenness, he stays overnight away from the farm, and neither he nor his men feed the farm animals, the animals revolt and chase the humans out of the farm. Jones tries to retake the farm but is unsuccessful. He vanishes "to another part of the country" and dies there in "an inebriates' home." With his common surname Jones could be any farmer, and his farm any farm. In Orwell's political allegory, he represents Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, before the communists took over the government.
Described only as "a poet," Minimus composes a poem in honor of Napoleon, and a patriotic song that replaces Beasts of England. Minimus represents artists who are used by totalitarian states for propaganda purposes.
A vain white mare whose main concerns when Old Major calls for a Rebellion are having sugar lumps to chew and ribbons for her mane. She eventually flees the farm to work for humans. She represents those whose lust for material things blinds them to the importance of freedom.
A tame raven who belongs to Mr. Jones, Moses represents organized religion. He is tolerated by the pigs because he takes the animals' minds off their troubles by preaching to them about a happy land called the Sugarcandy Mountain.
A white goat (named after an actual animal that Orwell kept at his farm), Muriel reads better than most of the other animals and is called on to read the Commandments for them.
- Animal Farm was adapted as a film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor and released in 1955.
- Animal Farm was also adapted by Nelson Slade Bond for a play of the same title, Samuel French, 1964.
A "large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar," Napoleon becomes the leader of the animals after Snowball is chased off the farm. He, Snowball, and Squealer are the ones who organize the thoughts proclaimed by Old Major into the principles of Animalism.
Soon after the revolt of the animals, Napoleon takes nine puppies from their mothers to "educate" them. The puppies end up being his personal bodyguards and secret police force. He grows increasingly removed from the other animals, dining alone and being addressed as "our Leader, Comrade Napoleon." Like Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader who had negotiated with England while making a secret deal with Hitler, Napoleon negotiates with one of Jones's neighbors, Mr. Pilkington, while making a secret agreement with Mr. Frederick, another one of Jones's neighbors. Stalin had a reputation for arranging the death of anyone who stood in his way. After Napoleon chases his former friend Snowball off the farm, he has countless animals killed who confess to being Snowball's allies. Near the end of the novel, he stands on two legs, just like the men he had previously denounced, and announces that Animal Farm's name will revert back to Manor Farm. His name is reminiscent of the historical Napoleon, who became the all-powerful, autocratic Emperor of the French. Like his French counterpart, Napoleon seems to embody the idea that with power comes corruption.
A "prize Middle White boar," Old Major calls the animals together in the novel's opening scene to explain to them his vision of a world ruled by animals. Although quite old for a pig, he is described as "still a majestic-looking pig." He concludes his speech by teaching of the animals the song, Beasts of England. It becomes the rallying cry of the Rebellion. Three nights after the meeting he dies in his sleep. He represents Karl Marx, the German political philosopher who wrote, with Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto (1848) that called the workers of the world to unite against the ruling classes.
Mr. Pilkington is a neighbor of Mr. Jones who runs the farm called Foxwood. His farm is overgrown with woodland, for he enjoys hunting and fishing over farming. In Orwell's allegory, Pilkington represents England.
The sheep function as a group and, therefore, have no individual names. They are taught to bleat the latest slogan for hours at a time: first, "four legs good, two legs bad," later, "four legs good, two legs better." They are the "yes-men" in every society who blindly repeat party slogans without knowing what they are saying.
A "young boar" who, with Napoleon and Squealer, helps to codify Old Major's ideas into the commandments of Animalism. Orwell describes him as "quicker in speech and more inventive" than Napoleon. He is the one who organizes the animals into various committees: "the Egg Production Committee for the hens, the Clean Tails League for the cows, … the Whiter Wool Movement for the sheep, and various others…." He also plans the defense of the farm against the humans which proves useful when Jones and his friends try to retake the farm. Snowball shows his expert use of military strategy during the attack—which becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed—and is later awarded a medal. Snowball also comes up with the idea of building a windmill to produce electricity. He represents the historical figure of Leon Trotsky. Like Trotsky, who was exiled from Russia by his former partner Stalin, Snowball is eventually run off the farm by Napoleon. After he is gone, Napoleon uses him as a scapegoat, blaming him for everything that goes wrong on the farm. In an allegory of the bloody purge trials that took place in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, the animals confess to scheming in various ways with Snowball for the downfall of the other pigs. Whoever confesses is slaughtered.
"A small, fat pig" known for being a smooth talker, Squealer reportedly "could turn black into white." He is the propaganda chief for the pigs, the equivalent of the Soviet party newspaper Pravda (which means "Truth" in Russian) in Orwell's allegory. Squealer has an explanation for everything, including why the pigs need to drink the milk the cows produce, why the commandments of Animalism seem different, and why the "ambulance" called to take Boxer to the hospital has a sign for a horse slaughterer on its side. By the story's end, he is so fat that his eyes are mere slits. Always on the look out for a new slogan, he teaches the sheep a new song to explain why the pigs are suddenly walking on their hind legs. Like any good propaganda boss, he is able to not only explain the present, he is also an expert at rewriting the past. He makes the animals believe, for example, that Snowball never had received the order of "Animal Hero, First Class." But, of course, he had.
An attorney, Mr. Whymper handles negotiations between the pigs and the outside world. He represents an intermediary between warring countries who is only too happy to do what is expedient without thinking about whether it is right.
Language and Meaning
In Animal Farm, his allegory of the Soviet Revolution, Orwell examines the use of language and the subversion of the meaning of words by showing how the powerful manipulate words for their own benefit. As a journalist, Orwell knew the power of words to serve whichever side the writer backed. In the novel, Snowball is a quick talker who can always explain his way out of any situation. When the birds object to the maxim, "Four legs good, two legs bad," that the pig teaches the sheep, he explains that the bird's wing "is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg." The birds do not really understand this explanation, but they accept it. Orwell particularly comments on the abuse of language with his character Squealer, "a brilliant talker," who acts as an unofficial head of propaganda for the pigs. Like Joseph Goebbels, who bore the title of Nazi party minister of propaganda and national enlightenment during World War II, Squealer "could turn black into white." This is also reminiscent of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Pravda, which was often used to rewrite the past. (Ironically, its title means "Truth.") When a bad winter forces a reduction in food rations to the animals, Squealer calls it a "readjustment." In a totalitarian state, language can be used to change even the past. Squealer explains to the animals "that Snowball had never—as many of them had believed hitherto—received the order of 'Animal Hero, First Class.'"
God and Religion
In the novel religion is represented by Moses, the tame raven. The clergy is presented as a privileged class tolerated by those in power because of their ability to placate the masses with promises of rewards in the afterlife for suffering endured on Earth. Moses is afforded special treatment not available to the other animals. For example, he is the only animal not present at the meeting called by Old Major as the book opens. Later, the reader is told the other animals hate the raven because he does not do any work; in fact, the pigs give him a daily ration of beer. Like Lenin, who proclaimed religion was the opiate of the people, Orwell sees organized religion as another corruptible institution which serves to keep the masses tranquil. Moses preaches "the existence of a mysterious country called Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died;" in that distant land "it was Sunday seven days a week, clover was in season all the year round, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges."
In Animal Farm, Orwell comments on those who corrupt the idea of human rights by showing how the animals deal with the issue of equality. In chapter one, Old Major interrupts his speech appealing to the animals for a Rebellion against the humans by asking for a vote on whether "wild creatures, such as rats and rabbits" should be included in the statement "All animals are comrades." Although at this point, the animals vote to accept the rats, later distinctions between different types of animals become so commonplace that the seventh commandment of Animalism is officially changed to read, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." A number of societies have historically "voted" that portions of their populations were not equal because of their faith, their skin color, or their ancestry.
Orwell saw firsthand how being a member of a lower class singled him out for abuse at St. Cyprian's, a school which attracted most of its students from the British upper class. He had also seen how the British ruling class in Burma had abused the native population. In Animal Farm the animals begin by proclaiming the equality of all animals. The classless society soon becomes divided as preferential treatment is given to the pigs. First, they alone are allowed to consume the milk and the apples which Squealer claims they do not really want to take, but must to preserve their strength. Later, the other animals are told that they must "stand aside" if they meet a pig coming down a path and that all pigs had "the privilege of wearing green ribbons on their tails on Sundays." By this time, not even an explanation from Squealer is necessary; the hierarchy in the society is wellestablished. A pointed remark by Mr. Pilkington of Foxwood, who represents Great Britain in Orwell's satire, puts the author's distaste for classes in perspective. When Mr. Pilkington and other farmers meet with Napoleon in the novel's last scene, Pilkington chokes with amusement as he says to the pigs, "If you have your lower animals to contend with, … we have our lower classes." Orwell knew that with power came the abuse of power and only a vigilant citizenry could prevent such abuses.
Topics for Further Study
- Research a current political scandal on the state, local, or national level, or one from the past (such as Watergate or Tammany Hall). Develop a brief animal allegory of the main figures involved, using some of the same animals found in Orwell's novel.
- Using examples from classic animal fables, report on how Orwell's novel conforms and/or deviates from features found in those you've investigated.
- Analyze how Squealer manipulates language to get the animals to go along with him, then watch the evening news or read periodicals to find similar uses of language in speeches or press releases from contemporary politicians.
Orwell uses Animal Farm to express his deeply held political convictions. He stated in his 1946 essay, "Why I Write," "every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for Democratic socialism." Although the novel is written in direct response to his bitter disappointment that the Russian Revolution, instead of establishing a people's republic, established an essentially totalitarian state, its continued relevance is possible because his criticism stands against any and all totalitarian regimes. The only protection the average citizen has against a similar tyranny developing in his own country is his refusal to blindly follow the crowd (like the sheep), the repudiation of all spurious explanations by propaganda sources (like Squealer), and diligent attention to all government activity, instead of faithfully following those in power (like Boxer).
Truth and Falsehood
In the novel, the animals are often forced to examine the meaning of truth in their society. Again and again, truth becomes simply what Snowball, and later Squealer, tells them. Any questions about past events that do not seem to match the pigs' version of those events are either discounted or explained away. For example, when some of the animals are executed after they confess to various crimes against Napoleon, some of those left alive remember that the Sixth Commandment of Animalism was "No animal shall kill any other animal." When Clover asks Muriel to read the commandment, however, it is discovered that it reads, "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." "Somehow or other," the narrator comments, "the last two words had slipped out of the animals' memory." Similarly, when the pigs get into a case of whiskey and get drunk, Muriel looks up at the barn wall where the Seven Commandments had been written and sees that the Fifth Commandment reads, "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess. " She thinks the animals must have forgotten the last two words of this commandment as well. She comes to believe that the original event of the writing of the commandments on the wall did not happen the way she and other animals remember it. With this theme Orwell challenges the Soviet state's—and any totalitarian state's—method of controlling public opinion by manipulating the truth and, in particular, rewriting history.
Point of View
The third person point of view traditionally used for fables and fairy tales is the one Orwell chooses for Animal Farm, his tale of an animal rebellion against humans in which the pigs become the powerful elite. The storyteller in this case, as is also typical of the fable, tells the reader only what is needed to follow the story and the bare minimum about each character, without overt commentary. Orwell focuses on the bewilderment of the simple beasts—the horses, birds, and sheep—in the face of their manipulation by the pigs, eliciting sympathy from the reader.
Animal Farm takes place at an unspecified time on a British farm near Willingdon, a town that is mentioned only in passing. The farm is first called Manor Farm, later renamed Animal Farm and, finally, Manor Farm once more. Manor—which can mean the land overseen by a lord, the house of a lord, or a mansion—associates the farm with the upper, or ruling, class. Orwell focuses entirely on activities taking place at the farm, except for a brief scene in Willingdon when Jones asks his neighbors to help him. By keeping a narrow focus, Orwell makes the location in England unimportant.
The narrator in the novel functions as a storyteller, telling a fable. Orwell gives the fable ironic overtones by using a naive narrator, one who refuses to comment on events in the novel that the reader understands to be false. After Muriel tells Clover that the fourth commandment of Animalism reads, "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets, " the narrator declares: "Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it was there on the wall, it must have done so." Both the reader and the narrator know the truth of the matter—that the words of the commandment have been changed—but the narrator does not admit it. The tension between what the narrator knows but does not say and what the reader knows is dramatic irony.
With dramatic irony an audience, or reader, understands the difference between the truth of a situation and what the characters know about it, while the characters remain ignorant of the discrepancy. For instance, Squealer explains that the van in which Boxer was taken to the hospital formerly belonged to a horse slaughterer. He further explains that the veterinarian who now uses it did not have the time to paint over the horse slaughterer's sign on its side, so the animals should not worry. The narrator says: "The animals were enormously relieved to hear this." The reader, who assumed the truth when the van originally appeared to carry the horse away, feels doubly outraged by Squealer's explanation.
The fairy story, or fairy tale, is a type of folk literature found all over the world. It involves a highly imaginative narrative told in a simple manner easily understood and enjoyed even by children. While they do not have a moral, fairy tales instruct by placing their characters in situations that they have to overcome; children who hear the tales can imagine what they would do in a similar situation. Fairy tales, also, often involve animals that can talk. Orwell gave his work the subtitle "A Fairy Story." The reader can surmise that the story told in Animal Farm is universal, with implications for every culture or country, and that it will be easily understood. Using "fairy story" to describe his novel is another bit of irony, because the political story behind the tale is far from the light entertainment the term implies.
A work that uses humor to criticize a weakness or defect is called a satire. The satirist makes whatever he is criticizing look ridiculous by a variety of methods, often through irony or other types of biting humor. The satirist hopes to change the behavior he is satirizing. Orwell ridicules the socalled achievements of the Russian revolution in a number of ways: by comparing its proponents to animals, by developing irony through the use of the naive narrator, and by allowing each animal or group of animals to stand for one human trait or tendency that he criticizes.
A fable is a short, imaginative narrative, usually with animal characters, that illustrates a moral. The characters often embody a specific human trait, like jealousy, to make fun of humans who act similarly. Orwell uses details to make his animal characters seem like real animals: the cat vanishes for hours at a time; Molly the mare likes to have her nose stroked. The animals also represent human traits or characteristics: the pigs are selfish powergrabbers, the sheep are dim-witted "yes-men," and the horses are stouthearted workers. Animal Farm, like the traditional fable, is told in a simple, straightforward style.
In an allegory, characters and events stand for something else. In this case, the characters in the novel stand for significant figures in twentieth-century Russian history. Orwell makes the characters easily identifiable for those who know the historic parallels, because he gives each one a trait, or has them perform certain tasks, that are like that of a historical figure. Old Major is identified with Karl Marx because, just as Old Major develops the teachings that fuel the Animal Rebellion, Marx formulated the ideas that spawned the Russian revolution. Napoleon and Snowball, both pigs, stand for Russian leaders Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Stalin and Trotsky had a falling out much like
Napoleon and Snowball do. Events from history—the revolution itself and the Moscow purge trials of the 1930s—also appear in allegorical form in the novel.
Ever since Orwell wrote Animal Farm readers have enjoyed it as a simple animal story. While it is possible to read the book without being aware of the historical background in which Orwell wrote it, knowing the world's situation during the 1940s adds interest to the novel. The reader understands why the political implications of the book were so important to Orwell, and is encouraged to read the book again, looking for its less obvious political and societal references. As the date of the original publication of the work becomes more remote, the historical events that preceded it lose their immediacy, but Orwell's story remains viable. In fact, Orwell emphasized the universality and timelessness of his message by not setting the story in any particular era, and, while placing the farm in England, not making that fact important.
World War II
The target of Orwell's satire in Animal Farm was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the U.S.S.R., or the Soviet Union), which at the time the work was written was a military ally of Great Britain during World War II. The book's publication was delayed until after fighting had ended on the war's European front in May 1945. When England declared war on Germany in September 1939, it would not have seemed likely that by the war's end England and the U.S.S.R. would be allies. Just a week before, the world community had been stunned by news of a Soviet-German nonaggression pact. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin secretly worked out the agreement, while the Soviet leader publicly pursued an alliance with Great Britain and France against Germany. The pact called for the development of German and Russian spheres of interest in Eastern Europe and the division of Poland between the two countries. The world, which had for several years watched Germany's expansionist moves, was suddenly confronted with the Soviet Union sending troops into eastern Poland and several other bordering countries. In his book, George Orwell: The Ethical Imagination, Sant Singh Bal quotes Orwell on the situation: "Suddenly the scum of the earth and the bloodstained butcher of the workers (for so they had described one another) were marching arm in arm, their friendship 'cemented in blood,' as Stalin cheerily expressed it." Orwell portrays the Hitler-Stalin pact in his novel as the agreement between Mr. Frederick and Napoleon.
Compare & Contrast
1940s: The first half of the decade is spent dealing with the hardships and turmoil caused by World War II; the second half, adjusting to a post-war economy and the new U.S. role as a world superpower.
Today: Controversy erupts over a planned $100 million World War II memorial slated to be built on a 7.4 acre site on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
1940s: The truth of rumors of Nazi atrzocities during World War II were finally confirmed in 1945 as the Allied Armies liberated the remaining occupants of the Nazi death camps.
Today: The World Jewish Congress and other organizations demand a full accounting for millions of dollars in gold and other valuables looted from Jews and others killed by the Nazis in World War II that remain in unclaimed Swiss bank accounts.
1940s: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin met at Tehran, Iran, and other locations to discuss war strategy.
Today: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, U. S. presidents regularly meet with the president of Russia to discuss European security and strategic warhead stockpiles in both countries.
When the war began, Orwell and his wife were living in a 300-year-old cottage in Wallington, a rural community in southeastern England, where they raised animals and owned a store. When it appeared that Germany was preparing to invade England, the couple moved to London. Disappointed that he was unable to fight in the war against fascism, Orwell wanted to at least be in London where he might still be called on to defend his country. The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, tried in vain to bring about England's surrender with nightly bombing raids over London that continued sporadically for nearly two years. The bombings and shortages of practically every staple made life in London particularly difficult. Orwell felt compelled to stay there. According to Peter Lewis in George Orwell: The Road to 1984, Orwell told a friend, "But you can't leave when people are being bombed to hell." The writer, like most of his countrymen, suffered the loss of a family member in the war; his wife's brother, Laurence, an Army surgeon, died during the battle of Dunkirk in 1940.
The war changed when the Soviet Union was unexpectedly invaded by the Germans in June 1941. Still stung by Stalin's betrayal just two years earlier, the Allies (France, England, and—after Pearl Harbor—the United States) were nevertheless forced to join him in order to defeat Hitler. Orwell cringed at photographs of the leaders of England and the United States—Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt, respectively—and Stalin conferring with each other at the Tehran Conference held November 28 to December 1, 1943. Orwell sat down to write his book at exactly the same moment. In the preface to the Ukrainian edition of the novel, Orwell wrote: "I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages." Orwell knew he would have trouble publishing it because Stalin had become quite popular in England as the one who saved England from an invasion. Orwell couldn't forgive the Soviet leader's complicity with Hitler, or his bloody reshaping of the Soviet Communist Party during the 1930s which resulted in the death or deportation of hundreds of thousands of Russians. Orwell included these so-called purge trials in Animal Farm when the animals confess to aiding Snowball in various ways after the pig is exiled from the farm.
Although finished in February 1944, Animal Farm wasn't published until 1945, a pivotal year in world history. The war ended, but the year also included such disparate events as the first wartime use of a nuclear bomb and the approval of the charter establishing the United Nations, an international organization promoting peaceful economic cooperation. The cost of the war was staggering: estimates set the monetary cost at one trillion dollars, while an estimated 60 million people lost their lives. Nearly sixty countries were involved in the conflict, with daily life changed dramatically for those in the war zone. The war's end meant the end of rationing, but it also meant an end to the economic machinery that had produced war materials, the return of the soldiers who glutted the suddenly slackened employment market, and a dramatic increase in births in the United States, called the "Baby Boom," that would affect American society until the end of the century. The war had allowed only the United States and the Soviet Union to survive as world powers. So the end of the war brought the beginning of a Cold War, an ideological conflict pitting the Soviet Union and its allies against the United States and its allies, that persisted with varying degrees of intensity until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Although Orwell endured many rejection notices from publishers on both sides of the Atlantic before Animal Farm finally appeared in print, ever since it was published in 1945 it has enjoyed wide-spread critical approval. From the start, reviewers were apt to make a favorable comparison between Orwell's book and the work of the great satirists of the past. In an important early review, influential New Yorker critic Edmund Wilson commented that while Orwell's style was reminiscent of that used in the fables of French author Jean de La Fontaine and British author John Gay, he conceded that " 'Animal Farm' even seems very creditable if we compare it with Voltaire and [Jonathan] Swift." Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Adam de Hegedus were among the first critics to attach more significance to the novel beyond that of a political satire. Schlesinger wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Orwell's ability to make the reader empathize with the plight of the animals "would compel the attention of persons who never heard of the Russian Revolution." In Commonweal de Hegedus stated: "[The novel] has implications—and they are many—which are older and more universal than the past and present of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." He, like many critics have since, pointed out the similarity between conclusions drawn from Orwell's text and the famous aphorism of British historian Lord Acton who wrote, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Early negative criticism of the novel included Nation contributor Isaac Rosenfeld's belief that since the events satirized by Orwell had already passed, it was "a backward work," and New Republic critic George Soule's complaint that the book was "on the whole dull."
On Orwell's death in 1950, Arthur Koestler, a friend who shared Orwell's own disillusion with Soviet Communism, again raised comparisons with Swift. "No parable was written since Gulliver's Travels," he wrote in the Observer, "equal in profundity and mordant satire to 'Animal Farm.'" British journalist Christopher Hollis examined Orwell's ability to craft a fable. "The author of such a fable must have the Swift-like capacity of ascribing with solemn face to the animals idiotic but easily recognized human qualities," Hollis wrote in his A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works, "decking them out in aptly changed phrase ology to suit the animal life—ascribe to them the quality and then pass quickly on before the reader has begun to find the point overlaboured. This Orwell has to perfection." Essayist and novelist C. S. Lewis compared Animal Farm to 1984, Orwell's last novel, and found Animal Farm the more powerful of the two. In an essay in Tide and Time he wrote, "Wit and humour (absent from the longer work ) are employed with devastating effect. The great sentence 'All animals are equal but some are more equal than others' bites deeper than the whole of 1984."
In the 1960s and 1970s, critical interest in Orwell continued with scholars such as Jenni Calder, George Woodcock, Stephen J. Greenblatt, and Jeffrey Meyers publishing books that discussed Orwell and his works. Like Lewis, Greenblatt and Woodcock considered both Animal Farm and 1984 in their criticism, concluding that 1984 was a thematic continuation of Animal Farm. In his Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell, & Huxley Greenblatt wrote: "The horror of both Animal Farm and the later 1984 is precisely the cold, orderly, predictable process by which decency, happiness, and hope are systematically and ruthlessly crushed." In his The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell, Woodcock observed: "By transferring the problems of caste division outside a human setting, Orwell was able in Animal Farm to avoid the psychological complications inevitable in a novel…. In the process he left out one element which occurs in all his other works of fiction, the individual rebel caught in the machinery of the caste system. Not until he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four did he elaborate the rebel's role in an Animal Farm carried to its monstrously logical conclusion." Calder and Meyers both noted that since Orwell was not adept at creating believable human characters, his use of animals in the book made it more effective than any of his other novels. Calder remarked in her Chronicles of Conscience: A Study of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, "The animals are never mere representations. They have a breathing individuality that is lacking in most of Orwell's human characters."
The 1980s brought a spate of books, articles, and reviews on Orwell's works as the literary community marked the year 1984, the date that Orwell used as the title to his last novel. The literary world also celebrated Animal Farm's fiftieth anniversary in 1995, which saw the publication of a new illustrated edition. While most critiques of the novel remained positive, some reviewers, such as Stephen Sedley, offered negative opinions. In an essay contained in Christopher Norris's Inside the Myth: Orwell, Views from the Left, Sedley argued that the book's popularity had as much to do with an atmosphere of anti-communism in England following World War II as it did with Orwell's vision, stating, "Between its covers Animal Farm offers little that is creative, little that is original." In the New York Times Book Review, however, Arthur C. Danto maintained that "the sustained acceptance of the book is testimony to a human meaning deeper than anti-Soviet polemics." In Commonweal Katharine Byrne summarized many critics opinions when she wrote: "Should Animal Farm by read during the next fifty years? Of course, but for the right reasons: setting up as it does, with crystal clarity, the price paid when we do not safeguard our freedoms."
In the following essay, Fitzpatrick, a Ph.D. candidate at New York University, notes that an understanding of the historical setting for Orwell's novel is imperative if the reader is to understand the work as not simply an indictment of Communism in the Soviet Union.
Stephen Sedley, in a 1984 article in Inside the Myth: Orwell, Views from the Left attacking George Orwell's Animal Farm as both politically and artistically lacking, points to the fact that his thirteen-year-old daughter was "bored stiff by the novel, because she, like most students today, was "too new to political ideas to have any frame of reference for the story." In this, Sedley has a point: in the early 1980s, I was in high school and was given Animal Farm to read for the first time, along with the simple (indeed, simplistic) advice that this novel was an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the decline of subsequent Soviet Communism. The political environment in the United States being what it was in the early 1980s, coupled with the fact of my total lack of awareness of the circumstances of the Russian Revolution and the principles of Marxist-Leninist Socialism which the Revolution at first fought for and then lost sight of, my own interpretation of the novel resembled in both content and complexity the following statement: "George Orwell thought Communism was Bad."
Animal Farm is in fact one of the most studied and most readily misinterpreted novels of the twentieth century. And, given our distance from the events which it allegorizes and from the ideas it counterposes, it has only become easier to misinterpret since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The pigs have at last been vanquished, and Mr. Jones has returned to the farm, as we knew he would all along.
But in 1984, as Stephen Sedley was writing, there was no end to the Cold War in sight. The atmosphere on the Right was one of suspicion of all things Communist—the Soviet Union was, after all, the "Evil Empire," and the anti-Communist forces in the United States government held an unquestionable position of moral superiority. The atmosphere on the Left was no better—anything which looked like a criticism of the Soviet Union was considered a reactionary justification for the oppressions of capitalism.
It is this environment, then, which underscores Mr. Sedley's willful misreading of Orwell's tale. How else could he come to the conclusion that Orwell's argument in the novel is "that socialism in whatever form offers the common people no more hope than capitalism; that it will be first betrayed and then held to ransom by those forces which human beings have in common with beasts; and that the inefficient and occasionally benign rule of capitalism, which at least keeps the beasts in check, is a lesser evil"?
In so far as I believe Orwell to have an argument in Animal Farm, I suspect that it was stated much more closely, with less intervening static, by Adam de Hegedus in an early review of the novel in The Commonweal:
Orwell is not angry with Russia, or with any other country, because that country "turned Socialist." On the contrary he is angry with Russia because Russia does not believe in a classless and democratic society…. In short, Orwell is angry with Russia because Russia is not socialist.
Contrary to Sedley's claims, Animal Farm is not arguing for capitalism as the lesser of two evils, but is rather angrily pointing out the ways in which the Soviet experiment turned its back on its own principles—and is perhaps of the opinion that such descent from idealism to totalitarianism is inevitable in any violent revolution.
In order to read Animal Farm as the allegory which Orwell's contemporaries understood it to be, one must first have an outline of the key players. Old Major, the prize boar who first passes on his ideas about animal oppression by the humans and the future Rebellion of the animals, is commonly thought to represent either Karl Marx, one of the authors of the 1848 Communist Manifesto, or Vladimir Lenin, who adapted Marx's ideas to the Russian Revolution. Neither Marx's nor Lenin's influence remained long in its original state. Just as with Major's ideas, followers of Marx and Lenin "elaborated" their ideas into a complete system of thought which did not exactly reflect the intent of the original. (Late in his life, Marx insisted that he was certainly not a Marxist.)
What Do I Read Next?
- Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's National Book Award-winning The Uses of Enchantment (1976) examines the characteristics of the classic fairy tale and the importance of such stories in society.
- George Orwell's essays, especially "Why I Write" (1947) and "Politics and the English Language" (1946), in which the author explains his dire need to express himself in words and how politicians and others misuse them, ending with a list of six principles for good writing.
- Orwell's 1949 look at a terrifying future world dominated by a totalitarian state, 1984, which added to the English language such catchwords as "Big Brother," "doublespeak," and "Orwellian."
- Jonathan Swift's satirical Gulliver's Travels (1726), especially the fourth voyage which takes Gulliver to Houyhnhnmland, a country inhabited by a race of horses and a human-like inferior race called the Yahoos.
Napoleon and Snowball, the pigs who are primarily responsible for this elaboration of ideas into doctrine, represent Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, respectively. Some of the novel's details slip a bit from a strict representation of reality, as Orwell found it necessary to compress some events and change some chronologies in order to make his story work. For instance, Snowball's original plans for building the windmill correspond to Lenin's plans for the electrification of Russia; however, though this plan was not the point on which the Stalin/Trotsky conflict turned, the ultimate result was the same as that between Napoleon and Snowball: Trotsky was driven from the country under a death warrant; he was reported to be hiding in various enemy states; he was held responsible for everything that went wrong under the Stalinist regime; and, ultimately, his supporters were violently purged from the ranks of the Communist Party.
These correspondences between the Russian Revolution and the Rebellion on Animal Farm are generally agreed upon by the critics. Not much has been said, however, about the allegorical roles played by the humans in the story. Mr. Jones, quite clearly, represents the last Czar in Russia, whose dissolution and cruelty laid the groundwork for the workers' rebellion. The neighboring farmers, Mr. Pilkington of Foxwood and Mr. Frederick of Pinch-field, who are described as being "on permanently bad terms," represent the leaders of England and Germany respectively. The closeness of their names seems to imply an essential sameness—quite a shocking notion for a novel written at the end of World War II!—but Pilkington is described as "an easy-going gentleman farmer who spent much of his time in fishing or hunting according to the season," and his farm is "large, neglected, [and] oldfashioned." Frederick, on the other hand, is "a tough, shrewd man, perpetually involved in lawsuits and with a name for driving hard bargains," and his farm is "smaller and better kept." Pilkington is thus representative of the Allies' lackadaisical attitude toward their neighbors, while Frederick carries with him elements of German aggressiveness and bellicosity.
In fact, late in the novel, "terrible stories" begin leaking out of Pinchfield about the cruelties Frederick inflicts on his animals, no doubt corresponding to the horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust. It is thus that much more shocking when Squealer (who, as Napoleon's mouthpiece, might be said to correspond to Pravda, the Soviet propagandist press) announces that the deal Napoleon had been working out to sell some timber to Pilkington has instead been changed so that the deal will be made with Frederick. This devastating turn of events corresponds to the revelation in 1939 of the secret Nazi-Soviet anti-aggression pact which, like the peace between Frederick and Animal Farm, did not last long, but was abruptly ended by Hitler's attempted invasion of Russia.
Once Russia entered the European war on the side of the Allies (culminating in victory for the Soviet Union, as Squealer claims for Animal Farm, though the only victory was in gaining back what they had before), increasing attempts were made by Stalin to achieve some level of entente, or agreement, with the other Allied nations. A series of meetings were held between the leaders of the various nations, and one particular conference held in Teheran after the war began the eruption into detente, or discord, which resulted in the protracted Cold War. This conference is represented in the novel by the meeting between the pigs and the humans at the end, at which a quarrel breaks out over cheating at cards.
Despite this discordant note, however, the final lines of the novel reveal the greatest shock of all. As the other animals watch through the windows, they notice:
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
These lines are crucial to a full understanding of the novel. Orwell does not claim here that Napoleon/Stalin is worse than the humans, and thus that the animals would be better off under benign human control. In fact he points to an ultimate identity between the pigs and the humans, between Stalin and the leaders of the "free" nations, an idea which would have been considered heresy by both sides. This conclusion implies not that the Rebellion has been a failure because the animals are worse off than they would have been under the rule of Mr. Jones, but that the Rebellion is a failure because it has completely set aside its own ideals—which may be seen in the corruption of each and every one of Animal Farm's Seven Commandments—and landed everyone back exactly where they started, with the many suffering abuses in order to support the position of an elite few. Or, in the interpretation of George Woodcock in The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell:
… old and new tyrannies belong to the same family; authoritarian governments, whether they are based on the codes of old social castes or on the rules of new political elites, are basically similar and present similar dangers to human welfare and liberty.
It seems clear as I reread the novel now, understanding better than I did as a teenager the background against which Orwell wrote his allegory, and paying close attention to the implications of the novel's last few lines, that no part of the novel presents any such simplistic, cut-and-dried message as "Communism is Bad." Even Stephen Sedley's more sophisticated argument about the novel's ideological unsoundness suffers from an apparent—and misguided—belief that Orwell as novelist held any sympathy for Jones, Pilkington, or Frederick.
Other critics, such as Robert A. Lee, writing in Orwell's Fiction, hold that it is in fact dangerous to read Animal Farm too strictly as an allegory of a specific set of events, as one may in that way miss a broader applicability of its meaning. Lee argues that Animal Farm is more than an allegory of twentieth-century Russian politics, and more even than an indictment of revolutions in general: "Orwell is also," claims Lee, "painting a grim picture of the human condition in the political twentieth century, a time which he has come to believe marks the end of the very concepts of human freedom."
This picture of the human condition is what Orwell's allegory has to offer us today, now that the Cold War has been "won" and the humans are back in control of the farm. I do not believe, as Sedley seems to, that Orwell would be relieved that the "benign, inefficient" capitalists are back in charge; I believe he would instead point out that we are deluding ourselves if we think we are closer to those revolutionary ideas of justice, brotherhood, and equality than were the citizens of Stalinist Russia.
Source: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1998.
Stephen J. Greenblatt
In the following excerpt, Greenblatt explains how Animal Farm reveals Orwell's disgust and disillusion with the socialist causes he once expounded.
Throughout Orwell's early novels, journals, and essays, democratic socialism existed as a sustaining vision that kept the author from total despair of the human condition, but Orwell's bitter experience in the Spanish Civil War and the shock of the Nazi-Soviet pact signaled the breakdown of this last hope and the beginning of the mental and emotional state out of which grew Animal Farm and 1984. The political disappointments of the late '30s and '40s did not in themselves, however, disillusion Orwell—they simply brought to the surface themes and tensions present in his work from the beginning…. [The] socialism Orwell believed in was not a hardheaded, "realistic" approach to society and politics but a rather sentimental, Utopian vision of the world as a "raft sailing through space, with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody," provided men, who, after all, are basically decent, would simply use common sense and not be greedy. Such naïve beliefs could only survive while Orwell was preoccupied with his attacks on the British Raj, the artist in society, or the capitalist system. The moment events compelled him to turn his critical eye on the myth of socialism and the "dictatorship of the proletariat," he discerned fundamental lies and corruption. Orwell, in his last years, was a man who experienced daily the disintegration of the beliefs of a lifetime, who watched in horror while his entire life work was robbed of meaning.
The first of his great cries of despair was Animal Farm, a satirical beast fable which, curiously enough, has been heralded as Orwell's lightest, gayest work. Laurence Brander, in his biography of Orwell paints a charming but wholly inaccurate picture of Animal Farm, presenting it as "one of those apparently chance pieces a prose writer throws off … a sport out of his usual way," supposedly written by Orwell in a state where "the gaiety in his nature had completely taken charge … writing about animals, whom he loved." The surface gaiety, the seeming good humor and casualness, the light, bantering tone are, of course, part of the convention of beast fables and Animal Farm would be a very bad tale indeed if it did not employ these devices. But it is a remarkable achievement precisely because Orwell uses the apparently frivolous form of the animal tale to convey with immense power his profoundly bitter message. Critics like Laurence Brander and Tom Hopkinson who marvel at Orwell's "admirable good humour and detachment" miss, I think, the whole point of the piece they praise. Animal Farm does indeed contain much gaiety and humor, but even in the most comic moments there is a disturbing element of cruelty or fear that taints the reader's hearty laughter. While Snowball, one of the leaders of the revolution of farm animals against their master, is organizing "the Egg Production Committee for the hens, the Clean Tails League for the cows, the Wild Comrades' Re-education Committee…, the Whiter Wool Movement for the sheep," Napoleon, the sinister pig tyrant, is carefully educating the dogs for his own evil purposes. Similarly, the "confessions" forced from the animals in Napoleon's great purges are very funny, but when the dogs tear the throats out of the "guilty" parties and leave a pile of corpses at the tyrant's feet, the scene ceases to amuse. Orwell's technique is similar to [a device used by Evelyn] Waugh, who relates ghastly events in a comic setting.
Another critical mistake in appraising Animal Farm is made, I believe, by critics like Christopher Hollis who talk of the overriding importance of the author's love of animals and fail to understand that Orwell in Animal Farm loves animals only as much or as little as he loves human beings. To claim that he hates the pigs because they represent human tyrants and sympathizes with the horses because they are dumb animals is absurd. Nor is it necessary, as Hollis believes, that the truly successful animal fable carry with it "a gay and light-hearted message." Indeed, the very idea of representing human traits in animals is rather pessimistic. What is essential to the success of the satirical beast fable, as Ellen Douglass Leyburn observes [in Satiric Allegory: The Mirror of Man, 1956], is the author's "power to keep his reader conscious simultaneously of the human traits satirized and of the animals as animals." The storyteller must never allow the animals to be simply beasts, in which case the piece becomes a nonsatirical children's story, or to be merely transparent symbols, in which case the piece becomes a dull sermon. Orwell proved, in Animal Farm, his remarkable ability to maintain this delicate, satiric balance.
The beast fable, an ancient satiric technique in which the characteristic poses of human vice and folly are embodied in animals, is, as Kernan points out, "an unrealistic, expressionistic device" [Alvin Kernan, Modern Satire, 1962] which stands in bold contrast with Orwell's previous realistic manner. But the seeds for Animal Farm are present in the earlier works, not only in the metaphors likening men to beasts but, more important, in Orwell's whole attitude toward society, which he sees as an aggregation of certain classes or types. The types change somewhat in appearance according to the setting—from the snobbish pukka sahibs, corrupt officials, and miserable natives of Burmese Days to the obnoxious nouveaux riches, greedy restaurateurs, and overworked plongeurs of Down and Out in Paris and London, but there remains the basic notion that men naturally divide themselves into a limited number of groups, which can be isolated and characterized by the astute observer. This notion is given dramatic reality in Animal Farm, where societal types are presented in the various kinds of farm animals—pigs for exploiters, horses for laborers, dogs for police, sheep for blind followers, etc. The beast fable need not convey an optimistic moral, but it cannot portray complex individuals, and thus it can never sustain the burden of tragedy. The characters of a satirical animal story may be sly, vicious, cynical, pathetic, lovable, or intelligent, but they can only be seen as members of large social groups and not as individuals.
Animal Farm has been interpreted most frequently as a clever satire on the betrayal of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin. Richard Rees comments [in George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory, 1961] that "the struggle of the farm animals, having driven out their human exploiter, to create a free and equal community takes the form of a most ingeniously worked-out recapitulation of the history of Soviet Russia from 1917 up to the Teheran Conference." And indeed, despite Soviet critics who claim to see only a general satire on bureaucracy in Animal Farm, the political allegory is inevitable. Inspired by the prophetic deathbed vision of Old Major, a prize Middle White boar, the maltreated animals of Manor Farm successfully revolt against Mr. Jones, their bad farmer, and found their own Utopian community, Animal Farm. The control of the revolution falls naturally upon the pigs, particularly upon Napoleon, "a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way," and on Snowball, "a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but … not considered to have the same depth of character." Under their clever leadership and with the help of the indefatigable cart horses Boxer and Clover, the animals manage to repulse the attacks of their rapacious human neighbors, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick. With the farm secured from invasion and the Seven Commandments of Animalism painted on the end wall of the big barn, the revolution seems complete; but as the community develops, it is plain that there are graver dangers than invasion. The pigs at once decide that milk and apples are essential to their well being. Squealer, Napoleon's lieutenant and the ablest talker, explains the appropriation:
"Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples…. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proven by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers…. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back!"
A growing rivalry between Snowball and Napoleon is decisively decided by Napoleon's vicious hounds, who drive Snowball off the farm. Laurence Brander sees Snowball as a symbol of "altruism, the essential social virtue" and his expulsion as the defeat of "his altruistic laws for giving warmth, food and comfort to all the animals." This is very touching, but unfortunately there is no indication that Snowball is any less corrupt or power-mad than Napoleon. Indeed, it is remarked, concerning the appropriation of the milk and apples, that "All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon." The remainder of Animal Farm is a chronicle of the consolidation of Napoleon's power through clever politics, propaganda, and terror. Dissenters are ruthlessly murdered, and when Boxer can no longer work, he is sold to the knacker. One by one, the Commandments of Animalism are perverted or eliminated, until all that is left is:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
After that, it does not seem strange when the pigs live in Jones' house, walk on two legs, carry whips, wear human clothes, take out subscriptions to John Bull, Tit-Bits, and the Daily Mirror, invite their human neighbors over for a friendly game of cards. The game ends in a violent argument when Napoleon and Pilkington play an ace of spades simultaneously, but for the animals there is no real quarrel. "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
The interpretation of Animal Farm in terms of Soviet history (Major, Napoleon, Snowball represent Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky) has been made many times and shall not be pursued further here. It is amusing, however, that many of the Western critics who astutely observe the barbs aimed at Russia fail completely to grasp Orwell's judgment of the West. After all, the pigs do not turn into alien monsters; they come to resemble those bitter rivals Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick, who represent the Nazis and the Capitalists. All three major "powers" are despicable tyrannies, and the failure of the revolution is not seen in terms of ideology at all, but as a realization of Lord Acton's thesis, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." The initial spark of a revolution, the original intention of a constitution may have been an ideal of the good life, but the result is always the same—tyranny. Communism is no more or less evil than Fascism or Capitalism—they are all illusions which are inevitably used by the pigs as a means of satisfying their greed and their lust for power. Religion, too, is merely a toy of the oppressors and a device to divert the minds of the sufferers. Moses, the tame raven who is always croaking about the sweet, eternal life in Sugarcandy Mountain, flies after the deposed Fanner Jones, only to return when Napoleon has established his tyranny.
Animal Farm remains powerful satire even as the specific historical events it mocked recede into the past, because the book's major concern is not with these incidents but with the essential horror of the human condition. There have been, are, and always will be pigs in every society, Orwell states, and they will always grab power. Even more cruel is the conclusion that everyone in the society, wittingly or unwittingly, contributes to the pigs' tyranny. Boxer, the noblest (though not the wisest) animal on the farm, devotes his unceasing labor to the pigs, who, as has been noted, send him to the knacker when he has outlived his usefulness. There is real pathos as the sound of Boxer's hoofs drumming weakly on the back of the horse slaughterer's van grows fainter and dies away, and the reader senses that in that dying sound is the dying hope of humanity. But Orwell does not allow the mood of oppressive sadness to overwhelm the satire, and Squealer, "lifting his trotter and wiping away a tear," hastens to announce that, after receiving every attention a horse could have, Boxer died in his hospital bed, with the words "Napoleon is always right" on his withered lips. Frederick R. Karl, in The Contemporary English Novel, believes that Animal Farm fails as successful satire "by virtue of its predictability," but this terrifying predictability of the fate of all revolutions is just the point Orwell is trying to make. The grotesque end of the fable is not meant to shock the reader—indeed, chance and surprise are banished entirely from Orwell's world. The horror of both Animal Farm and the later 1984 is precisely the cold, orderly, predictable process by which decency, happiness, and hope are systematically and ruthlessly crushed.
Source: Stephen J. Greenblatt, "George Orwell," in his Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell, and Huxley, Yale University Press, 1965, pp. 35-74.
In the following excerpt, Brander applauds Orwell's use of colorful characters and lyrical narrative to balance his bitterly satirical story.
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Source: Laurence Brander, in his George Orwell, Longmans, Green & Co., 1954, pp. 171-82.
Katharine Byrne, "Not All Books Are Created Equal: Orwell & His Animals at Fifty," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXIII, No. 10, May 17, 1996, pp. 14, 16.
Jenni Calder, Chronicles of Conscience: A Study of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968.
Arthur C. Danto, "Animal Farm at 50," in New York Times Book Review, April 14, 1996, p. 35.
Adam de Hegedus, review of Animal Farm, in Commonweal, Vol. XLIV, No. 22, September 13, 1946. pp. 528-30.
Stephen J. Greenblatt, Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell, and Huxley, Yale University Press, 1965.
Christopher Hollis, A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works, Henry Regnery Co., 1956, pp. 140-53.
Arthur Koestler, "A Rebel's Progress: To George Orwell's Death," in Observer, January 29, 1950, reprinted in his The Trail of the Dinosaur and Other Essays, Macmillan, 1955, pp. 102-5.
C. S. Lewis, "George Orwell," in Time and Tide, January 8, 1955.
Jeffrey Meyers, in his A Reader's Guide to George Orwell, Thames & Hudson, 1975.
Isaac Rosenfeld, review of Animal Farm, in Nation, September 7, 1946, p. 373.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., "Mr. Orwell and the Communists," in New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1946, pp. 1, 28.
Stephen Sedley, "An Immodest Proposal: Animal Farm" in Inside the Myth: Orwell, Views from the Left, edited by Christopher Norris, Lawrence and Wishart, 1984, pp. 155-62.
George Soule, "Orwell's Fables," in New Republic, Vol.115, No. 9, September 2, 1946, pp. 266-67.
Edmund Wilson, review of Animal Farm, in New Yorker, Vol. XXII, No. 30, September 7, 1946, p. 97.
George Woodcock, in his The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell, Little, Brown, 1966.
Sant Singh Bal, in his George Orwell: The Ethical Imagination, Arnold-Heinnemann, 1981.
Bal explores the universality of Orwell's novel and compares it to Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.
"Beastly," in Economist, August 12, 1995, p. 71.
Short review praising the novel on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.
Northrop Frye, "Turning New Leaves," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XXVI, No. 311, December, 1946, pp. 211-12.
An early review of Animal Farm in which Frye criticizes the novel for failing to explore the reasons why the principles behind the Soviet revolution failed.
Frederick R. Karl, "George Orwell: The White Man's Burden," in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel, revised edition, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1972, pp. 148-66.
Karl briefly discusses Animal Farm as a failed, predictable satire.
Peter Lewis, George Orwell: The Road to 1984, Harcourt, 1981.
Mainly a biographical work, profusely illustrated, that gives important background material behind the writing of Animal Farm.
George Orwell, "Preface to the Ukrainian Edition of Animal Farm," in his The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945, Vol. III, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt, 1968, pp. 402-6.
Important essay for understanding how Orwell came to write the book.
George Orwell, "Why I Write," in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism, edited by Irving Howe, 2nd edition, Harcourt, 1982.
A significant essay in which Orwell analyzes his need to write.
Edward M. Thomas, "Politics and Literature," in his Orwell, Barnes & Noble, 1967, pp. 65-77.
Praises Animal Farm as a perfect fusion of the political and the artistic.