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Animal Farm
George Orwell


THE FABLE

THE PLOT

One night when Farmer Jones has gone to bed drunk, all the animals of Manor Farm assemble in the barn for a meeting. Old Major, the prize pig, wants to tell them about a strange dream he had. First, he tells them in clear, powerful language "the nature of life" as he has come to understand it. Animals toil, suffer, get barely enough to eat; as soon as they are no longer useful, they are slaughtered. And why? Because animals are enslaved by Man, "the only creature that consumes without producing." There is only one solution: Man must be removed. And animals must be perfectly united for their common goal: Rebellion.

After a brief interruption caused by the dogs chasing after some rats and a vote proposed by Major to decide if rats are comrades (they are), Major sums up: All animals are friends, Man is the enemy. Animals must avoid Man's habits: no houses, beds, clothes, alcohol, money, trade. Above all, "we are brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal."

He cannot describe his dream to them, "a dream of the earth as it will be when Man has vanished." But he does teach them an old animal song, "Beasts of England," which came back to him in his dream. The repeated singing of this revolutionary song throws the animals into a frenzy.

Major dies soon after, but the animals feel they should prepare for the Rebellion he preached. The work of teaching and organizing the others falls on the pigs, thought to be the cleverest animals. Snowball and Napoleon are "pre-eminent among the pigs"; and then there is Squealer, "a brilliant talker."

Mr. Jones drinks and neglects his farm more and more. One evening, when he has forgotten to feed them for over a day, the animals break into the store-shed and begin helping themselves. Jones and his men charge in, lashing with their whips. This is more than the hungry animals can bear. They all fling themselves on their tormentors. The surprised and frightened men are driven from the farm. Unexpectedly, the Rebellion has been accomplished. Jones is expelled; Manor Farm belongs to the animals.

The joy of the animals knows no bounds when they realize that they're now the owners of the farm they've worked on all their lives. They're enthusiastic when the pigs, who have taught themselves to read and write, change the sign MANOR FARM to ANIMAL FARM, and paint the Seven Commandments of Animalism on the barn wall:

  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.

Now the cows must be milked. The pigs manage to do this. "What is going to happen to all that milk?" says someone. "Never mind the milk, comrade," cries Napoleon. "The main thing is to get the harvest in." When they come back from the fields, the milk has disappeared.

Despite the newness of running the farm by themselves, the animals succeed in doing all tasks in record time. The pigs' cleverness, everyone's enthusiasm, and hard work- especially the work of Boxer, the huge cart-horse- pull them through.

On Sundays there are ceremonies to celebrate the Rebellion, and meetings to plan work. (Here, Snowball and Napoleon never seem to agree.) The animals are taught to read, but the dumber ones can't even learn the Seven Commandments, so Snowball reduces them all to one maxim: FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD. The sheep like to bleat it for hours on end. Snowball also organizes Committees, but Napoleon is not interested; he's concerned with the education of the young, and takes two litters of puppies away as soon as they're weaned, saying he'll educate them. As for the missing milk, it goes to the pigs, as do the new apples. Squealer explains that this is absolutely necessary for all the brainwork the pigs do; otherwise Jones might come back, and nobody wants that to happen.

Jones and his men do try to retake the farm. But Snowball has prepared the animals, and thanks to his cleverness and courage- and Boxer's great strength- they fight off the invaders.

There is growing conflict between Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball comes up with the idea of a grand project: building a windmill; Napoleon says it will come to nothing. Snowball says they should stir animals to rebel on other farms; Napoleon says they should get guns for their own. Finally, when Snowball concludes an eloquent speech about labor-saving electricity to be produced by the windmill, Napoleon gives a signal. Then nine huge dogs- the pups he had raised- bound in and charge at Snowball, who barely escapes from the farm with his life.

Napoleon, surrounded by his fierce dogs, announces that there will be no more time-wasting debates: a special Committee of pigs, chaired by himself, will simply give the animals their work orders each week. Four young pigs begin to protest, but growls from the dogs silence them, and the sheep bleat FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD over and over, preventing discussion.

Surprisingly, a few days later Napoleon announces that the windmill will be built after all. The animals slave and sacrifice for the project. Some of their food has to be sold to buy building materials. The pigs, however, have moved into the farmhouse, where they sleep in beds. This is absolutely necessary, says Squealer. But isn't it contrary to the Fourth Commandment? The animals check: "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets," it says. Meanwhile a storm topples the half-built windmill. Napoleon blames the destruction on Snowball.

In fact, although Boxer refuses to believe Snowball was a traitor from the start, there seem to be signs of Snowball's sabotage all over when things go wrong. One day, Napoleon orders all animals to assemble in the yard. The dogs rush forward and grab four young pigs by the ear and drag them before Napoleon. (They also rush at Boxer, but he simply pins one to the ground and lets him go.) The terrified pigs confess they were in league with Snowball to destroy the windmill and hand the Farm over to Man. After they confess, the dogs tear their throats out. The same thing happens to three hens, a goose, etc. The confessions pile up and so do the corpses. The depressed, frightened animals creep away when the executions are over.

Some of the animals think they remember that these killings violate the Sixth Commandment. But on the barn wall they read: "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." Later, still more animals are executed for conspiring to kill Napoleon. He is now constantly surrounded by dogs, and showered with honors: for example, a poem to his glory is inscribed on the barn wall.

Animal Farm is attacked by its neighbor, Mr. Frederick, and his armed men; the men take possession of the whole pasture, and blow up the windmill. But after a bitter fight, the animals repel the invaders, though some animals are killed and almost all are wounded. The pigs celebrate with a drinking party.

Soon after, there's a mysterious crash one night. Squealer is found on the ground next to a ladder at the barn wall, with a pot of paint near him. A few days later, the animals notice there's another commandment they had remembered wrong: it reads "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess."

Times are hard, rations short for everyone (except for the pigs, who need their food), the windmill must be rebuilt, and a schoolhouse built for the young pigs. Boxer works tirelessly, although he is getting old. He wants to lay up a good store of building stone before he retires. One day as he's pulling a cartload, he collapses. Squealer announces that Comrade Napoleon is making special arrangements to have Boxer treated at a nearby hospital. When the van comes to take him away, however, his friend Benjamin the donkey reads the sign on its side: in fact, he discovers, they're taking Boxer to the horse slaughterer. But it's too late; the van drives away. Three days later, Squealer paints a moving picture of Boxer's death in the hospital. The pigs will hold a banquet in his honor, he says. There is raucous singing in the farmhouse that night; somewhere the pigs have acquired the money to buy another case of whiskey.

Years pass. The animals work hard and often go hungry. There are many new buildings and machines on the farm, and also many new dogs and pigs. Maybe this is why the animals have no more to eat than before. But at least it's their farm.

One day Squealer takes the sheep to a secluded spot for a whole week. When they return, the animals see something strange and frightening: a pig walking on its hind legs. Yes, first Squealer, then the other pigs, walk upright out of the farmhouse. Finally Napoleon himself appears. He is carrying a whip in his trotter (foot). The animals are perhaps about to protest- when all the sheep burst out into a bleating of FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BETTER!- and the pigs file back into the house. Clover the mare asks Benjamin to read the Commandments to her, and he does. All that's left on the wall is one slogan:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

From then on, the pigs all carry whips; they buy a radio, dress in Jones' clothes. Soon they receive a visit from neighboring farmers. Loud voices and song are heard coming from the farmhouse that night. Despite their fear, the animals are curious; they creep up to the windows to watch. Men and pigs are sitting around the table, drinking and speech-making. When a farmer toasts the success of Animal Farm- its discipline and enforced work leave nothing to be desired by any standard- Napoleon replies that he will take some more measures to cement normal business relations with their neighbors: the custom of animals addressing one another as "comrade" will be abolished, for example (singing "Beasts of England" had been forbidden long ago) and the farm will go back to its original name: Manor Farm. But the party soon degenerates into a quarrel. When the animals peek in again, they find that as they look from pig to man, from man to pig, it is impossible to say which is which.

[Animal Farm Contents]


THE CHARACTERS

In Animal Farm Orwell is more concerned with political psychology than with individual characters. Remember, this is a fable, not a novel. The animals are meant to represent certain types of human beings, not complex individuals. Some of them are even group characters, without any individual name: "the sheep," "the hens." The "main character" of Animal Farm is actually all of the animals taken together as a group. It's what happens to the group as a whole- whether their Rebellion succeeds or fails, and why- that really matters. Still, it is important to notice the distinctions between certain types and individuals.

  • THE PIGS
    They lead the Rebellion from the start and progressively take on the same power and characteristics as the human masters they helped overthrow. They represent corrupted human leaders, in particular, the Bolsheviks, who led the overthrow of the capitalist Russian government, only to become new masters in their turn.

    • OLD MAJOR
      Old Major is the wise old pig whose stirring speech to the animals helps set the Rebellion in motion- though he dies before it actually begins. His role compares with that of Karl Marx, whose ideas set the Communist Revolution in motion.

    • NAPOLEON AND SNOWBALL
      Napoleon and Snowball struggle for leadership of the Farm after Major's death. Snowball is an energetic, brilliant leader. He's the one who successfully organizes the defense of the Farm (like Trotsky with the Red Army). He's an eloquent speaker with original- although not necessarily beneficial- ideas (the windmill). Napoleon is a "large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way." And so he does. Instead of debating with Snowball, he sets his dogs on him and continues to increase his personal power and privileges from that time on. What counts for him is power, not ideas. Note his name: think of the other Napoleon (Bonaparte) who took over the French Revolution and turned it into a personal Empire. Napoleon's character also suggests that of Stalin and other dictators as well.

    • SQUEALER
      Squealer is short, fat, twinkle-eyed and nimble, "a brilliant talker." He has a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail that is somehow very persuasive. They say he can turn black into white! That's just what he does, again and again: every time the pigs take more wealth and power, Squealer persuades the animals that this is absolutely necessary for the well-being of all. When things are scarce, he proves that production has increased- with figures. He is also the one who makes all the changes in the Seven Commandments. In human terms he is the propaganda apparatus that spreads the "big lie" and makes people believe in it.

  • THE HORSES
    • BOXER AND CLOVER
      Boxer and Clover represent the long-suffering workers and peasants of the world. Orwell presents them as being big, strong, patient, and decent- but not too bright. Boxer believes in the Rebellion and in its Leader. His two favorite sayings are "Napoleon is always right" and "I will work harder." His huge size and strength and his untiring labor save the Farm again and again. He finally collapses from age and overwork, and is sold for glue. Clover the mare is a motherly, protective figure. She survives to experience, dimly and wordlessly, all the sadness of the failed Revolution.

    • MOLLIE
      Mollie, the frivolous, luxury-loving mare, contrasts with Clover. She deserts Animal Farm for sugar and ribbons at a human inn. Orwell may have been thinking of certain Russian nobles who left after the Revolution, or of a general human type.

  • OTHER ANIMALS
    • THE DOGS
      The dogs represent the means used by a totalitarian state to terrorize its own people. Think of them as Napoleon's secret police.

    • THE SHEEP
      The stupid sheep keep bleating away any slogan the pigs teach them. You can guess who they are.

    • MURIEL
      Muriel the goat reads better than Clover and often reads things (such as Commandments) out loud to her.

    • BENJAMIN
      Gloomy Benjamin, the donkey, may remind you of Eeyore in Winnie-the-Pooh, except that unlike Eeyore he never complains about his own personal problems. He is a skeptic and a pessimist- we'd almost say a cynic, if it weren't for his loyal devotion to Boxer. Like his friend, he doesn't talk much and patiently does his work, although- unlike Boxer- no more than is required. He's also unlike Boxer in that he does not believe in the Revolution, nor in anything else, except that life is hard. Whatever political question he is asked, he replies only that "Donkeys live a long time" and "None of you has ever seen a dead donkey." He survives.

    • THE PIGEONS
      The pigeons spread the word of Rebellion beyond the farm, as many Communists spread the doctrine of the revolution beyond the boundaries of the Soviet Union.

    • MOSES
      Moses the Raven, who does no work, but tells comforting tales of the wonderful Sugarcandy Mountain where you go when you die, is a satire of organized religion. (Marx called religion, in a famous phrase, "the opiate of the people.") In terms of Russia, Moses represents the Orthodox Church. Watch what happens to him in the story.

  • THE HUMANS

    • FARMER JONES
      In the narrowest sense the drunken, negligent Farmer Jones represents the Czar. He also stands for any government that declines through its own corruption and mismanagement.

    • PILKINGTON
      Pilkington, who likes hunting and fishing more than farming, represents Orwell's view of the decadent British gentleman in particular- and of the Allied nations in general, especially Britain and France.

    • FREDERICK
      The cruel Frederick represents Germany.

    • WHYMPER
      Whymper is a commercial go-between for animals and humans- just as certain capitalists have always transacted business with Communist nations.

[Animal Farm Contents]


OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

As its title implies, Animal Farm is set on a farm. But Orwell uses the farm to represent a universe in miniature. It sometimes seems idyllic, peaceful, fresh, spring-like. Usually moments when it is perceived in this way contrast ironically with the real situation of the animals. The setting suggests an attitude: "this could be utopia, but..." It does not really interest Orwell in itself. Sometimes he sketches a wintry, bleak, cold decor, a perfect backdrop for hard times. Here you could think of the setting as a metaphor- a way of representing hard times.

THEMES

Animal Farm concerns one of the central political experiences of our time: revolution.

On those relatively rare occasions when men and women have decided to change radically the system of government they were born under, there has been revolution. It has been on the rise in the last three hundred years of human history. If we want to understand the world we live in, we must try to understand the phenomenon of revolution- the how, the why, the what-happens-then. One way of doing so is to see how an imaginative writer deals with it. You can think of this as an important benefit of reading Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is also about another crucial political phenomenon of our time, one which is perhaps unique to the 20th century: the rise of the totalitarian state. Even though he's less concerned with totalitarianism in Animal Farm than in his novel 1984, Orwell does give us an imaginative analysis of totalitarian dictatorship in Animal Farm. So another thing we can get from this book is a feel for how a modern dictatorship works.

STYLE

The story of Animal Farm is told in a simple, straightforward style. The sentences are often short and spare, with a simple subject-verb-object structure: "Old Major cleared his throat and began to sing." "It was a bitter winter."

The story follows a single line of action, calmly told, with no digressions. Orwell's style, said one critic, has "relentless simplicity" and "pathetic doggedness" of the animals themselves. There is a kind of tension in Animal Farm between the sad story the author has to tell and the lucid, almost light way he tells it.

POINT OF VIEW

Orwell uses point of view in Animal Farm to create irony. Irony is a contrast or contradiction, such as between what a statement seems to say and what it really means- or between what characters expect to happen and what really happens. The story is told from the naive point of view of the lower animals, not from that of the clever pigs or an all-seeing narrator. Thus, when there's a crash one night and Squealer is found in the barn sprawled on the ground beside a broken ladder, a brush, and a pot of paint, it is "a strange incident which hardly anyone was able to understand." A few days later the animals find that the Fifth Commandment painted on the barn wall is not exactly as they remembered it; in fact there are, they can now see, two words at the end that "they had forgotten." No comment from the narrator.

This simple irony is sometimes charged with great intensity in Animal Farm. For example, when Boxer, who has literally worked himself to death for the Farm, is carted off in a van to the "hospital," and Benjamin reads out "Horse Slaughterer" on the side of the van (too late), we know- and for once at least some of the animals know- what has really happened: the sick horse has been sold for glue. No irony. But when Squealer gives his fake explanation about the vet who didn't have time to paint over the slaughterer's old sign, we are gravely informed that "The animals were enormously relieved to hear this." And two paragraphs later, at the end of the chapter, when there is a banquet- for the pigs- in Boxer's honor, we hear the sound of singing coming from the farmhouse, and the last sentence tells us that the word went round that from somewhere or other the pigs had acquired the money to buy themselves another case of whisky." Most of the animals don't make the connection between Boxer's being taken away and the pigs suddenly having more money- and the narrator doesn't seem to make the connection either. But Orwell makes sure we, the readers, don't miss it. The irony- the contrast between what the animals believe, what the narrator actually tells us, and what we know to be the truth- fills us with more anger than an open denunciation could have done.

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Animal Farm successfully combines the characteristics of three literary forms- the fable, the satire, and the allegory.

Animal Farm is a fable- a story usually having a moral, in which beasts talk and act like men and women. Orwell's animal characters are both animal and human. The pigs, for example, eat mash- real pig food- but with milk in it that they have grabbed and persuaded the other animals to let them keep (a human action). The dogs growl and bite the way real dogs do- but to support Napoleon's drive for political power. Orwell never forgets this delicate balance between how real animals actually behave and what human qualities his animals are supposed to represent.

Part of the fable's humorous charm lies in the simplicity with which the characters are drawn. Each animal character is a type, with one human trait, or two at most- traits usually associated with that particular kind of animal. Using animals as types is also Orwell's way of keeping his hatred and anger against exploiters under control. Instead of crying, "All political bosses are vicious pigs!" he keeps his sense of humor by reporting calmly: "In future, all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs." (No wonder that when a publisher who rejected the book, afraid to give offense, wanted to have some animal other than pigs representing these bosses, Orwell called it an "imbecile suggestion.")

The aspect of human life that most interested Orwell was not psychological; it was political: how people act as a group, how societies are formed and function. Clearly, Animal Farm is a story about a revolution for an ideal, and about how that ideal is increasingly betrayed until it disappears altogether from the new society after the revolution. Since Orwell attacks that new society, and since, despite the grim, bitter picture he paints of it, he attacks it with humor (the humor of the beast fable), we can also call Animal Farm a satire.

The immediate object of attack in Orwell's political satire is the society that was created in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The events narrated in Animal Farm obviously and continuously refer to events in another story, the history of the Russian Revolution. In other words, Animal Farm is not only a charming fable ("A Fairy Story," as Orwell playfully subtitles it) and a bitter political satire; it is also an allegory.

You can enjoy Animal Farm without knowing this, of course, just as you can enjoy Swift's Gulliver's Travels without realizing that it, too, is a bitter satire and in places a political allegory. But to understand the book as fully as possible, we'll want to pay attention to the historical allegory as we go along.

THE STORY

THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES


ECC [Animal Farm Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.

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