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Free Study Guide-Animal Farm by George Orwell-Free Online Booknotes
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LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION

It is important to realize that George Orvwell wrote Animal Farm on various levels:

As a Children's Story:

The novel is a children's story in its own right because the author tried to parody the style of children's books. He wrote an animal story simple enough for a child, but added sophisticated humor, wit, fantasy, and satire for his adult audience. The style is straight forward, almost like a fairy tale, and was enjoyed by children of all ages for its cunning and charm.

As a Fable:

Animal Farm is a fable in the sense that its characters are animals, each with his own personality and human characteristics. The animals think, meet, talk, act, obey, disobey, aspire, fight, and respect their leaders -- just like men; but the animals are used to expose the follies, foibles, and failings of humans.

In a fable, everything is pointed and has some purpose; situations, relationships, heroes, scapegoats, friends are all developed to make a point. The law abiding, simple animals in the story only want peace, which is impossible under the harsh and merciless pigs that rule. Squealer's rationalizing, persuasion and defensive tactics point out the hazards of propaganda. Through him, Orwell warns, "Keep the truth away from the people, tell your lies boldly and persistently, and people can be made to believe anything."

As a fable, the story is warm, amusing, and friendly on the surface. Underneath, there is great meaning, for it becomes a political fable on the story of the Russian Revolution and its betrayal of the people. It is also a modern beast fable in which the events that occur in an animal utopia parallel the post revolutionary development in the Soviet Union.

As a Political Satire:

Animal Farm is also an example of a literary form known as 'Political Satire,' blending a critical attitude with wit and humor for the purpose of mocking or ridiculing the follies of man's political behavior and institutions. To be effective, satire must be terse and concise, to say a great deal in a brief space. Orwell's Animal Farm meets this requirement. The author succinctly shows that the principles of Communism are noble, but man's nature prevents them from being implemented. Man simply cannot resist the temptation of power, as shown through the animals. On the farm, corruption develops, a secret-brigade of nine dogs is formed, and the tyrannical Napoleon creates an autocratic state.


Appalled by the evils of autocratic rule in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Spain (which Orwell experienced first-hand), the author felt impelled to protest against it. Animal Farm is his protest against autocracy, despotism, and totalitarianism and becomes a systematic satire of the Soviet Union during the rule of Stalin. Orwell says that his main intention in the book is to show the falsity of the popular idea that Soviet Russia was a socialist state; he wanted to save socialism from Communism.

The novel meets all the requirements of a good satire because:

A. It is inspired by a personal grievance or a passion for reform, for Orwell's Spanish experience and anti-Stalin obsession inspired Animal Farm.

B. It is an attack on a group of persons or a social evil, for the book exposes Russian Communism and arouses hatred for despotic rulers, such as the superior class of pigs and dogs.

C. It is intended to ridicule, not abuse, though it is often bitter, for Orwell ridicules the 'short memory' of the animals, who quickly forget what has happened to them in the immediate past and begin to act just like the humans they have overthrown.

D. It hates the sin and not the sinner, for Orwell points out the evils of the ruthlessness and dishonesty of Napoleon, the cunning, rationalizing tactics of Squealer, and the ferocity of the dogs; but he does not make the reader hate the animals (sinners) in general.

E. It contrasts the ideal with the real, as seen in the animal's seven Commandments and their amendment.

F. It takes the shortest route to its target, for Orwell spares no words in making the reader think, feel, and see that the animals were wrong in their failure to become kind and sensible rulers.

G. It is more playful then hurtful through its dependence on irony, sarcasm, wit, and humor.

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