Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
In the opening Chapter of the book, Mr. Jones of Manor Farm is shown as a careless, irresponsible farm owner who cares more for a glass of beer than for his animals and the farm. He is often drunk, and his ensuing negligence causes the farm animals to protest and rebel against him.
One night, Old Major, the prize Middle White Boar, wishes to share a strange dream with all the animals. Since the two-year old boar is greatly respected by all, the animals are willing to forego an hour's sleep to listen to Old Major's tale. Before the animals assemble, the stout, majestic Old Major makes himself comfortable on his bed of straw. As the animals enter the barn, each is described. First to come are the three dogs, Bluebell, Jessie, and Picher. Then the pigs arrive and settle down in front of the platform. Clover, the stout, motherly mare, who is nearing middle age, finds her place. Benjamin, the cynical donkey, who is the oldest animal and the worst tempered, grumps as he settles down. Boxer, who is an enormous and optimistic horse, Mollie, who is the foolish, pretty white mare, Moses, who is the tame raven, and the cat are all present. The hens perch on the windowsills, and the pigeons flutter up to the rafters.
Major's intentions are noble. He shows concern for the welfare and destiny of the animals and inspires them to rebel against the human beings for their own good. Without ever telling his dream, he diverts the animals' attention to his song, 'Beasts of England'. He encourages them to gather in perfect unity and warns them to avoid the habits of men.
The first chapter clearly establishes the point of view of the entire novel. The story is told by an observing narrator who is outside the action of the story. He appears to be an average being who is unbiased; therefore, he can be trusted and believed. He also tells the story in a direct and concise manner, which is very effective. This point-of-view also helps Orwell successfully express the wishes, expectations, obedience, unity, and even protest of the animals.
The chapter also begins to establish the personalities of the animals, who act like animals and think and talk like human beings. True to animal behavior, Boxer and Clover trot like horses, and the cat selfishly looks after its own needs in a typically feline way. In contrast, Old Major, talking like a man, appears to be a polished statesman, more human than boar. He convinces the animals that they are poorly treated and deserve better. He describes instance of man's repeated cruelty to them. He then paints a picture of a happy future, when humans have been removed and the animals rule themselves. The groundwork for an animal farm and its rules of behavior are established in Old Major's speech. He specifically points out which human vices must be avoided by the animals when they rule the farm.
Old Major's philosophy is overly simplistic. He is convinced that humans are bad and animals are good. He also believes the good life is one ruled by animals in an easy-going, pastoral setting, as described in the song 'Beasts of England.' The fact that the other animals accept his philosophy is seen when they join in the singing and repeat the song five times, waking Farmer Jones from his drunken sleep in the process.
Old Major's speech also sets the slowly rising action of the plot in motion. It suggests the idea of animal freedom and hints that a leader is needed for the animal rebellion. Unfortunately for the animals, the leader who emerges is a tyrant and the animal's plight goes from bad to worse by the end of the novel.
It is important to notice how Orwell positively describes the animals in the chapter. The fat Old Major is "still a majestic looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance." The stout Clover is described as a "motherly mare that had never got her figure back after her fourth foal."
It is also important to notice that politically, Old Major represents a blend of Marx and Lenin, the leaders of Communism in Russia. It was Marx, like Old Major, who had a 'strange dream' about the "proletariats' overthrowing of the bourgeoisie" to end capitalistic tyranny. 'Beasts of England', the animal anthem of the revolution, reflects Lenin's idea of unity among workers. Through Old Major, Orwell has developed the first stage of revolution, which is an intense fight for an ideal.