Satiric fable, published in 1945, generally considered to be Orwell’s finest work of fiction. Animal Farm transformed Orwell from a respected English journalist and minor novelist into an international best-selling author. It had appeared in 18 foreign translations prior to Orwell’s death in 1950 and has since been published in languages as diverse as Afrikaans, Icelandic, Yiddish, and Persian. The success of Animal Farm can be attributed primarily to Orwell’s masterly combination of lucid prose and trenchant political allegory. Comprising roughly 30,000 words, this tale of an animal revolution betrayed by the avarice and corruption of a small minority within the farm resembles imaginative and moralistic fiction in the tradition of Aesop’s Fables and the tales of Beatrix Potter, which Orwell read as a child.
Orwell began writing Animal Farm in November 1943, right after the Teheran Conference, the first meeting of the Big Three, the British prime minister Winston Churchill, the American president Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, to discuss war strategy and postwar plans. Earlier in the war, Churchill and Roosevelt had formed a close relationship, but Teheran (Tehran) represented the first opportunity for the three allies to take the measure of one another. On the surface all was harmonious at the conference, with Stalin basking in the success of the Red Army, which at that point had pushed the Germans back to the border of East Prussia. With an air of genial magnanimity, he promised his two allies that the Soviet army would enter the war against Japan as soon as Germany was defeated. But in fact, simmering beneath the surface was a deep mutual distrust. As Orwell expressed in his preface to the Ukrainian edition, “I wrote it [Animal Farm] immediately after the Teheran Conference, which everybody thought had established the best possible relations between the USSR and the West. I personally did not think that such good relations would last long.”
In fact, the “good relations” did not survive the Conference itself. The meeting corresponded consistently with the depiction of it in the final chapter of Animal Farm. First, the actual Teheran meetings took place on the grounds of the Soviet Embassy, and Roosevelt was persuaded for security reasons to stay at a villa within the Soviet grounds. Thus, the fact that the human beings are visitors to Animal Farm neatly parallels the arrangement at Teheran. At the meetings, Roosevelt took a more amenable attitude to Stalin’s ideas than to those of his close ally, Churchill, which strained the relations between the two friends. The American president hoped he could win over the Russian by the charm of his own personality. Churchill and Stalin tangled directly over the date of D-day, the planned invasion of France, the British prime minister wanting to delay in favor of Allied action in the Mediterranean. Stalin may have seen Churchill’s desire to open a new front as an attempt to limit Soviet influence in postwar Eastern Europe. (If he did, he was right.) On November 29, the second night of the conference, the Russians hosted an elaborate dinner party, punctuated, in high Russian style, by a large number of toasts. At one point, Stalin made a remark that Churchill found offensive, and the prime minister stalked out of the room. Stalin had to pursue him to assure him that he was only joking. In the words of the historian William McNeill, “This incident . . . was symptomatic of the state of feeling among the three men who were deciding the fate of a large part of the world . . . (360). As it happened, the next meetings of the Big Three, at Yalta in February 1945 and six months later at Potsdam, ensured Soviet domination of Eastern Europe for the next 45 years. Whether Orwell picked up the tension from gossip by members of the English negotiating party or simply intuited it, he was careful to include the quarrel between Pilkington and Napoleon as a significant, ominous development at the end of the novel.
Animal Farm was published in England on August 17, four months after Germany’s surrender and 11 days after the bombing of Hiroshima. As Orwell anticipated, the compliments and flattery between the Russians and their Western allies would soon erupt into the struggle that became known as the cold war. (The Oxford English Dictionary credits Orwell with the first use of the term in 1945).
Prefaces to Animal Farm
Orwell wrote two prefaces to Animal Farm. The first was designed for the original edition, and the second was directed to a special audience, Ukrainian refugees, who at the time were living in displaced-persons camps in Germany.
Preface to the Original Edition
Orwell wrote this preface for the first edition of the book, published by Secker & Warburg, in August 1945. He chose as a title for the preface “The Freedom of the Press.” For some unknown reason the preface was not included in the first edition. In 1972, Ian Angus, coeditor of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1968) and assistant to the editor of The Complete Works of George Orwell (1998) found the original typescript.
Orwell begins the preface by explaining that this book was rejected by four publishers. One of these planned to accept it but decided to first consult the MOI, which advised that it not be published because it would give offense to our Russian allies. What is disturbing about this decision, Orwell suggests, is not the specter of government censorship but the cowardice of supposedly independent publishers. He suggests that even then, in 1945, the “prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of the Soviet regime.” This tendency to treat Stalin as sacrosanct and above reproach was not due simply to the fact that they were our allies at the moment. Uncritical adherence to the Marxist line, at least among members of the English liberal intelligentsia, extends back at least as far as the Spanish civil war.
He cites as a recent example of the British press’s unquestioned acceptance of Russian propaganda their treatment of Colonel Mihailovich, the Yugoslavian anti-Nazi guerrilla leader. The British government and press went along with the unproven allegations that Mihailovich collaborated with the Germans, thus clearing the way for his rival, the communist Marshall Tito, to seize power in Yugoslavia.
He goes on to state that what is most disturbing about the censorship of criticism of the Soviet Union from the Left is that it is largely selfimposed. A large number of English intellectuals have felt that “to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy.” As for this book, he suggests, it will draw a predictable reaction from the Left, namely, that it should never have been published. The reason they will give is that such a book harms the progressive cause, and if they are true Marxists, they will argue that freedom of speech is, in any case, only a “bourgeois illusion.” But they will have failed to realize that every time you suppress dissent, you take a step in the direction of totalitarianism. Here in England, he explains, incarcerating the English fascist Oswald Mosley was entirely justified in 1940 with an imminent German invasion on the horizon, but keeping him in jail, “without trial, in 1943 was an outrage,” an example of anti-fascism moving in a fascist direction.
Orwell says that by the time this book is published, opinion may have shifted regarding the Soviets. But if that switch results in another orthodoxy, the problem will remain. The overall problem is the danger to the freedom of expression. “The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played . . . If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
Preface to the Ukrainian Edition:
In April 1946 Orwell received a letter from Ihor Szewczenko, a young Ukrainian scholar offering to translate Animal Farm into Ukrainian. At this time, Szewczenko was in northern Germany, working on a Polish newspaper for members of a Polish army division stationed there. He had also been reading his own translation of parts of Animal Farm to Ukrainian refugee audiences. Their response was so positive that he was asking permission to translate the entire book. Receiving approval from Orwell, he completed the translation. The publishers of the translation were a group of dissident Marxist Ukrainians, who had supported the original revolution but turned against the counterrevolutionary Bonapartism of Stalin. They inquired about the possibility of Orwell’s writing a preface. He agreed and sent off the preface, which was then translated by Szewczenko.
Orwell begins this preface by introducing himself to an audience entirely unfamiliar with him and his background. He describes his education, his experiences as a police officer in Burma, in Paris and London with down-and-outers, with the miners in North England, and fighting against Franco in Spain. There he saw the Moscow-directed terror tactics of the Communist Party, hunting down anarchists and other dissidents. He became convinced in the ensuing years that the idea, popular in England, that the Soviet Union represented a true form of socialism is pernicious: It has done more damage to the possibility of forming a true socialism in England than any other single factor. “Ever since my departure from Spain, I had the idea of exposing the ‘Soviet myth,’ but the idea took shape when I saw a young boy in the country beating a cart horse. It struck me,” he explains, “that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”
He says that he will not attempt to speak for the work: Either it speaks for itself or it is a failure. He wishes, however, to make two points. One is that, though the incidents in the story are based on Soviet history, the chronology at times has been violated in the interest of the “symmetry of the story.” The second point is that, though some readers see the ending as one of reconciliation between the pigs and the humans, this is not the case: “I meant it to end on a loud note of discord.” He never thought the seemingly good relations that appeared to exist after Teheran would last. As recent events have shown, Orwell says, “I wasn’t far wrong.”
As Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, who as usual has been drinking too much, reels into his farmhouse to go to bed, all the animals gather in the main barn to hear Old Major, a prize boar, highly respected by the others, recount a strange dream he has had the previous night. Included among those arriving are the dogs, Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher; the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover; Muriel, the white goat; and Benjamin, the sullen donkey. Arriving early so as to have room right in front of the podium where Old Major was “ensconced” are the pigs. Arriving late is Mollie, the white mare who draws Mr. Jones’s carriage. Last one in is the cat, supremely self-involved, as usual. The only one who does not show up is Moses, the raven.
Old Major begins by announcing as a prelude to his dream that he feels he only has a short time to live, but before he dies, he wants to pass on what he has learned from his life. He has come to see that the “life of an animal is misery and slavery.” And if you ask why this should be, the answer is obvious. It is man—man who exploits and enslaves them and, when they’re old and no longer useful, slaughters them. It is clear that if they rid themselves of man, they will be happy and free, able to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. In order to achieve this end, they must work with all our strength toward one goal: rebellion. No one knows when this revolution will come, but they all must work for it and pass along this goal to their children. To achieve it, they must keep in mind that all animals—even the rats that they have been taught to hate—are their comrades. Their maxim must be: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, whatever goes on four legs, or has wings, is a friend . . . we are all brothers.”
Then Major tells them of his dream, in which he recalled an old song his mother used to sing to him. The title of the song is “Beasts of England.” Now he sings the song, which tells of a golden time in the future when “tyrant man shall be o’er thrown” and all animals shall be free. Gradually, all of the animals learn the song and sing it over and over, until the noise awakens Mr. Jones and he fires his shotgun in the direction of the barn, at which point the animals disperse.
Three nights later, Old Major dies in his sleep. In the months that follow, the work of organizing and educating the animals falls to the pigs, who are considered the most intelligent creatures. Three of them in particular become prominent: Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. From some of the Major’s insights, they fashion a whole system of thought they call animalism. In regular meetings at night, the three pigs instruct the others in the new doctrine. Some of the animals are skeptical, raising questions about the revolution. One source of resistance is Moses the raven, who preaches the doctrine that the reward for this life will come in the next, on Sugarcandy Mountain, where all obedient animals go after they die. Another animal wary of the revolution is Mollie, the pretty white mare who draws Mr. Jones’s trap. Mollie wants to know if after the revolution she will be able to wear ribbons in her hair as she does now, and Snowball explains that her ribbons “are the badge of slavery.” Her freedom is a much greater good than pretty ribbons. The two most ardent followers of animalism are the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover, who trust everything the pigs tell them and always lead in the singing of “Beasts of England.”
Meanwhile, the farm itself deteriorates as Mr. Jones becomes more addicted to alcohol and increasingly fails to maintain order and discipline among the men who work for him. On midsummer’s eve, he goes into town, gets drunk, and does not return until the next day, at which time he falls asleep without feeding the animals, who have had nothing to eat for two days. As a result they break into the food shed and feed themselves. At this point, Mr. Jones wakes up and he and four of his men arm themselves with whips to beat the animals. But instead of retreating, the animals attack the men and drive them and Mrs. Jones off the farm. Moses, her pet, flees with her. Stunned by their easy victory, the animals check the farm’s boundaries as a security measure, then break into the harness room and promptly dump the whips, harnesses, and butchering knives down the well or burn them. Finally, they all eat a double portion of corn and sing “Beasts of England” seven times before settling down for the night.
First thing the next morning, they survey the property, still finding it difficult to believe it is theirs. As they approach the farmhouse, they hesitate out of fear, but Napoleon and Snowball go to the front door and butt it open. They tentatively enter the house to explore it. At one point they find Mollie primping before a mirror, holding one of Mrs. Jones’s ribbons against her shoulder, and they reprimand her sharply. They all agree that the farmhouse is to be regarded as a museum and that no animal should ever live there. Now the pigs declare that they have taught themselves to read and write using an old children’s spelling textbook once used by the Jones children. Then they all go down to the main gate, where Snowball paints over the Manor Farm sign and replaces it with the words Animal Farm. On returning to the barn, Snowball paints on the wall of the big barn the seven commandments, or the principles on which “All the animals must live forever after.” Then the pigs proceed to teach themselves how to milk the cows, and when they finish, the other animals look forward to sharing the milk. But Napoleon steps forward to urge everyone to go to the hayfield and begin the harvest. When they finish the day’s work and return, some of the animals notice that the milk is gone.
The hay harvest is a great success, despite the animals’ inability to use the farm equipment designed for human beings. Under the pigs’ supervision, the animals work very hard, but no one works harder than Boxer, who wakes up a half hour earlier than everyone else and does the work of three horses. Whenever a problem arises, he has a simple solution: “I will work harder.”
Sunday is a day of rest. It begins with a flagraising ceremony, the flag being an old green tablecloth on which Snowball had painted a hoof and horn. Afterward, there is a general meeting to discuss new resolutions—only the pigs offered resolutions—and to plan the coming week’s work. It is noticed that in the debates on resolutions, Napoleon and Snowball never seem to agree. The pigs appropriate the harness room for themselves, where they learn trades like carpentry and blacksmithing. Snowball sets up a variety of committees for the animals, the most successful of which are classes in literacy. In a few months, almost all of the animals have learned to read and write to some degree. Some of the animals, however, are incapable of reading the seven commandments, so Snowball decides to boil them down to one, which he paints on the wall above the original seven: Four legs good, two legs bad.
Napoleon, on the other hand, is more interested in the education of the young. When Jessie and Bluebell have puppies, he takes them away from their mothers and secludes them in order to take charge of their education. It turns out that the milk and the apples now falling from the trees are to be reserved solely for the pigs. The other animals mutter when they hear this, but Squealer explains this development, pointing out that it is a scientific fact that milk and apples contain nutrients essential to the health of pigs. Since the whole management of the farm depends upon the pigs, it is their duty to have milk and apples, to guard against the return of Mr. Jones. The specter of the return of Mr. Jones silences the criticism.
News of the animal rebellion spreads through half the county, as pigeons dispatched by Napoleon and Snowball recount the story and teach other animals the tune and lyrics of “Beasts of England.” Mr. Jones, meanwhile, sulks and sops at the local inn, bewailing his fate. His neighboring farmers, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick, commiserate with him while privately thinking how they might use these events to their own advantage. They are, however, disturbed by this development and spread lies about the farm suggesting all sorts of diabolical and immoral behavior. Nevertheless, the example of Animal Farm begins to influence the animals on other farms. A spirit of rebelliousness on the part of animals everywhere begins to look like a serious threat to the status quo. As a result, Mr. Jones leads a gang of men to the farm in an effort to recapture it. Snowball, who has anticipated the attack by studying Julius Caesar’s campaigns in an old book at the farm, concocts a strategy. As the men enter the farm, a group of geese in hiding spring at them, biting their legs, but the men drive them off. Then Snowball leads Muriel, Benjamin, and all the sheep in a second attack. As the men begin to rally, Snowball gives the signal to retreat. As the animals flee, the men rush after them inside the yard. There they are ambushed from the rear while Snowball leads a frontal attack, aiming directly at Mr. Jones, who fires at him, inflicting a flesh wound but not enough to prevent Snowball from smashing him into a dung heap. At the same time, Boxer terrifies the men as he rises up on his hind legs, using his iron horseshoes as a weapon. With one blow, he strikes a stable boy, leaving him apparently dead. The terrified men panic and beat a disorderly retreat. Amid the celebration only Boxer appears depressed over the fact that he has apparently killed someone. Rebuked by Snowball for his “sentimentality,” he responds, “I have no wish to take life, not even human life.” To commemorate the victory, which the animals decide to call the Battle of the Cowshed, they agree to fire off Mr. Jones’s abandoned gun twice a year: once on the anniversary of the Battle of the Cowshed, and once on the anniversary of the rebellion.
The farm suffers one defection when Mollie disappears and is later seen in town pulling a dog cart and wearing a scarlet ribbon around her forelock.
Another disturbing element is the continuing hostility between Snowball and Napoleon, who seem incapable of agreeing on anything. The friction comes to a head over the windmill. Snowball wishes to build a windmill on a small hill. He acknowledges that it would be a very difficult task, but when completed, it would be a tremendous labor-saving device, so that animals would only have to work a three-day week. Napoleon argues that food production should be the first priority. When the issue comes up for a vote, Snowball is so eloquent that it is obvious he will win. At that moment, Napoleon stands up and emits a weird sound, whereupon nine large, vicious dogs come bounding into the room, heading straight for Snowball. Running for his life, Snowball just barely escapes and then disappears. Surrounded by these strange, menacing dogs, Napoleon ascends the platform and announces a new order: There will be no more Sunday-morning debates. In the future, decisions will be made by a committee of pigs meeting in private.
Squealer later explains to the animals that Napoleon has taken the great burden of leadership on his shoulders in order to prevent the return of Mr. Jones. Left on their own, the animals might have opted for Snowball’s moonshine idea of a windmill. Convinced by Squealer’s appeal, Boxer expresses the general feeling that Napoleon is always right.
Three weeks later, Napoleon declares that the windmill will be built after all. As Squealer later explains, Napoleon had never really been opposed to the windmill. In fact, it was his idea and had been stolen by Snowball. His apparent opposition was merely a tactic designed to get rid of Snowball. Squealer then repeats a number of times this new word, tactic.
The windmill project proves to be enormously difficult. The animals work a 60-hour week, including Sunday afternoons. The raw material for the building is on the property, but transporting the limestone from the quarry proves to be an almost insuperable obstacle. Only the heroic efforts of Boxer make it possible. Moreover, it is becoming clear that the farm can no longer be self-sufficient. Napoleon issues a new order stating that they will begin trading with other farms. Among the items to be traded will be eggs, a sacrifice on the hens’ part that they should view as their contribution to the windmill. So that none of the animals should have to deal with a human, Napoleon himself will operate through Mr. Whymper, to act as a go-between for the farm.
About this time, the pigs move into the farmhouse, a necessity, according to Squealer, because the pigs needed a quiet place to work. When it also turns out that the pigs are sleeping in beds, some of the animals remember the fourth commandment, which forbids this practice, but when they consult the original writing on the wall they are surprised to find that it reads, “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.” The farm is visited by a wild storm, which results in a major disaster. The windmill, over which the animals have slaved, comes crashing down. Surveying the ruins, Napoleon declares that the cause of the disaster is Snowball. He orders that the rebuilding begin immediately, this time with thicker walls, adding some credence to the human rumor that the windmill collapsed because of structural flaws.
The task of rebuilding the windmill is made even more difficult by the brutal winter weather and a food shortage. Facing starvation, the animals are told to pretend that food is plentiful whenever Mr. Whymper visits there. Squealer announces that the hens may have to surrender their eggs, to be traded for grain and meal. The hens retaliate by flying up to the barn rafters. Napoleon orders their food supply cut. After five days, during which nine hens die of starvation, the others surrender and return to their nests.
Meanwhile, any problem on the farm is attributed to Snowball, who is said to be sneaking into the farm each night to cause trouble. Squealer introduces a revisionist account of the Battle of the Cowshed, in which Snowball’s tactical retreat is said to be really an attempt to surrender, in accord with a plan he had secretly concocted with Mr. Jones. As Squealer renders it, the plan would have succeeded had Napoleon not intervened, turning the retreat into a glorious victory. When Boxer expresses skepticism at this version of the battle, Squealer gives him a steely-eyed glare and replies that this is Napoleon’s view of these events. Then Boxer concludes, “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”
A few days later, Napoleon orders everyone to assemble in the yard. On a signal from him, his dogs seize four pigs from the assembly, dragging them before Napoleon. The pigs confess that they have been conspiring with Snowball, whereupon the dogs pounce on them and tear their throats out. Then the three who had led the hens’ strike confess that they had acted after having a dream in which Snowball appeared. These are followed by a goose and three sheep all of them are executed after their confessions. Soon the space in front of Napoleon is taken up by a pile of dead animals.
Clearly disturbed by what they have witnessed, the animals leave the yard. Boxer has only one clear response to this slaughter, a determination “to work harder.” Some animals cluster around Clover, looking for an explanation. She thinks to herself that something has gone wrong but can’t say what it is. Instead she begins to sing “Beasts of England” and the song is taken up by the group around her. When they had sung it three times, they are approached by Squealer with a new directive: it is now forbidden to sing “Beasts of England.” The reason is that “Beasts of England” is a song of rebellion and the rebellion is over; the just society has been achieved. The poet Minimus writes another song, “Animal Farm,” and it is sung every Sunday, but somehow it never catches on.
After the slaying of the confessed traitors, some animals wonder about the apparent violation of the sixth commandment, “No animals shall kill any other animal,” but when they consult the wall, they realize that they had forgotten the last two words of the commandment: without cause. Napoleon becomes a more remote figure, assuming a sort of mythic status among the animals. All directives and communications are delivered by Squealer or one of the pigs on the executive council. The animals hear disturbing stories about their neighbor Frederick’s treatment of the animals in Pinchfield. Not only that, but evidence seems to be building up, suggesting that Frederick is planning to invade Animal Farm. Finally the windmill is completed. The exhausted animals view the finished structure with justifiable pride. Shortly after, Napoleon makes a surprising announcement: He has sold the lumber not, as expected, to Pilkington but to Frederick. He had cunningly appeared to favor Pilkington in order to drive up the price to Frederick. Furthermore, when Frederick promised to pay by check, Napoleon insisted on cash. Napoleon proudly displays the cash for all the animals to see; the money, he says, will be used to buy machinery for the windmill. Three days later comes the shocking revelation: Frederick’s banknotes are counterfeit. Furthermore, it is highly likely that Frederick will soon launch an attack on the farm.
The next day, the attack begins. Frederick’s men are heavily armed and very soon drive the animals back into the farm buildings. Frederick’s men control the rest of the farm, including the windmill, which they proceed to dynamite into smithereens. The destruction of their pride and joy infuriates the animals, and they launch a fierce counterattack. Despite the heavy casualties, they charge the enemy, overwhelming them and forcing them into a desperate retreat. Although the animals now find themselves back at square one, they celebrate what comes to be called the Battle of the Windmill as a great day.
A few days later, the pigs come upon a case of whiskey that had been hidden in the cellar of the farmhouse. Shortly after, Muriel discovers another commandment slightly different from the one she remembered. Instead of asserting “No animals shall drink alcohol,” it reads “No animals should drink alcohol to excess.”
Although Boxer is still in pain from the wounds he received in the Battle of the Windmill, he continues to work as hard as ever in the construction of the new windmill. Once winter sets in, rations are reduced, but somehow the pigs seem to be getting fatter. A new rule called spontaneous demonstration is propaganda. Once a week, work stops in order to celebrate the achievements of Animal Farm in general and Napoleon in particular, all of which succeeds in taking the animal’s minds off the hunger they constantly feel. Suddenly, Moses the raven reappears, after an absence of many years. He continues to talk of Sugarcandy Mountain, an idea that reassures many of the animals.
Meanwhile, Boxer is approaching his 12th birthday, with its promise of retirement on a decent pension. His indomitable will “to work harder” is beginning to be undermined by his body. A month short of retirement, he overdoes his efforts and collapses. Squealer announces that Napoleon has arranged to have him transferred to a hospital in town, where he will be treated by a veterinarian. When a van arrives to take Boxer away, the animals gather around to wish him good-bye. Then Benjamin furiously reads the words written on the side of the van: Alfred Simmons’ Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler. The others desperately try to urge Boxer to escape. He tries kicking down the doors of the van, an easy task for a young Boxer, but he is too feeble to succeed. A few days later, Squealer announces the death of Boxer in the hospital. He mentions the “foolish and wicked rumor” that Boxer had been sent to the horse slaughterer. In truth, the veterinary surgeon had bought the van but hadn’t gotten around to changing the sign. Squealer described his vigil at Boxer’s deathbed, quoting his last words, “Long live Comrade Napoleon. Napoleon is always right.” On Sunday, Napoleon delivers a eulogy, praising Boxer, and then announces that the pigs intend to hold a memorial banquet in Boxer’s honor. Shortly after, a grocer’s van delivers a wooden case to the farm. That night the animals hear loud singing and noisy shouting from the house. Apparently, the pigs had acquired enough money to buy a case of whiskey.
Time slips by; the original rebellion fades into the dim past, recalled by the few remaining old animals, Clover, Benjamin, and Moses. Many others, including Muriel, Bluebell, and Jessie have died, as has Mr. Jones. The farm has become a thriving, expanding enterprise. The completed windmill generates not electricity but “a handsome money profit” in its role as a corn-grinding mill. For the animals, life is pretty much unchanged. They work as hard as ever, for they must support and feed a growing number of pigs, whose work consists in writing things called reports and minutes, all very complicated and beyond the other animals’ ability to understand. But they still take pride in their unique status, the only farm in all of England owned and operated by animals. Nor do they ever abandon their belief in the basic principle of the farm that all animals are equal.
Squealer, who has grown very fat over the years but is still an important presence on the farm, separates the sheep in order to teach them a new song. A few days later, the animals hear Clover neighing loudly in the yard. Rushing over to find out why, they see Squealer, followed by a line of pigs, and finally Napoleon himself, all walking on their hind legs. The stunned audience now hears the sheep singing the lyrics of the new song they’ve learned: “Four legs good, two legs better.” Standing at the wall of the main barn, Clover, whose eyes are failing, asks Benjamin to read the commandments, as they appear to be different. Benjamin reads what is now the one and only commandment on the wall:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL
A week later, a group of farmers in the neighborhood pay a visit to the farm. They tour the grounds, full of praise for what they see, particularly the windmill. That evening the animals hear the noises of laughter and singing from the farmhouse. Creeping quietly to the window, they peek in at the visitors and the pigs, playing cards and raising toasts. Mr. Pilkington prefaces his toast by stressing the strong similarities between the problems that both farms have: “If you have your lower animals to contend with, we have our lower classes.” Then Napoleon rises to announce some new features in the farm, including changing back to its original name, the Manor Farm. Then the pigs and men pick up their cards and carry on with the game, as the animals creep away from the windows. They go a short distance, and then they hear angry cries and threats. It seems “that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.” But from the animal’s viewpoint outside, the really strange thing is that it is impossible to distinguish “from pig to man and from man to pig.”
For Orwell, the most important of the levels of meaning on which Animal Farm might be read was as a satiric allegory on the origins and aftermath of the Russian Revolution and on the history of the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1943. As the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989 recedes into history, this allegorical dimension of the story may appear to be less compelling, offering merely historical interest. People born after, say, 1984, might well be expected to view the Soviet Union with the same lack of interest that their parents view the decline of the Hapsburg Empire. But it is important, and for these readers especially, to be aware that Animal Farm not only satirically documented the development of the Soviet system under Joseph Stalin but played a role in its subsequent dissolution. (See section on political influence, below.)
One feature of Orwell’s employment of allegory is its flexibility in any specific instance. The references to historical events are not all set in stone. Thus, the connection of Moses the raven to the monk Rasputin is less literally accurate than it is designed to point to the close association of the Orthodox church and the old aristocracy. Similarly, the name Armand Hammer (1898–1990) is included as a specific example of a businessman who dealt with the Soviet Union throughout its long existence and his longer life. Orwell may not have known of him, but Hammer provides a striking example of the gobetween type represented by Mr. Whymper.
Correspondences between Soviet Union History and Animal Farm
In the following historical sketch, the corresponding event or figure in Animal Farm is given within brackets.
Communist ideology was developed in the late 19th century by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). It foretold the future triumph of the industrial working class over bourgeois capitalism by means of revolution. The ultimate result would be a classless society in which the working class (the proletariat) would be in control [Old Major’s speech].
In Russia, these ideas were developed at the turn of the century by the left wing of the Russian Social Democratic party, known as the Bolsheviks [Napoleon, Snowball’s principles of animalism]. In 1905, as a result of popular discontent with the czarist government, a crowd of peaceful workers trying to deliver a petition to the czar was fired upon by government troops. This Bloody Sunday event triggered a series of demonstrations throughout the empire, which were eventually suppressed by the government [Singing “Beasts of England,” Jones’s firing shots at the barn].
Twelve years later, as a result of heavy losses by Russian armies in World War I, and the mishandling of domestic affairs by the czarina and her tooclose advisor, Rasputin, workers in St. Petersburg staged a strike in which they were joined by members of the army and navy, forcing the abdication of the czar [Flight of Jones, Mrs. Jones and Moses]. This movement is known as the February Revolution, but the provisional governments that followed it were unable to achieve stability. A second phase of the rebellion, the October Revolution, led by the ruthless and skillful Vladimir Lenin and his associate, Leon Trotsky, vaulted the Bolsheviks into power. Lenin quickly established the Cheka (secret police) to secure the new government’s power through terror tactics. [Napoleon’s dogs].
A year later, a counterrevolution was launched against the Bolsheviks on a variety of fronts. Included among the counterrevolutionary forces were elements from the lately victorious allied armies of World War I, the English, the French, and the Americans. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks prevailed, thanks to widespread peasant support and the military leadership of Trotsky [Battle of the Cowshed]. Trouble from within surfaced when sailors at the Kronstadt barracks rebelled [hens’ revolt], but the uprising was ruthlessly crushed.
In 1922, Russia was formally renamed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) [Manor Farm becomes Animal Farm]. Two years later, Lenin died and the leadership passed not to Trotsky, the heir apparent, but to Joseph Stalin, the general secretary of the Communist Party. Stalin and Trotsky clashed over the direction and the future of the Soviet Union, Trotsky argued for emphasis on industrialization at home and the active spread of communism abroad (the Permanent Revolution), and Stalin insisted on a priority of strengthening domestic control (socialism in one nation) and emphasis on agricultural production [Snowball’s promotion of the windmill versus Napoleon’s emphasis on the farm].
Behind the scenes, Stalin maneuvered the expulsion of Trotsky from the communist party, forcing him into exile in 1929 [Dogs force Snowball to run away]. Meanwhile, Stalin instituted his first Five-Year Plan (1928–33), reversing himself while endorsing without acknowledgement Trotsky’s emphasis on industrialization, with particular attention to the city named after him, Stalingrad. At the same time, he ruthlessly imposed the collectivization of privately held farms, triggering a nationwide famine and resulting in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens [Five-Year Plan].
Stalin’s ongoing attempt to secure control, as well as his increasing paranoia, set in motion a series of show trials of leading communist figures accused of treason, specifically of conspiring with the exiled Trotsky to overthrow the Stalin regime. The terror soon spread, cancerlike, to include the general staff of the army, intellectuals, writers, and artists [Pile of corpses before Napoleon].
In 1939, Stalin concluded a nonaggression pact with his most formidable enemy, Adolf Hitler [Frederick], thereby producing mass defections from communist parties in the West. Accompanying this pact was the Russian German Commercial Agreement, which provided for the shipment of raw material to Germany in exchange for industrial machinery [sale of timber]. The Germans did not fulfill their part of the bargain (Frederick’s counterfeit money). Two years later, Hitler violated the pact by invading the Soviets, which proved to be a critical mistake on his part. After some initial success (blowing up the windmill), the German forces were halted and finally defeated at the battle of Stalingrad, one of the turning points of World War II [Battle of the Windmill].
In November 1943, the Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) met in Teheran, during which the surface camaraderie disguised a deep distrust and acts of mutual chicanery. The last night of the conference, in the midst of some heavy drinking on everyone’s part, Churchill took offense at a remark made by Stalin. Churchill stormed out of the room and returned only after Stalin pursued him and apologized (Human visitors come to Animal Farm and quarrel over card game).
Orwell’s most notable departure from the historical record is the absence of a figure comparable to that of Vladimir Lenin, the leading figure of the revolution and the early years of the USSR. A key contribution of Lenin’s to the development of communism was the conviction that the revolution could not succeed if it depended upon the rank and file of the proletariat. Lenin believed that the proletariat must be led by an intellectually elite corps of party members who would direct and secure the revolution. Thus, the assumption of power by the members of the party had to be specifically attributed to Lenin. In chapter 2, the revelation that the pigs have been learning to read prior to the overthrow of Jones suggests that Lenin’s ideas play a powerful role in the story, even if he does not.
Despite the intense specificity of references to the history of the Soviet Union, historical allegory is only one level of meaning that emerges in reading Animal Farm. Like many, if not all, works of art, Animal Farm has taken on additional meanings as different readers living in different times react to it. For example, embedded in the specific historical allegory is the wider political theme, of which Orwell was acutely aware, of the nature of power, particularly dictatorial power, and the employment of terror and propaganda as tools in acquiring and supporting that power. In this respect, Animal Farm may be and often is seen as a prelude to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Another level of meaning closely tied to Orwell’s thinking is the representation of revolution. In Animal Farm, the revolution transforms the animals’ view of their own labor. No longer are they alienated from their labor, because now, so they believe, the fruits of that labor belong to them rather than to Mr. Jones. Their entire approach to work has changed, as Old Major predicted. The farm, however, had to be managed. The subsequent battle to preserve the farm from Mr. Jones’s counterattack required leadership, and this role fell to the pigs. Therein lie the seeds of corruption: A new superior class is born and one superior figure in that class assumes total control. One question emerges and engages readers: Is Orwell depicting an inevitable process, one that is inherent in the nature of revolution, or is he warning that revolution can be and often has been betrayed?
Still another level of meaning that has become more prominent as the years pass is the animalrights theme. Orwell himself suggested this possibility when, in the preface to the Ukranian edition, he declared that the inspiration for the book occurred when he saw a young farm lad whipping a horse:
It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat (CW, 19, 88).
Although he had no compunctions about hunting them, Orwell loved animals, with the exception of pigs and rats, two species that play prominent roles in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is unlikely that he would have become an animal rights activist, but he clearly is capable of imagining a powerful case against cruelty to animals.
Finally, there is the literal level of meaning reflected in Orwell’s subtitle: A Fairy Story. In this respect, as a literal fairy story, Animal Farm is well on its way to becoming a children’s classic. Here, Orwell may have succeeded in matching, in Cyril Connolly’s words, “his master Swift.” Gulliver’s Travels is one of a handful of literary works that coexist as children’s literature and as canonical, serious literature, destined to be read in childhood, studied in high school or college, and viewed by all ages in animated-film adaptations, as it straddles the world of popular and high culture.
This mutileveled character of Animal Farm is reflected in the variety of terms used to categorize it. It has been variously described by four literary terms: fairy story, beast fable, satire, and allegory. Frequently, all four of them have been employed in a manner suggesting that the four terms are interchangeable, but the fact is that the terms indicate fairly clear and distinct categories.
Fairy story is the first to consider, as it is the term Orwell himself used as the subtitle of the book. J. R. R. Tolkien, whose books The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–1956) expanded fairy stories to epic proportions, delineates a four-part structure to the fairy tale: fantasy, escape, recovery, and consolation: “. . . fantasy—freedom from the observed fact; escape—or, not an escape from the real world but a breakthrough into another reality; recovery—the return to ordinary life with a renewed spirit; and consolation, the happy ending . . .” (Tolkien, 158) Animal Farm exhibits the first two features, while the third—the return to ordinary life—occurs but not in the positive sense implied by Tolkien; in the fourth, the promise of salvation is noticeably absent.
Similarly, the beast fable, the story in which the behavior of animal characters conveys a moral lesson, comes close to describing Animal Farm except that the moral lesson is muted in favor of the element of satire, which aims to ridicule its subject, exposing the vice or folly it exhibits, but not delivering an explicit moral. The emphasis on vice or folly determines the type of satire, dark or light, deadly serious or relatively tolerant. Orwell’s is clearly of the former type, although its tone is frequently playful. The other element is allegory, one form of which features a surface story to allude to a historical event or to persons. As we have seen, Animal Farm most famously allegorizes the history of the Soviet Union, from the revolution of 1917 to the Teheran Conference of 1943.
Clearly, the story integrates and occasionally overlaps these forms in forging its distinctive character. If a modern-day Polonius were available, he might describe it a satirical-allegorical-fairy story, cast in the form of a beast fable. As for the efficacy of this form, the critic Matthew Hodgart has described it well:
He chose a very ancient genre, based on the animal story found in the folk-tales of all primitive and peasant cultures, and reflecting a familiarity and sympathy with animals which Orwell seems to have shared. The central figure is often the trickster, spider in Africa, fox in Europe and pig in Orwell . . . he used the animal-story tradition with great confidence and deftness, and since he wanted to reach the widest possible world public, through translation, he also parodied the style of children’s books; but not patronizingly, since Orwell, I think, liked children as much as he liked animals. Although the betrayal of the revolution is a ‘sad story’ it is told with the straightness that children demand, and with childlike cunning and charm. (138)
However, Orwell himself described the main focus of the book in a letter to his agent Leonard Moore in 1946:
If they question you again, please say that Animal Farm is intended as a satire on dictatorship in general but of course the Russian Revolution is the chief target. It is humbug to pretend anything else.
Although in its form and style, Animal Farm appears to represent a complete departure from Orwell’s early fiction, it adheres to the same thematic arc as Burmese Days, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and Coming Up for Air. Like these, it recounts a temporarily successful but ultimately failed attempt to achieve a goal that seems to offer release from a society whose restrictions and limitations poison the possibility of freedom. In Burmese Days, the protagonist looks to marriage as the way of ending his loneliness and his resultant dependence on the deadening society of the local European club. In A Clergyman’s Daughter, young Dorothy Hare searches in vain for an alternative to fill the emotional void left by her loss of religious belief. Keep the Aspidistra Flying recounts the jejune crusade of a young poet determined to defy the money god, who rules over modern civilization. George Bowling, the antihero of Coming Up for Air, tries to go home again to his Edwardian childhood, only to discover that the past is another country, and one for which he has no passport.
With the exception of Dorothy Hare, the clergyman’s daughter, all are propelled by an illusion (with Dorothy, Orwell might say, the loss of an illusion) that they hope will regenerate and liberate their lives. All come to recognize the illusion but from different perspectives: in Burmese Days, tragically; in A Clergyman’s Daughter, stoically; in Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Coming Up for Air, with comic defiance, in the manner of Parolles, the comic villain in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, who, once unmasked, asserts, “Captain I’ll be no more, but simply the thing I am shall make me live.”
Animal Farm departs from this scheme slightly in creating, not an individual, but a collective protagonist: the animals at Manor Farm. The action also differs in that the animals seem to secure their goal early on. By the end of the second chapter, their revolt has succeeded, leaving them in the first flush of enthusiasm:
The animals were happy as they had never conceived it possible to be. Every mouthful of food was an acute positive pleasure, now that it was truly their own food, produced by themselves and for themselves, not doled out to them by a grudging master.
But like Orwell’s individual protagonists, the animals lose their way, never quite certain as to how it happened. In chapter 7, after witnessing the wholesale slaughter of dissident pigs and hens, Clover, the maternal carthorse, looks down from the knoll at the farm spread out before her, realizing something has gone wrong:
These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to that night when Old Major had first stirred them to rebellion . . . [I]nstead—she did not know why—they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing shocking crimes . . . [It] was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled. . . .
This persistent motif of shattered illusions in Orwell’s fiction has led some critics to stress a deep pessimism lying at the core of his imagination, characterized by one critic as “the politics of despair” (Rai). Others suggest that his so-called pessimism is really a corrective to a danger to which socialists are particularly susceptible: utopianism, the illusion of an earthly paradise. Such utopianism is exemplified in Animal Farm in Old Major’s dream in chapter 1. There the “golden dream,” alluded to in the song “The Beasts of England,” is not only dubious by itself, but it also plays into the hands of those who use it to acquire power. He believed that is what happened historically in the religious sphere. It constituted the pattern by which the church had won and maintained power for centuries: the prospect of eternal happiness in heaven.
Later, into the vacuum created by growing disbelief in an afterlife, new creeds such as Marxism had moved, with the promise of retributive justice and equality in a golden future on earth. For Orwell, in this lies the crucial distinction between socialism and communism. In communist ideology, socialism is a temporary phase, characterized by the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a step on the way to the withering of the state and a completely classless society. For a democratic socialist as Orwell conceived it, socialism should have no utopian goals, simply a form of government struggling to implement more justice and equality than existed under capitalism.
Although he felt both Christianity and communism make a similar rhetorical appeal to people, Orwell recognized a significant difference. Despite its flaws, the Hebraic-Christian tradition had inscribed a civilizing and enduring ethical system, an appealing version of which he found in “the poor old C of E” [Church of England]. True believers of that persuasion may find the tribute a bit patronizing, but it was heartfelt on Orwell’s part. Witness his deathbed instructions that he be buried according to the rites of the Church of England.
On the other hand, this newer religion, Soviet Communism, had betrayed its principles by using the end to justify the means virtually from day one of its initial appearance in 1917. Nor was Orwell deluded into assuming that it was due exclusively to the figure of Joseph Stalin. Stalinism may have been a particularly egregious symptom, but the essential totalitarianism of his predecessor Vladimir Lenin’s rule, as well as in the potential dictatorship that would have emerged if “Snowball” had come to power: “Trotsky, in exile, denounces the Russian dictatorship, but he is probably as much responsible for it as any man now living, and there is no certainty that as a dictator he would be preferable to Stalin, though undoubtedly he has a much more interesting mind.”
Within the story, the narrator seems to be exercising a strict neutrality, interested only in reporting its events from the animals’ point of view and using their down-to-earth language. This seeming simplicity lends itself to the fairy story/children’s literature facet of the book. On the allegorical level, its simplicity strengthens the veracity of the narration, reinforcing the idea that the impersonal, objective narrator is simply recounting what happened, not making judgments. Thus, by underplaying his role, the narrator intensifies the reader’s sympathy. The reader is given the task that the narrator has carefully chosen to avoid. The critic Lynette Hunter argues that this strategy is consistent with a developing pattern in Orwell’s fictional style.
One of the singular features of the book, in keeping with its fable format, is that the action is presented from the point of view of the animals, not of the narrator. There are occasional minor departures from this focus, but by and large there is no authorial intrusion into the presentation. Thus, as events unfold, we see their impact on the animals, recognizing the growing distinction between the animals and the pigs (Fowler, 162). The novel continually uses the term animals to refer to the rank and file, while the pigs constitute an elite class. One outgrowth of this is that it is only the animals whose feelings and reactions are recorded. The feelings of the pigs—and particularly Napoleon—are never shown. In his review of Animal Farm, the Canadian critic Northrop Frye faulted the author in this respect: “Mr. Orwell does not bother with motivation: He makes his Napoleon inscrutably ambitious and lets it go at that. . . .” (208) Whether or not he was aware of this particular critique, Orwell may have tried to answer this charge in the character of O’Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the lust for power is attributable less to some psychological motivation than to what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “will to power” and Lionel Trilling, in relation to Nineteen Eighty-Four, characterized as the “mystique of power,” the idea that “power in its pure form has for its true end nothing but itself. . . .” (78)
In his review, Frye introduced another critical point. He suggested that Animal Farm was designed to illustrate the theme of the corruption of principle by contingency. But Frye argued that the history of communism demonstrates the opposite development, the corruption of the contingent by principle. The principle, according to Frye, is Marx’s 19th century metaphysical materialism, purporting not simply to promote a revolution but to provide a comprehensive account of the world and of human existence. In this all-encompassing explanation of life lay the corrupting seeds of communist doctrine.
Historically the Russian Revolution was, like the animals’ initial revolt, a contingent event, brought into being by an incompetent ruler, or “a drunken farmer.” This was clearly the case with the so-called February Revolution, the first phase, like the first night of the animals’ revolt. But the October Revolution, which brought the Bolsheviks to power, was a carefully planned coup by the party elite. Thus the revolution was corrupted by the principle of Marxism that contended that the end justified the means.
This point would not have been alien to Orwell, who saw Marxist theory as a very useful tool in uncovering the flaws and defects in the existing bourgeois culture and the general consciousness it engendered. However, the contradictions in the overall Marxist scheme were all too apparent. On a philosophical level, it displayed an inherent contradiction between its fundamentally materialist position and its underlying idealist strain, which professed faith in the triumph of the human spirit. This is the element of utopianism that Orwell dismissed as wishful thinking. Thus Old Major’s address is most powerful when it describes the conditions under which animals are enslaved. Where he strays is in his depiction of the earthly paradise that will ensue after the revolution, in the concluding words of “Beasts of England”: “the golden future time.” Orwell saw this utopian future as a serious flaw in the socialist/communist design, a secular twin of Moses the raven’s “Sugarcandy Mountain.” Orwell maintained that socialism must strive for improvement, not perfection.
The utopian dream seems to be taking on a moment of reality in chapter 2, in the immediate aftermath of the routing of Farmer Jones. The revolution was not planned; it erupted as a result of Jones’s failure to feed the animals. It was a truly democratic uprising, capped by casting the harnesses, halters, and whip—the tools of the old regime—into the fire and concluding with the repeated singing of “Beasts of England.”
The first hint of inequality emerges in the pigs’ revelation that, since Old Major’s death, they have secretly taught themselves to read and write. Thus, literacy appears as the initial step in the acquisition of power and in the transition from animal to human. As the third chapter opens, we read, “The pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.”
Here, another important step in the process is characterized by Alex Zwerdling, as when “equality modulates to privilege” (92). Privilege, in turn, gradually transforms itself into power. A perfect example of the process appears at the end of chapter 3, when the animals learn that fresh milk and ripe apples are to be reserved exclusively for the pigs. This arrangement, so they are told by Squealer, is not a privilege but a necessity. The milk and apples are vital to the production of brain power.
Brain power is embodied most completely in the figure of Snowball, whose clever military tactics result in the animals’ victory in the Battle of the Cowshed. Another feature of Snowball’s intelligence is reflected in his visionary conception of and outline for a windmill. But in the world of revolutionary politics, brain power is no match for brute force. It might be said that on Animal Farm emerge three classes of creatures: pigs, animals, and brutes, the last being the dogs, taken from their mothers shortly after birth and bred by Napoleon to attack on command. The appearance of this “class” marks another stage in the movement from revolution to totalitarian state, the imposition of state terror to ensure the continued acquisition of power.
Along with terror is the invention of a significant scapegoat. The banished Snowball assumes mythic status as a pervasive evil presence, the root source of anything that goes wrong in the state. The scapegoat is not, however, depicted as a lone figure. His evil is aided and enhanced by “traitors,” a term that is easily attached to anyone who offers a dissenting opinion, such as the four pigs who are made to confess their dealing with Snowball, just before their throats are torn out by Napoleon’s dogs. Other traitors include any potential rivals of the dictator.
Critical throughout to the process of the totalitarian state is propaganda. In the political-allegory dimension of Animal Farm, the character of Squealer represents Pravda, the official news organ of the Soviet regime. But in the larger historical sense, a more appropriate model would be Joseph Goebbels (1899–1945), Hitler’s propaganda minister. Goebbels created the myth that Hitler, like Napoleon, was “always right.” Goebbels’s brilliance was particularly evident in the latter part of the war, when his propaganda machine convinced the mass of German people that Hitler would eventually—even miraculously—triumph. Squealer’s finest moment occurs in his rendition of the death of Boxer, in which he turns a threat to the regime into a seemingly positive development.
The idea of propaganda engages the problem of the relation of language to truth. In the years immediately preceding the writing of Animal Farm, Orwell was intimately involved with propaganda. From 1941 to 1943, he wrote BBC news commentaries, presenting the Allies’ case to an Indian audience. Reading those reports today, we can agree that he “kept our little corner of it fairly clean.” This was particularly true when contrasted to the atrocious lies of the German and Japanese propagandists, as well as to the egregious falsehoods emerging from the communist press during the oppression of POUM in the Spanish civil war.
The use of language to convey untruths in the service of the state forms a prominent role in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it also occupies a central place in Animal Farm. Squealer’s distortions, the alteration of the original seven commandments that achieves its ultimate expression in “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” are not just simple lies. They represent the rewriting of history that makes a mockery of the past.
The final stage of the totalitarian state is the emergence of a vast bureaucracy controlled by apparatchiks, functionaries of the state, the Soviet version of the managerial class envisioned by James Burnham. Thus, in the last chapter of Animal Farm, Napoleon reveals that the pigs—Animal Farm’s managers—hold the title deed to the farm. In the future, the farm will become a collective oligarchy.
Political Influence of Animal Farm
In the ideological struggle that was one facet of the cold war, Animal Farm, together with its successor Nineteen Eighty-Four, played an important role. As a consequence, its author came to achieve an eminence that approached a kind of mythic status. Part of the status derived from his authorship of two books that had a powerful emotional appeal in calling attention to the evils of the Stalinist regime. Of these, it is clear that Animal Farm locates that regime as its primary target. Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the other hand, while certainly including the Soviet Union as the most obvious example, targets the general threat of the totalitarian state and its looming presence.
The enlistment of Animal Farm in the cold war came about initially as a result of the novel’s astounding popularity among readers. The American Book of the Month Club offered it as a selection in September 1945, and it proved to be a phenomenal success. In England, also, it became a best-seller, read among others by the Queen mother (the mother of Queen Elizabeth II) and Winston Churchill, certainly not Orwell’s target audience. In fact the readership he most immediately had in mind were the left-wing intelligentsia, who had turned a blind eye to the fact that Stalin’s Russia represented a total repudiation of socialism and was in fact a murderous, tyrannical dictatorship.
As for its impact beyond the Iron Curtain, its power was made evident after the collapse of the Soviet empire in the testimony of those who had read the book in translations smuggled into Eastern Europe. It turns out that the proliferation of translations was not entirely a natural consequence of the book’s appeal. Many of these were financially underwritten by the United States Information Agency (USIA):
The U.S. government was heavily involved in these translations. At the State Department, Dean Acheson authorized payment for the translation rights to Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1951. Beginning with the Korean edition of Animal Farm in 1948, the U.S. information Agency sponsored translations and distribution of Orwell’s books in more than thirty languages. The voice of America also broadcast Animal Farm (1947) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in East Europe (Rodden, Politics, 202n).
In the case of one early translation, the Ukrainian, for which Orwell wrote an explanatory preface (see Prefaces), the American authorities intercepted an attempt to smuggle copies to the East. Observing diplomatic protocol, they turned them over to the Russians. But as Allied-Soviet relations deteriorated, the British and the Americans increasingly played hardball, using Animal Farm in their pitching repertory. The reason the book proved so effective is that the animals’ fate fairly accurately described the lives of people trapped in the communist satrapies of Eastern Europe. In the four decades of the cold war, the book retained its extraordinary popularity in the West. In English and American secondary schools, it was required reading, leaving its young readers with a general, if vague, impression of communism as a malevolent force in the world.
The only donkey on the farm, Benjamin rarely speaks or laughs and has little to do with the other animals except Boxer, for whom he has an unspoken affection. Whenever the other animals seek his opinion about developments on Animal Farm, he answers cryptically, saying “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.” While identifying with the plight of his fellow animals, Benjamin remains as indifferent to their revolutionary hopes throughout the story as he does to the encroaching tyranny of the pigs. He views the successes and failures on the farm with equal skepticism. When the animals are divided in their loyalties between Snowball and Napoleon during the debate over the building of the windmill, Benjamin states his unequivocal belief that “life would go on as it had always gone on—that is, badly.” He persists in this belief through the course of the novel.
Many critics and readers have seen Benjamin as the author’s spokesman, giving voice to the disillusioned skepticism they see as Orwell’s final vision both here and in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Others might recognize Benjamin as one who is “inside the whale,” that is one, like the writer Henry Miller, who sees the human condition as hopeless and refuses to do anything about it. The sole exception to that description is Benjamin’s reaction to Boxer’s being sent to the horse slaughterer. He tries to alert the other animals, but they are too naïve to recognize the truth until it is too late. In the final chapter, Benjamin is depicted as basically unchanged, except for being “a little greyer about the muzzle, and, since Boxer’s death, more morose and taciturn than ever.”
Among readers who identified Benjamin with Orwell himself were his good friend Arthur Koestler, Koestler’s wife, Mamaine, and her twin sister, Celia Kirwan, all of whom referred to him jokingly as “Donkey George.”
Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher
Three dogs on the farm. Bluebell and the other dogs, Jessie and Pincher, are the first to arrive at the barn for Major’s speech. With the pigs, the dogs quickly learn the words to “Beasts of England,” and they are considered among the cleverest animals on the farm. Under Snowball’s instruction, the dogs learn to read well, though they prefer to read only the Seven Commandments. In chapter 3, Bluebell and Jessie give birth to nine puppies between them (Pincher presumably being the father). Napoleon confiscates the puppies and trains them privately to be his personal guard.
The devoted and powerful cart horse, whose undying loyalty to the farm—and particularly to Napoleon—is ruthlessly betrayed. From the beginning, Boxer commits himself to the cause of animalism, even though he admits that he doesn’t really understand many of the ideas and principles. Boxer is capable of prodigious feats of strength in carrying out his assigned tasks. Nevertheless, the underlying gentleness of his spirit is evident in his reaction to a fallen stable boy, whom he believes he has killed during the Battle of the Cowshed. He asserts tearfully, “I have no wish to take life, not even human life.” Later, the boy, who was only stunned, recovers and runs away. Boxer is the bravest and most effective defender of the farm in the battles of the Cowshed and the Windmill. In the latter, he suffers some severe wounds, a split hoof and a dozen pellets in his hind legs, which mark the first signs of a loss of strength on his part. Nevertheless, he continues to adhere to his code, expressed in the phrases “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.”
He looks forward to his 12th birthday, when he will retire on a decent pension. One month short of that date, while working overtime on the rebuilding of the windmill, he falls, his lungs having given out temporarily. Squealer announces that Napoleon is arranging to have Boxer sent to a veterinary hospital in town. When a van arrives to take Boxer away, the animals, alerted by Benjamin, gather around the van to wish him good-bye. Benjamin angrily calls their attention to the words on the side of the van, indicating that it belongs to a horse slaughterer, Alfred Simmons. They desperately try to alert Boxer as the van pulls away. Three days later, Squealer announces that Boxer died in the hospital, asserting that Boxer’s last words were “Long live Animal Farm, long live Comrade Napoleon. Napoleon is always right.”
Allegorically, Boxer represents the working class, the peasantry, and also the veterans of the Battle of Stalingrad, the well-intentioned decent people who were deceived and abused by the rhetoric of the Stalinist regime.
The nameless, supremely self-involved animal, who has a talent for looking after its own interests. The only civic action the cat engages in is to vote against the recognition of rats as legitimate animals.
A female cart horse and a friend of Boxer. Clover takes a motherly interest in the other animals. She warns Mollie, the pretty but frivolous mare, when she sees her fraternizing with a human. She is steadfastly loyal to the principles of the farm, but she becomes increasingly disillusioned when she sees the brutality and injustice that surrounds her. After the bloody slaughter of the animals accused of having conspired with Snowball, she is moved to tears as she looks out over the farm: “These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to that night when Old Major had stirred them to rebellion.”
n chapter 3, Jessie and Bluebell both give birth, having a litter of nine puppies between them. Napoleon takes possession of them, explaining that he will be responsible for their education. He keeps them in a loft in the harness room, and they are not seen again until chapter 5. At Napoleon’s summons, the puppies—now fully grown, vicious, and wearing studded collars—chase Snowball from the farm.
Napoleon’s dogs represent in Orwell’s allegory the cheka, the original Soviet secret police, established by Lenin, right after the October Revolution, to safeguard the Soviet government using terrorist methods. Over the years, they were later known as the GPU and OGPU, and finally, as the NKVD.
The owner of a neighboring farm, who is regularly involved in disputes with others, “with a name for driving hard bargains.” He joins the group of humans who attack the farm in the battle of the Cowshed. Later he negotiates a deal to buy lumber from Napoleon but pays him with counterfeit money. In the Battle of the Windmill, he is defeated by the animals, moved to fury by the destruction of the windmill.
In the historical allegory, Frederick represents Adolf Hitler. The lumber deal parodies the HitlerStalin Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939). The Pact included a commercial trade, in which raw material would be sent to Germany in exchange for industrial products. The Germans never lived up to their end of the trade. The Battle of the Windmill stands for the epic Battle of Stalingrad (September 1942–1943), during which the city was destroyed, but which was a great victory for the Soviets and a crushing defeat for Hitler.
The owner of Manor Farm prior to the animals’ rebellion. Once a capable farmer, Jones let misfortunes and his increasing dependence on alcohol disrupt the management of the farm and make the lives of the animals increasingly intolerable. Jones’s neglect of the animals is apparent in the opening lines of the book, where he is too drunk to remember to secure the henhouses. The animals’ rebellion in chapter 2 occurs sooner than anticipated because Jones spends a drunken weekend in Willingdon and forgets to feed them.
After his banishment from the farm, Jones spends his time in the village pub where he drinks and complains to the other farmers about his loss of Manor Farm. He tries unsuccessfully to reclaim it in chapter 4. It is mentioned parenthetically in chapter 6 that Jones had given up hope of regaining the farm and moved to a different part of the county. In chapter 10, it is noted that Jones had died in a home for inebriates.
Jones’s mismanagement of Manor Farm suggests the reign of Nicholas II, emperor of Russia from 1894 to 1917, whose failure to acknowledge the increasing political unrest of his subjects and whose absence from Russia during World War I contributed to the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Mrs. Jones appears in only two chapters of the book. In the opening paragraph of chapter 1, she is in bed and snoring when her husband goes up to bed. In chapter 2, when Mrs. Jones sees the animals rebel against Jones and his men from her bedroom window, she throws a few possessions in a carpetbag and flees the farm, accompanied by Moses, the raven.
A pig with a “remarkable gift for composing songs and poems.” When Napoleon outlaws the singing of the song “Beasts of England,” he replaces it with one composed by Minimus. Later, Minimus is credited with composing the poem “Comrade Napoleon,” which subsequently appears on the wall of the big barn, below a painted portrait of Napoleon. I
n terms of the historical allegory, Mimimus may be a reference to Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893– 1930), the leading Russian poet of the Revolution, who enthusiastically supported the Bolsheviks. Eventually, he ran afoul of Stalin. Disillusioned with the regime and suffering through an unhappy love affair, Mayakovsky committed suicide. He was far from being the talentless toady that Minimus represents, but many members of the Soviet Writers Union did serve that purpose, producing works that conformed to the principles of socialist realism. Much like Minimus, the Writers Union produced works designed to bolster Stalin’s image.
The pretty, vain, and airheaded horse who drew Farmer Jones’s cart. Even before the initial revolt, Mollie is dubious about the austere new world summoned up by Snowball. Very early on, she takes the opportunity to defect to the humans. She represents the shallow and self-absorbed people who were against the revolution and defected to the West as soon as the opportunity presented itself. They did the right thing for the wrong reasons.
A raven, the special pet of Mr. and Mrs. Jones. His perch sits on the back porch of the farmhouse and Mr. Jones often treats him to crusts of bread soaked in beer. Moses is the only animal not to attend Major’s meeting in the barn. He does no work but spends his time preaching to his fellow animals about a special place above the clouds called Sugarcandy Mountain, where they will go after death. During the rebellion, Moses flees Manor Farm with the Joneses. When he returns in chapter 9, his role on the farm remains much the same.
With his testimony about the existence of Sugarcandy Mountain, Moses represents the Russian Orthodox Church. Communism demonstrated its hostility to the church by destroying or converting religious buildings and oppressing or killing its members. During the final years of World War II, religious persecution in the Soviet Union decreased, and some churches and seminaries reopened their doors. In 1943, Stalin organized a council of church leaders, consisting largely of people released from prison for that purpose, which elected Metropolitan Sergius as patriarch. Church elders were selected by the Soviet regime largely on the basis of their tacit support of the government and its policies.
Orwell portrays none of these details in Animal Farm, choosing instead to address the symbolic function of the church as the bearer of tall tales about a mythical heaven. The point is to emphasize that regardless of the particular government, religion’s function in the story remains the same: to convince the animals not to resist their present circumstances, no matter how difficult they might be.
The white goat whom Clover calls on to read the Sixth Commandment when Benjamin refuses to do so. Muriel reads “No animal will kill an animal without cause.” Muriel was the name of the goat that Orwell owned at his house in Wallington.
The dictatorial pig and principal figure of the farm. Napoleon is introduced to the reader as a “Berkshire boar . . . with a reputation for getting his own way.” An example of this occurs when, after the cows have been milked, he diverts the animals’ attention from the milk to the work in the field that must be done. By the time the animals return, the milk is gone. As a result of his military skill at the Battle of the Cowshed and his superior intelligence, Snowball seems to be the natural leader of the animals, but Napoleon, working behind the scenes, cultivates the most ignorant members of the farm—the sheep—and, when puppies are born, Napoleon takes them away from their mothers so that he can educate them privately. His rivalry with Snowball reaches a climactic point in the discussion of Snowball’s idea of building a windmill. Snowball’s eloquence is about to turn the tide in his favor when Napoleon unleashes the former puppies, now trained attack dogs, on Snowball, who barely escapes with his life. Rid of his rival, Napoleon immediately assumes total command of the farm. He is ably assisted by the pig Squealer, whose rhetorical skill can turn black into white.
Thus Squealer announces Napoleon’s plan to build a windmill, claiming that the idea for it had been stolen by Snowball. When the poorly constructed windmill is destroyed in a storm, Napoleon accuses the absent Snowball of sabotage. As his power grows, Napoleon is seen less and less in public. His decisions are conveyed through Squealer. It becomes apparent that Napoleon has acquired a new taste, alcohol, despite the commandment specifically forbidding the practice, but Squealer points out what has never been noticed before: The commandment reads “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.”
Napoleon surprises the animals when it is revealed that he has concluded a trade deal with the neighboring farmer Frederick, who has a particularly bad reputation as an abuser of animals, but Napoleon boasts that he got a much better deal with Frederick and was shrewd to insist that they be paid in cash. Shortly after, it becomes clear that Frederick used counterfeit money, followed by the warning that Frederick’s men were at the gate, invading the farm. At first, the unprepared animals are losing the battle and have to retreat to the barn, but when they see Frederick’s men blowing up the windmill they have slaved over, they wage a counterattack that defeats the invaders. Napoleon takes credit for the victory. When the incredibly loyal Boxer falls ill, Squealer announces that Napoleon has arranged for Boxer to be treated by the veterinarian in town. After Boxer’s death, Napoleon gives a short speech, stressing Boxer’s loyalty. A memorial banquet for Boxer features a case of whiskey delivered to the farmhouse. Years later, the farm is a thriving enterprise, but the animals see little improvement in their lives. They are amazed to see one day the pigs walking on their hind legs. The last one to come out is Napoleon, “majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side.” A week later, human visitors come to the farm and, in the evening, exchange toasts with the pigs. Napoleon uses the occasion to announce that he is changing the name of the farm back to “Manor Farm,” its original name.
The correspondence between Napoleon and Joseph Stalin was clearly Orwell’s specific intent, but 50 years after Stalin’s death, it could be applied to any number of tyrants that have emerged on the world scene. Napoleon’s story is unfortunately still relevant.
A “prize Middle White boar,” a coveted breed of pig popular in Great Britain during the early 1900s. Rather stout and approaching 12 years of age, he is described as being a “majesticlooking pig” with a “wise and benevolent appearance.” All the animals of the farm regard him with great respect, and when word travels around the farm that he has had an unusual dream, the animals gather in the big barn to hear him describe it. After inciting them to rebellion, Old Major relates to the animals the details of his dream, in which all animals are free and human beings have been driven from England altogether. He also teaches them “Beasts of England,” a song from his youth that captures the spirit of his message of revolution. Old Major provides the philosophical foundation for the animal rebellion, later synthesized by Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer into the political system called Animalism.
The character of Old Major corresponds, at least in part, to Karl Marx, whose writings, including The Communist Manifesto (1848, with Friedrich Engels), provided a sourcebook for socialism and communism worldwide.
The pigeons of Animal Farm serve initially as messengers of the revolution by sowing the seeds of dissent among the animals on other farms. Their role becomes increasingly less idealistic (and more political) under Napoleon’s totalitarian leadership. They engage in propaganda and disinformation, and their discovery of the whereabouts of Mollie and the injury to Boxer suggest that they may also serve a domestic function on the farm as Napoleon’s eyes and ears among the other animals. In Orwell’s satirical evaluation of Stalinist Russia, the pigeons represent the Communist Party members who attempted to spread the revolution beyond Russia’s borders.
The most intelligent animals on the farm, the pigs secretly teach themselves to read, thereby establishing the basis for their emergence as a superior class in the supposedly egalitarian society. As a result, the pigs do skilled, not manual, labor on the farm. Eventually, they supervise while the other animals do the actual work. As the farm evolves, the pigs’ function becomes increasingly bureaucratic, handling the paperwork. As a result, they are given privileges denied the others, eventually learning to walk on two legs. The pigs stand for the members of the Communist Party leadership, who gradually assumed all the characteristics of a bureaucratic ruling class.
The owner of Foxwood, one of the farms that adjoined Animal Farm. Foxwood was “a large, neglected, old-fashioned farm, much overgrown by woodland. . . .” Pilkington was an easygoing gentleman farmer who spent much of his time fishing and hunting. Pilkington represents the English Tory ruling class, whom Orwell sees as having become inept and out of touch. However, in the final scene of the book, Pilkington is capable of matching Napoleon when it comes to diplomatic knavery.
In chapter 8, Pinkeye, a young pig, becomes the food taster for Napoleon, as part of the increased security precautions established after three hens confessed to participating in a plot to assassinate Napoleon.
The rats of Animal Farm first appear in chapter 1, when their arrival at the meeting in the barn causes a commotion with the dogs and the cat. Major halts his speech to settle the matter of whether the rats, being wild creatures, should be classified as comrades like the other animals. A vote is taken, and they are named comrades. They appear briefly in chapter 3 as the focus of one the Wild Comrades’ Re-education Committee—one of Snowball’s numerous social campaigns. They are mentioned only one other time, in chapter 7, when they are said to have been in league with Snowball in sabotaging the farm. Some scholars have suggested that the “wild creatures” represent the unruly and politically unengaged Russian peasantry.
The sheep of Animal Farm have no individual identities, and they rarely appear in the story except as a group. They serve as unwitting accomplices to the rise of Napoleon’s dictatorship. Their cacophonous bleating of slogans disrupts dissent and destroys honest debate. Orwell employs them in the story to represent blind acceptance of authority and power, a vital component to the destruction of liberty. The repetitive and incessant bleating of the sheep suggests the “gramophone mind,” which Orwell identified in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm as one of the principal enemies of freedom. The sheep are to Napoleon what the Communist Party loyalists were to Joseph Stalin.
The local knacker (a person who buys worn-out horses, slaughters them, and sells the meat for dog food). It is not clear that Simmonds is the driver of the van that takes Boxer away. In any case, he says nothing, which does not alter the fact that he plays a key role in the most dramatic and moving scene in the novel. The animals gather around the van to say their good-byes to Boxer, but Benjamin cuts them short by reading the words on the side of the van: “Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler, Willingdon. Dealer in Hides and Bone-Meal. Kennels supplied.”
The most intelligent of the animals on the farm, the hero of the Battle of the Cowshed and the logical candidate to succeed Old Major as the leader of the animals. However, he is no match in ruthlessness for Napoleon, who unleashes his ferocious dogs on Snowball, forcing him to run for his life.
Before being forced into exile, Snowball takes the lead in teaching the animals the principles of Animalism. He paints over an old sign with the new name of Animal Farm, and he paints the commandments on the wall of the big barn.
More than any other pig, Snowball seems to embody the revolutionary spirit of Animalism. He creates the new flag, attempts to set up various committees, succeeds in teaching many of the animals to read and write, and becomes one of the most active and persuasive speakers during the weekly Sunday Meeting debates. He does agree, however, that only the pigs should be allowed the milk and apples, and he rebukes Boxer for being sentimental when he believes he has killed a stable boy during the Battle of the Cowshed.
In succeeding chapters, Snowball becomes the pigs’ all-purpose scapegoat. Napoleon blames him for the destruction of the windmill. Every setback attributed to Snowball’s sabotage of the farm. He is by turns condemned as an agent of Jones, Frederick, and Pilkington, and is ultimately portrayed as a traitor to Animalism from the beginning of the rebellion.
Snowball’s transformation from hero to traitor mirrors the fate of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was initially heralded as a hero of the revolution and the subsequent civil war between the Reds and Whites, during which he organized and led the Red Army. He was considered the heir apparent to Lenin, who, before his death in 1924, specifically spoke against Stalin.
Trotsky was banished from the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1929. In exile, Trostky proved to be a powerful critic of Stalin’s regime, notably in his study The Revolution Betrayed (1937). He was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940. Trotsky also provided the model for Emmanuel Goldstein, a similar scapegoat figure in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
One of the three principal leaders among the pigs in the postrebellion Animal Farm, Squealer is at once one of the most amusing and sinister characters in Orwell’s allegory. Squealer’s role in the allegory is principally that of a propagandist. He intercedes on behalf of Snowball and Napoleon with the rest of the animals, and he is perfectly suited to this role. “Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back!” Much of Squealer’s propaganda is directed at undermining Snowball’s character, making him the scapegoat for every tragedy that befalls the farm. Squealer’s greatest task, however, is justifying actions by Napoleon which appear to contravene the principles of Animalism. In the allegory, Squealer is thought to represent Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper, although the singular success he enjoys suggests that he might be modeled on Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s sinister but highly effective minister of propaganda.
A “sly-looking little man with side whiskers,” a minor solicitor in town, but one sharp enough to see the financial advantages of the revolution. When Napoleon announces his decision to engage in trade with humans, Whymper becomes a regular visitor to the farm. The animals on the farm view Napoleon’s compromise with the humans with suspicion, as they seem to recall that such interactions are forbidden by one of the commandments; however, they come to feel a measure of pride in the spectacle of Napoleon issuing orders to a human.
In Chapter 8, Whymper successfully concludes negotiations over the sale of the timber to Frederick, who grudgingly pays cash for the lot and begins hauling it away. Whymper makes arrangements to use the money to purchase machinery for the windmill, but three days after the sale, he learns that the bills are counterfeit.
It is likely that Orwell intended to parody the controversial Treaty of Rapallo, signed by Walter Rathenau of Germany and G. V. Chicherin of the Soviet Union in Rapallo, Italy, in 1922. The agreement included Germany’s recognition of the Soviet government, a mutual cancellation of debt incurred prior to World War I, and a mutual renunciation of all postwar claims. Germany also benefited from a clause that allowed extensive trade between the two countries, which is Orwell’s principal focus in the character of Whymper. But there was an existing model for the Whymper character, although it is doubtful that Orwell knew of him. He was Armand Hammer (1898–1990), an American businessman and the son of a Russian immigrant who, despite being a very successful capitalist (he later became an oil tycoon) never let ideology interfere with business. He was a lifelong Republican and a major contributor to Richard Nixon’s campaign, but he never did overcome the suspicion that he might be a Soviet agent. His initial contact was with Lenin, but he managed to get along beautifully with Stalin as well. His long association with Soviet governments, through wars hot and cold, suggests that his wheeling and dealing was a deeply ingrained characteristic that trumped his ideology.
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