Along with Snowball and Squealer, Napoleon is one of the three pigs who organises the animals. He is described as “a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar…not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way.”
In meetings, he is not as effective at gaining support as Snowball, but he is good at persuading other animals when speaking individually to them. He gains the loyalty of the sheep, who chant, “Four legs good, two legs bad” while Snowball speaks in meetings.
Realising that he cannot gain the support of the majority of the animals through speeches, Napoleon instead uses violence and fear to establish his power. He trains up the puppies to be his attack dogs. These dogs chase away Snowball and make other animals scared to question Napoleon’s decisions.
Napoleon becomes a tyrant (a cruel and oppressive leader), and he overworks the animals while not feeding them enough. Meanwhile, he and the other pigs grow fat from the amount that they are consuming. Napoleon also shuts down any protest against his decisions with swift violence. In chapter seven, he kills many animals who he says have opposed his authority.
Napoleon betrays Animalism by behaving increasingly like a human. By the end of the novel, he is indistinguishable from the human farmers he does business with, showing that he has become totally corrupt.
It is fitting that he is named after Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte was a French military leader who rose to power in the French Revolution. However, he betrayed the democratic principles he once stood for and became a tyrant like the leaders he helped overthrow.
Snowball is a very intelligent pig who is “quicker in speech and more inventive” than Napoleon. He represents Leon Trotsky, a revolutionary leader who had a vision for the future of Russia but was expelled by his political rival, Joseph Stalin, represented by Napoleon in the novel. He does most of the organising for the revolution. Also, he is able to share his ideas persuasively during meetings, being an energetic and articulate speaker.
Snowball sets up many committees and tries to educate the other animals, though he doesn’t have much success. The fact that he does this shows that he cares for all the animals and doesn’t just use them to benefit the pigs, as Napoleon does. However, it is worth noting that he enjoys the privileges that the pigs give themselves. He doesn’t do any physical work and consumes the milk and apples that only the pigs are allowed.
In anticipation of Mr Jones trying to recapture the farm, Snowball reads up on military history. He reads about successful leaders, such as Julius Caesar, and plans how to use the strategies that won them battles. As a result, he comes up with a plan to ambush the humans which brings victory to the animals. For his bravery, he is awarded and is very well respected by his comrades.
However, his disagreements with Napoleon prove to be his downfall. He proposes the idea of the windmill, which he says will save the animals from a lot of physical labour. His “eloquence” wins the backing of the other animals in a meeting, but Napoleon uses the violent force of the dogs to exile him from Animal Farm. With Snowball gone, Napoleon has nobody to oppose him in his cruel and selfish decisions.
Napoleon and Squealer persuade the other animals that Snowball was an enemy all along. They use him to excuse setbacks, such as when they blame him for the windmill collapsing in the storm. His reputation has been completely destroyed, showing the power of the pigs’ lies.
Old Major, a prize-winning boar, comes up with the main ideas behind Animalism. The wisdom and experience that he has gained from his long life allow him to understand the true extent of the animals’ oppression. In a persuasive speech, he depicts their lives as characterised by “misery and slavery.” He describes humans as “the only real enemy we have” and insists that animals will not be free until they have carried out “the overthrow of the human race.”
The naivety of Old Major is that he believes that removing humans will mean that “the root cause of hunger and overwork” will be abolished. However, it is actually greed and corruption that cause these problems, and the pigs are just as likely to display these qualities as humans are. His vision of Animalism is twisted and exploited by the pigs to better their own lives.
Old Major is often seen as representing Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin. These are figures who played pivotal roles in inspiring and leading revolutions aimed at establishing socialist or communist societies. Old Major’s ideas form the foundation for Animalism, much like Marx’s ideas were foundational to communism, and his inspirational speech is similar to Lenin’s revolutionary leadership.
Boxer is a strong and loyal horse who works tirelessly for the cause of Animalism. He fights bravely and sustains injuries during “The Battle of the Cowshed.”. His moralistic nature is shown in his guilt about killing the stable-lad, though Snowball assures him that the “only good human being is a dead one.”
He contributes more labour than any other animal, even continuing to work when he has a split hoof. His mottos are “I must work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.” These demonstrate his devotion to the cause and total loyalty to the leader.
Boxer is determined to finish the windmill before his retirement, but his lungs fail him. The cruelty of Napoleon’s regime is epitomised in how he treats Boxer, his most loyal and hardworking follower. Squealer claims that Napoleon has organised for Boxer to receive medical treatment. In actual fact, he is sold to a glue factory. Now that Boxer can contribute no more work, Napoleon ruthlessly sends him to his death.
Boxer is generally interpreted as symbolising the working class in a communist revolution. He is hardworking, dedicated and willing to make sacrifices, yet he is naïve and easily exploited by the pigs, who symbolise the ruling class. His fate represents the betrayal of the working class by the new ruling elite.