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Symbols in Animal Farm

Animal Farm

The farm is a representation of a society. It has inhabitants, places to live, food production, politics and trade. We also see the social structure of the society:

  • the leader (Napoleon)
  • a political rival (Snowball)
  • the religious leader (Moses)
  • the police (the dogs)
  • the working class (the other animals)

Orwell uses the farm to highlight the unfairness that such a system will always bring because of its power imbalance.

As with most societies, there are internal conflicts (e.g. the ideological battle between Napoleon and Snowball) and external conflicts (e.g. the battle with Mr Frederick from a neighbouring farm). At the root of these conflicts, we see humans and animals alike motivated by greed and a desire for power.

The Seven Commandments

The seven commandments are developed from Old Major’s initial vision. These rules are supposed to ensure equality among the animals and protection from human cruelty and greed.

However, as the story progresses, the pigs break all of these rules, showing a betrayal of Animalism’s foundational principles. Many of them are altered, and the pigs convince the other animals that they have always been like this. Only Benjamin the donkey remembers the commandments as they once were, but he sees no use in protesting against the growing corruption of the pigs.

The table below shows the original commandments and how they are broken:

CommandmentHow it is broken
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemyThe pigs walk on two legs.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friendThey change the simplified maxim to “Four legs good, two legs better.”
No animal shall wear clothesThe pigs wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bedChanged to: “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”
No animal shall drink alcoholChanged to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.”
No animal shall kill any other animalChanged to: “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.”
All animals are equalIn the end, the only commandment left is: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The Milk

The missing milk holds significant meaning. It is the first moment where the pigs have used their power to serve themselves over the needs of the other animals. It also leads to the first lies they tell the animals to hide their corruption.

Milk symbolises the luxuries that the pigs enjoy once they take power. After successfully taking it, they move on to other luxuries. These include apples, the hen’s eggs, alcohol and sleeping in beds in the farmhouse.

Songs and Slogans

Songs and slogans are used as powerful tools to enforce ideas. Old Major teaches the other animals “Beasts of England” after he introduces the idea of an animal rebellion. One verse of the song goes:

Riches more than mind can picture,
Wheat and barley, oats and hay,
Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels
Shall be ours upon that day.

The words in this verse show how the song is a symbol of hope for a better future where the animals will be rich and well-fed. However, it soon becomes apparent that this dream is false, as the animals starve while working harder than ever.

Symbolically, Napoleon bans the song, saying it no longer has “any purpose” now that they have – he claims – achieved the utopia they once dreamed of. Instead, the poet Minimus composes a blander song for them that is less likely to stir the animals up into excitement. He also shares a poem that praises Napoleon and this is inscribed on the wall alongside a large portrait of the leader.

Slogans are also used to enforce messages. The sheep continually bleat, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” Boxer has his own personal sayings of “I must work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.” The repetition of such slogans prevents the animals from having any individual freedom of thought.

The Windmill

The windmill serves as the divisive political issue leading to the disintegration of Snowball and Napoleon’s fragile alliance. Snowball proposes it as an idea that will mean that the other animals do not have to work as hard in the future. Napoleon opposes the idea. He urinates on the plans for it, then uses the dogs to chase Snowball away when the other animals vote for it. Later, Napoleon declares that they will build the windmill, and Squealer claims that Napoleon had favoured it all along.

However, even after two windmills are built, the hard labour of the animals is not eased. In fact, their work increases from six days a week to seven. The windmill, therefore, becomes a symbol of the exploitative behaviour of the pigs. Boxer works himself into physical collapse to help build it. When he can no longer work, the pigs – with no sense of gratitude or sentimentality – sell him to the glue factory.

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