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Themes in Animal Farm

Power and Corruption

Although the novel is an allegory for the Soviet Union, Orwell’s criticism isn’t specifically about communism. Instead, it is what happens to people – or, in this case, animals – when given power. He demonstrates that power has the ability to corrupt, regardless of the governing system in place. The people in power will always look to serve themselves rather than the people they should look after.

Old Major knows that he will soon die, so his plans for the animals to take over are not driven by self-interest. He feels that it is his “duty to pass on…such wisdom” in the hope that life can be better for the animals.

However, when the other pigs take the leadership, it is not long before they become corrupt. They steal the cow’s milk, even though this is the same behaviour Old Major criticised in humans. This is a relatively minor incident of self-serving, corrupt behaviour. However, it starts the gradual shift into total corruption that sees Napoleon acting as cruelly as the master (Mr Jones) they banished.

This table shows the pigs’ descent into total corruption:

Chapter 2The pigs steal the cow’s milk.
Chapter 3The pigs do no physical work. They consume all the milk and fallen apples, claiming that this is necessary for their energy as leaders.
Chapter 4It is “accepted” that the pigs “should decide all questions of farm policy” in meetings, though decisions need to be agreed by a vote.
Chapter 5The animals vote for Snowball’s windmill plan, but Napoleon uses the dogs to exile Snowball from the farm. He ends the voting system.
Chapter 6Napoleon works with a human, Mr Whymper, to trade with other farms. Also, the pigs live in the farmhouse.
Chapter 7Most of the animals starve, and the pigs demand the hens’ eggs. After a small rebellion, Napoleon orders the execution of several animals.
Chapter 8Napoleon trades with Mr Frederick, the animals’ supposed enemy. In this chapter, the pigs also start drinking alcohol.
Chapter 9The animals continue to starve while the pigs get fatter. Animal Farm is declared to be a republic, with Napoleon as president. Boxer is sold to a glue factory.
Chapter 10The pigs walk on two legs, wear human clothes and carry whips. They enjoy the luxuries of life while the other animals live in misery. Also, they become indistinguishable from the human farmers they do business with.

Lies and Propaganda

The pigs keep their power and hide their corruption through propaganda. Propaganda means giving misleading information to serve a political purpose.

Squealer is primarily responsible for delivering propaganda to the other animals. We see this first in chapter 3 after it is discovered that the pigs are consuming the milk. He explains that this is not an act of “selfishness and privilege”, even claiming that they “actually dislike milk.” He convinces them that it is a scientific necessity as they are the “brainworkers”. Squealer also adds that, without their leadership, Mr Jones would soon return. Here we see propaganda combining false logic and fear. Later, the fear part of his propaganda comes from the guard dogs accompanying him in delivering his messages.

Most of the animals blindly believe the lies that they are given. We see this when Squealer and Napoleon blame Snowball for everything that goes wrong on the farm. They are so convincing with their tales of Snowball destroying food and breaking objects that the animals can “hardly sleep in their stalls.” They are even made to believe that Snowball had been Mr Jones’s secret agent during the Battle of the Cowshed, despite the fact that they witnessed his heroics. Even Boxer is sceptical of this claim initially, but Squealer insists that Napoleon “has stated categorically” this to be true. Boxer shows his – and the other animals’ – gullible nature by replying, “Ah, that is different…If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”

Equality and Inequality

The entire premise of the animal revolution is founded upon the inequality that occurs between humans and animals. Old Major says humans are the “lord of all the animals.” While the animals work hard and are given the “bare minimum that will prevent them from starving”, humans will selfishly keep the rest. He proposes a revolution to overthrow the human masters and have a system of equality among the animals in “perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle.”

When the pigs draw up the seven commandments, the last and most important is that “All animals are equal.” However, we see inequality begin immediately after the revolution. The pigs learn to read and write, and so it is them who write down the rules. They are deemed to be the cleverest animals, and so they lead the meetings. However, as leaders, they don’t do any of the physical labour that the other animals do.

By the end of the novel, there is no pretence of equality among the animals. Symbolically, the seventh commandment is changed to read:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Although this sentence technically doesn’t make sense, the meaning is clear. Equality is no longer valued. Inequality is as much a part of this regime as it was when Mr Jones owned the farm.

When they drink together at the end, Mr Pilkington tells Napoleon:

“If you have your lower animals to contend with…we have our lower classes!”

Here, Orwell reminds the reader that unequal societies exist outside communism and the Soviet Union. Capitalism and the class system in Britain also bring inequality. Therefore, before people in capitalist societies are critical of the Soviet Union, they must first acknowledge the inequalities in their own systems.

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