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Understanding Animal Farm

Animal Farm is an allegory. This means that it has a hidden political or moral meaning. The story is a representation of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Before the revolution, Russia was ruled by a Tsar (which means emperor) called Nicholas II. The ruling classes had all the power and wealth, while the ordinary people were poor and starving. There was an uprising against this regime and a communist-led state – called the Soviet Union – replaced it.

Communism is an economic system proposed by Karl Marx. In a communist society, the state’s wealth should be shared equally. Also, no individuals should own land or factories. The Communist Party in Russia was set up by Vladimir Lenin (represented by Old Major in Animal Farm). When he died, the leadership was taken over by Joseph Stalin (represented by Napoleon). A senior figure, Leon Trotsky (represented by Snowball), disagreed with Stalin’s policies. As a result, he was forced out of the state and later assassinated.

Stalin led a regime characterised by mass murder, starvation and a total betrayal of communism’s original principles. It is estimated that he deliberately killed between 6-9 million civilians.

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm to show the story of the Russian Revolution in a more understandable format.

Plot Summary

  1. In Manor Farm, Old Major urges the animals to rebel against the rule of their cruel master, Mr Jones.
  1. After being starved by a neglectful Mr Jones, the animals fight against the humans. They take over the farm and rename it Animal Farm, instilling a philosophy called Animalism.
  1. Napoleon and Snowball become the leaders. However, they disagree on their plans. After Snowball’s idea for a windmill is voted for by the other animals, Napoleon forces his rival off the farm. He takes over as the sole leader.
  1. The animals work very long hours and starve. The increasingly corrupt pigs get fatter and begin sleeping in the farmhouse. After a small rebellion, Napoleon orders the execution of several animals.
  1. The animals construct a windmill, but this is destroyed during a battle with humans. Boxer, having worked himself to the point of physical collapse, is sold by the pigs to a glue factory.
  1. Several years later, it is shown that many of the animals have died. The pigs live like humans and enjoy wealth, having betrayed all the principles of Animalism.

Characters

  • Napoleon: A large, fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the main tyrant and the most prominent pig on the farm. He is cunning, manipulative and power-hungry.
  • Snowball: A boar who becomes one of the rebellion’s most valuable leaders. He is intelligent, passionate and less devious than his counterpart, Napoleon.
  • Boxer: A loyal, kind, dedicated, extremely strong, hardworking, and respectable cart horse. He fully believes in the rebellion and works tirelessly for the cause.
  • Squealer: A small, fat pig with a knack for persuasive speaking. He serves as Napoleon’s spokesperson and manipulates the truth to keep the other animals in line.
  • Old Major: The prize boar and philosopher of the farm whose vision of a socialist utopia serves as the inspiration for the rebellion. He dies shortly after sharing his vision.
  • Clover: A gentle, caring female horse, who shows concern especially for Boxer. She represents the female working class and mothers of the Soviet Union.
  • Benjamin: A donkey and the oldest animal on the farm. He is cynical and sceptical, and never quite believes in the rebellion.
  • Mollie: A vain mare who pulls Mr Jones’s carriage and loves wearing ribbons in her mane. She has difficulty adjusting to her new life after the Rebellion, as she misses human attention.
  • Mr Jones: The often drunk owner of Manor Farm before the animals rebel. He is an unkind and irresponsible master who indulges himself while his animals lack food.
  • Frederick and Pilkington: The owners of the two farms neighbouring Animal Farm who represent the countries neighbouring the Soviet Union.

Structure

  • Orwell tells the story with a third-person omniscient narrator (meaning that the narrator sees and knows everything).
  • The novel is set almost entirely on Manor/Animal Farm. However, there are some scenes when we see the humans outside the farm, such as Mr Jones in the pub complaining about the rebellion in Chapter 4.
  • There is a circular narrative. In the beginning, Jones is drunk in the farmhouse. In the end, the pigs are drinking with humans in the farmhouse. This shows how they have become the very people they swore to oppose.

Language

  • Orwell uses simple language to tell the story. He wanted the complex events of the Russian Revolution to be told in a simple way that everyone – including children – could understand. Many of the biggest revelations in the story are told in short sentences. The emotional climax of the novel is explained: “Boxer was never seen again.”
  • He also uses rhetorical devices like pathos (appealing to emotions to persuade or motivate) when he creates fear about Mr Jones returning unless Napoleon’s commands are followed. He also employs logos (using logical arguments or factual evidence) to justify the pigs’ actions and decisions, often manipulating facts to suit his narrative. For instance, he uses false science to explain that pigs need all the milk as they are the “brainworkers.”

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