George Orwell was the pen-name of Eric Arthur Blair, an Englishman born in Bengal, India (1903), and educated at Eton, England. After service with the British colonial Indian Imperial Police in Burma, he returned to Europe to earn his living writing novel and essays. Bitterly opposed to social injustice and political oppression, he was a socialist who attacked both capitalism and communism, a literary critic and a novelist who merged his profound political concerns with superbly honed narrative artistry. Besides his classic Animal Farm, his best known novel is 1984, an extraordinary novel of political prophecy. George Orwell died in 1950, in London, of a neglected lung disease. [taken from the book]
All the story is set in a farm, known as the Manor Farm, somewhere in England. The historic setting is not clear, nor is it very important really, as the novel means to be a timeless criticism to communism. However, it may be set around the period in which Orwell has written it (1940s).
The Manor Farm is led by Mr Jones, a "dictator" who oversees all the happenings on the farm. He has complete control over his animals at the beginning of the story: he works them vigorously and treats them unfairly. But one night Major, an old boar who is well respected by the animals of the farm, has a vision in his sleep of animals having control of themselves. He calls a meeting of all the 414j96e animals in the farm to discuss this vision and to tell his idea of a rebellion in which all of the animals fight against humans and shall have control over themselves and the farm.
Old Major soon dies, and two other pigs take the role of pushing and organizing this rebellion. Their names are Napoleon and Snowball, and they have very different ways of thinking. Napoleon is a more fierce boar, but also more quiet, and Snowball is a very skilled and persuasive talker.
They become the two major characters of the story as they work together to devise a plan to overthrow the humans. Eventually, they lead the animals to a victorious
rebellion and drive the farmer and his men off the farm. One sheep is killed and Snowball is injured by one of the farmers during the battle. These casualties lead the other animals to appreciate what they have fought for much more.
Once the animals have gained control over themselves, the first thing they do is electing leaders. They unanimously vote to have Snowball and Napoleon to lead them, mainly because they are the ones who organized and led the animals through the battle. After getting the power, Napoleon and Snowball oversee all of the
decisions of the farm. A council of all pigs is formed, because they are thought of as the most intelligent animals of the farm. One of the first things they decide is to change the farm's name to Animal Farm because the name Manor Farm reminds human oppression over the animals. They devise commandments for the animals to follow and even teach themselves how to read and write just for the purpose of improving their quality of life. Here are the seven commandments:
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal.
All animals are equal.
As the novel goes on, the pigs (with input from the other animals) decide a "work schedule" for the animals for food, farm maintenance and education. They also come
up with a plan to defend the farm, if the humans shall ever decide to come back again. The most difficult task they decide to undertake is the task of building a
windmill (the pigs read about building one in an old book of the farmer) to provide electricity to the farm. At first, Napoleon doesn't want it to be built, while Snowball, who is planning the project for the windmill, does, but after running Snowball off the farm (with the help of the grown puppies he raised from birth) Napoleon decides to actually build it, taking the control of the farm. The atmosphere greatly changes!
Every animal, except the pigs (who are too busy governing the farm!), works hard day and night to achieve its goal. Through their great efforts, the windmill is completed after nearly two years and many sacrifices. However, one night a storm comes and blows the fully built windmill down - the animals will eventually build a working windmill anyway.
Napoleon takes away the little input the animals have and gives all the power to himself and the pigs. Almost all the animals of the farm are very stupid, so he is able to brainwash them into believing that they are acting in the best interest for the farm when all they are actually doing is suffering to satisfy the pigs' desires. The animals become sick and underfed because the pigs get all of the best things, and when they refuse to do what the pigs say, Napoleon unleashes his dogs upon them.
The story ends with the pigs breaking every commandment that they devised to keep themselves pure animals, expecially the "unwritten law" which says not to have contacts with human people (in the end they even drink and make toasts with them!). The seven commandments are eventually reduced into one, the famous
ALL THE ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.
The pigs learned how to talk like humans, use human tools and even to walk like humans: they became exactly what they were trying to overcome.
Old Major: Old Major is the wise old pig whose stirring speech to the animals helps to set the Rebellion in motion, though he dies before it actually begins. He may represent Karl Marx, whose ideas set the Communist Revolution in motion.
Napoleon: Napoleon is a "large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way". Instead of debating with Snowball, he sets his dogs on him and continues to increase his personal power and privileges from that time on. His name reminds us Napoleon Bonaparte who took over the French Revolution and turned it into a personal Empire. He may represent any dictator.
Snowball: Snowball is an energetic, brilliant leader. He's the one who successfully organizes the defense of the Farm. He's an eloquent speaker with original ideas (the windmill). He should represent Trotzky, who was sent out on exile after the Revolution.
Squealer: Squealer is short, fat, twinkle-eyed and nimble, "a brilliant talker". He has a very persuasive way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail. They say he can turn black into white! Every time the pigs take more power, Squealer persuades the animals that this is necessary for the wealth of all. When things are scarce, he proves that production has increased. He is also the one who changes the Seven Commandments.
Boxer: the loyal horse Boxer believes in the Rebellion and in its leader. His two favorite sayings are "Napoleon is always right" and "I will work harder". His huge size and strength and his untiring work save the farm again and again. He finally collapses from age and overwork, and is sold for glue.
Clover: Clover the mare is a protective figure. She survives to experience wordlessly all the sadness of the failed Revolution.
Mollie: Mollie, the frivolous, luxury-loving mare, contrasts with Clover. She goes away from Animal Farm to have sugar and ribbons at a human inn.
Napoleon's Dogs: the dogs represent the means used by a totalitarian state to terrorize its own people.
Sheeps: the stupid sheeps keep bleating every slogan the pigs teach them.
Moses: Moses the Raven, who doesn't work but tells comforting tales of the wonderful Sugarcandy Mountain where you go when you die, might be a satire of organized religion.
Benjamin: the gloomy Benjamin, the donkey, is a skeptic and a pessimist. He doesn't talk much and patiently does his work, although -unlike Boxer- no more than is required. He doesn't believe in the Revolution, nor in anything else, except that life is hard.
Jones: the drunken, negligent Farmer Jones may represent a Czar. He may also stand for any government that declines through its own corruption and mismanagement.
Whymper: Whymper is a commercial go-between for animals and humans, and may possibily represent the capitalists who dealt with the communist regime.
The novel is a grand allegory and an incisive satire about communism, and the references to the October Revolution and Lenin/Stalin dictatorship are quite clear. Orwell uses a lot of metaphors, besides the ones personified by the characters of the story... for example:
the farmhouse represents place where greed and lust dominate. Unlike the barn, which is the fortress of the common man, the genuine concept of socialism, the farmhouse, where Napoleon and the pigs take over, symbolizes the Kremlin.
the Sugarcandy Mountain symbolizes the Christian concept of Heaven. I think the Church is criticized in Animal Farm because it is the institution that inspires the animals to work using "lies" and manipulation.
the ribbons and the sugar symbolize the luxuries of life enjoyed by the old middle class under the old government.
the windmill represents Soviet industry. The windmill was destroyed several times before it finally was complete: this may represent the problems the communists in Russia went through to establish their industry.
the milk is the most difficult metaphor to understand, in my opinion: I think it represents the care and love that mothers give to their children so when Napoleon takes the milk for himself he is stealing the core of the people. Now he can bring the children up as a tool of the state. Now family has no power.
the alcohol is used by Orwell to represent the Old Russia.
Orwell's language is quite plain and simple, easy to understand: the novel may be read by a child as well and I'm sure he would enjoy it just as me, even though he won't obviously get the meaning beyond the story.
Naturally, Orwell doesn't use archaisms because he wrote Animal Farm in 1948, and the language hasn't changed much since.
Animal Farm is surely in my personal "top three" books I've ever read. It's the perfect novel for me: short, funny, lively (there aren't many descriptions of landscapes or characters) and nonetheless deep. I have to recommend it to every reader who is not looking for complex psychological intrigue.
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