Full Title · Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
Author · George Orwell (pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair)
Type Of Work · Novella
Genre · Dystopian animal fable; satire; allegory; political roman à clef (French for
“novel with a key”—a thinly veiled exposé of factual persons or events)
Language · English
Time And Place Written · 1943–1944, in London
Date Of First Publication · 1946
Publisher · Harcourt Brace & Company
Narrator · Animal Farm is the only work by Orwell in which the author does not
appear conspicuously as a narrator or major character; it is the least overtly personal
of all of his writings. The anonymous narrator of the story is almost a nonentity,
notable for no individual idiosyncrasies or biases.
Point Of View · The story is told from the point of view of the common animals of
Animal Farm, though it refers to them in the third person plural as “they.”
Tone · For the most part, the tone of the novel is objective, stating external facts and
rarely digressing into philosophical meditations. The mixture of this tone with the
outrageous trajectory of the plot, however, steeps the story in an ever-mounting
Tense · Past
Setting (Time) · As is the case with most fables, Animal Farm is set in an unspecified
time period and is largely free from historical references that would allow the reader
to date the action precisely. It is fair to assume, however, that Orwell means the fable
to be contemporaneous with the object of its satire, the Russian Revolution (1917–
1945). It is important to remember that this period represented the recent past and
present at the time of writing and that Orwell understands the significance of the
story’s action to be immediate and ongoing rather than historical.
Setting (Place) · An imaginary farm in England
Protagonist · There is no clear central character in the novel, but Napoleon, the
dictatorial pig, is the figure who drives and ties together most of the action.
Major Conflict · There are a number of conflicts in Animal Farm—the animals versus
Mr. Jones, Snowball versus Napoleon, the common animals versus the pigs, Animal
Farm versus the neighboring humans—but all of them are expressions of the
underlying tension between the exploited and exploiting classes and between the
lofty ideals and harsh realities of socialism.
Rising Action · The animals throw off their human oppressors and establish a
socialist state called Animal Farm; the pigs, being the most intelligent animals in the
group, take control of the planning and government of the farm; Snowball and
Napoleon engage in ideological disputes and compete for power.
Climax · In Chapter V, Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm with his trained pack of
dogs and declares that the power to make decisions for the farm will be exercised
solely by the pigs.
Falling Action · Squealer emerges to justify Napoleon’s actions with skillful but
duplicitous reinterpretations of Animalist principles; Napoleon continues to
consolidate his power, eliminating his enemies and reinforcing his status as supreme
leader; the common animals continue to obey the pigs, hoping for a better future.
Themes · The corruption of socialist ideals in the Soviet Union; the societal tendency
toward class stratification; the danger of a naïve working class; the abuse of
language as instrumental to the abuse of power
Motifs · Songs; state ritual
Symbols · Animal Farm; the barn; the windmill
Foreshadowing · The pigs’ eventual abuse of power is foreshadowed at several
points in the novel. At the end of Chapter II, immediately after the establishment of
the supposedly egalitarian Animal Farm, the extra milk taken from the cows
disappears, and the text implies that Napoleon has drunk it himself. Similarly, the
dogs’ attack on Boxer during Napoleon’s purges, in Chapter VII, foreshadows the
pigs’ eventual betrayal of the loyal cart-horse.
One night, all the animals at Mr. Jones' Manor Farm assemble in a barn to hear old Major, a
pig, describe a dream he had about a world where all animals live free from the tyranny of
their human masters. old Major dies soon after the meeting, but the animals — inspired by
his philosophy of Animalism — plot a rebellion against Jones. Two
pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, prove themselves important figures and planners of this
dangerous enterprise. When Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and
Jones and his men are chased off the farm. Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the
Seven Commandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall.
Initially, the rebellion is a success: The animals complete the harvest and meet every
Sunday to debate farm policy. The pigs, because of their intelligence, become the
supervisors of the farm. Napoleon, however, proves to be a power-hungry leader who
steals the cows' milk and a number of apples to feed himself and the other pigs. He also
enlists the services of Squealer, a pig with the ability to persuade the other animals that
the pigs are always moral and correct in their decisions.
Later that fall, Jones and his men return to Animal Farm and attempt to retake it. Thanks
to the tactics of Snowball, the animals defeat Jones in what thereafter becomes known as
The Battle of the Cowshed. Winter arrives, and Mollie, a vain horse concerned only with
ribbons and sugar, is lured off the farm by another human. Snowball begins drawing plans
for a windmill, which will provide electricity and thereby give the animals more leisure
time, but Napoleon vehemently opposes such a plan on the grounds that building the
windmill will allow them less time for producing food. On the Sunday that the pigs offer
the windmill to the animals for a vote, Napoleon summons a pack of ferocious dogs, who
chase Snowball off the farm forever. Napoleon announces that there will be no further
debates; he also tells them that the windmill will be built after all and lies that it was his
own idea, stolen by Snowball. For the rest of the novel, Napoleon uses Snowball as a
scapegoat on whom he blames all of the animals' hardships.
Much of the next year is spent building the windmill. Boxer, an incredibly strong horse,
proves himself to be the most valuable animal in this endeavor. Jones, meanwhile,
forsakes the farm and moves to another part of the county. Contrary to the principles of
Animalism, Napoleon hires a solicitor and begins trading with neighboring farms. When a
storm topples the half-finished windmill, Napoleon predictably blames Snowball and
orders the animals to begin rebuilding it.
Napoleon's lust for power increases to the point where he becomes a totalitarian dictator,
forcing "confessions" from innocent animals and having the dogs kill them in front of the
entire farm. He and the pigs move into Jones' house and begin sleeping in beds (which
Squealer excuses with his brand of twisted logic). The animals receive less and less food,
while the pigs grow fatter. After the windmill is completed in August, Napoleon sells a pile
of timber to Jones; Frederick, a neighboring farmer who pays for it with forged banknotes.
Frederick and his men attack the farm and explode the windmill but are eventually
defeated. As more of the Seven Commandments of Animalism are broken by the pigs, the
language of the Commandments is revised: For example, after the pigs become drunk one
night, the Commandment, "No animals shall drink alcohol" is changed to, "No animal shall
drink alcohol to excess."
Boxer again offers his strength to help build a new windmill, but when he collapses,
exhausted, Napoleon sells the devoted horse to a knacker (a glue-boiler). Squealer tells
the indignant animals that Boxer was actually taken to a veterinarian and died a peaceful
death in a hospital — a tale the animals believe.
Years pass and Animal Farm expands its boundaries after Napoleon purchases two fields
from another neighboring farmer, Pilkington. Life for all the animals (except the pigs) is
harsh. Eventually, the pigs begin walking on their hind legs and take on many other
qualities of their former human oppressors. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a
single law: "All Animals Are Equal / But Some Are More Equal Than Others." The novel ends
with Pilkington sharing drinks with the pigs in Jones' house. Napoleon changes the name
of the farm back to Manor Farm and quarrels with Pilkington during a card game in which
both of them try to play the ace of spades. As other animals watch the scene from outside
the window, they cannot tell the pigs from the humans.
As Orwell spent more and more time with the down-and-outs of England, he became convinced
that the only remedy for the invidious problem of poverty lay in socialism, a political and economic
philosophy arguing that only when the state controls the means of production and distribution will
all members of a nation share its profits and rewards. Unlike capitalism, the philosophy holding
that a nation's means of production and distribution should be privately owned and controlled,
socialism argues that only government regulation of a nation's economy can close the gap
between the rich and the poor. Although he was not a virulent anti-capitalist, Orwell did think that
only with the gradual introduction of socialist ideas and practices into British life would the poor
eventually come to share in the fruits of their nation's prosperity.
As he explained in his Preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, "I became pro-Socialist
more out of disgust with the way the poorer section of the industrial workers were oppressed and
neglected than out of any theoretical admiration for a planned society." After fighting against
fascism (an oppressive system of government in which the ruling party has complete economic
control) in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell dedicated himself to exploring political questions in his
writing. As he explains in the essay "Why I Write," "Every line of serious work I have written since
1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and fordemocratic socialism."
His detestation and fear of totalitarianism — an even more extreme form of fascism in which the
ruling party has complete control over all aspects of a people's lives — thus informed much of his
Orwell examined socialism in a number of his nonfiction works but was prompted to write Animal
Farm by what he saw as a prevalent — and false — belief that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a
step toward socialism for millions of poor and oppressed Russians. Orwell felt that Stalin's brutal
rise to power was not only barbaric, but a betrayal of the socialist principles for which Lenin,
Trotsky, and he had presumably revolted. In hindsight, this seems obvious, but in the world of
World War II Europe, such an attack on Russia was willingly stifled by many British leftists who
wanted to believe that Russia was indeed moving toward a true union of socialist republics. The
fact that Russia was — like England — fighting Hitler also made Orwell's position more unpalatable
to leftist thinkers. Still, he felt that the U.S.S.R. was not progressing toward socialism but
totalitarianism: "I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in
which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any ruling class." Convinced that
"a destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement,"
Orwell began thinking about how he could best communicate his opinions on socialism and Stalin.
His thoughts were ignited when he happened to see a village boy whipping a cart-horse. At that
moment, Orwell received the inspiration he needed to formulate his ideas into Animal Farm: "It
struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we would have no power over
them, and that men exploit animals" as the government in a totalitarian state exploits the common
people. Now Orwell had a plan for his novel which would both argue the need for a true socialist
government and warn the world of the ways in which socialist ideas threatened the will of these in
power who wish to control other people. His book would demonstrate the ways in which — despite
all of their socialist propaganda — the leaders of the Russian Revolution (especially Stalin) had
created in a system even worse than its previous one and sound an alarm to all English readers
about the dangers of believing in the Soviet myth. (For a more detailed examination of how the
events of the novel parallel those of the Russian Revolution, see the Critical Essays.) After a number
of rejections from publishers, the novel was finally accepted by the small publishing firm of Secker
and Warburg and proved to be a tremendous success, both in England and the United States.
After Nineteen Eighty-Four, another novel that portrays life under an oppressive
government, Animal Farm is Orwell's most renowned work.
Of course, the novel's meaning is not rooted solely in its portrayal of the Russian Revolution. The
novel asks its readers to examine the ways in which political leaders with seemingly noble and
altruistic motives can betray the very ideals in which they ostensibly believe, as well as the ways in
which certain members of a nation can elect themselves to positions of great power and abuse
their fellow citizens, all under the guise of assisting them. The novel also presents the subtle ways
in which a group of citizens — of a farm or a nation — can be eventually led by the nose into a
terrible life ruled by a totalitarian regime. In "Why I Write," Orwell describes Animal Farmas "the
first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and
artistic purpose into one whole." His political purpose — presenting a model of socialism gone
wrong — is found in the way that the novel's animals reflect different kinds of humans and their
struggles for freedom and power. Orwell felt that a farm where "All Animals Are Equal" would solve
many social and economic problems — but he also knew that such a system would be difficult to
maintain, since some animals would act on the principle that "Some Are More Equal Than Others."
An old boar whose speech about the evils perpetrated by humans rouses the
animals into rebelling. His philosophy concerning the tyranny of Man is named Animalism
by his followers. He also teaches the song "Beasts of England" to the animals.
A wise and persuasive pig, old Major inspires the rebellion with his rhetorical skill and
ability to get the other animals to share his indignation. When he announces that he
wishes to share the contents of his strange dream with his companions, all the
animals comply, demonstrating the great respect they have for such an important
(that is, "major") figure. His speech about the tyranny of man is notable for its
methodical enumeration of man's wrongs against the animals. Listing all of man's
crimes, old Major rouses the other animals into planning the rebellion. His leading
The Corruption of Socialist Ideals in the Soviet Union
The Societal Tendency Toward Class Stratification
The Danger of a Naïve Working Class
The Abuse of Language as Instrumental to the Abuse of Power