Animal Farm (Orwell)

Animal Farm 
George Orwell
~125 pp. (varies by publisher)

It has been said that Animal Farm is a byproduct of George Orwell's long-held hatred of totalitarianism. Clearly, in reading Animal Farm, those familiar with history will find pointed parallels to Stalin's dictatorship and reign of terror.

In this case, however, the principal characters are indeed animals who, possessed of human or near-human traits and abilities, set out to create a Utopian society devoid of human influence.

In the novel's opening scene, Old Major, the "prized Middle White Boar," and the oldest and wisest of all beasts on Manor Farm, gathers the animals and tells them of a vision that came to him in a dream. In essence, he has foreseen a world in which animals rule themselves, live among one another equally, and work only toward the betterment of their own.

Inspired by these words, and chaffing under their human master, Mr. Jones, the animals gather secretly and plan rebellion. Led by two of the farm's pigs, Napoleon and Snowball (for the pigs soon prove the cleverest of all the animals on the farm), the animals mount a successful attack, rid themselves of Jones and his human counterparts, and take control of the farm.

With new found freedom and a sense of optimism toward the future, the animals set forth in re-establishing Manor Farm, now renamed Animal Farm, as their own. Under the leadership of the pigs, farm labor is organized and divided among the animals, and a list of seven commandments is established—deemed unalterable—under which all animals on the farm would adhere.

Slowly, however, some of the animals become wary of the pigs, who don't necessarily work, but supervise, and whose pronouncements become law despite little or no discussion. The pigs' usurpation of power continues to the point where their rule is questioned only upon pain of death. Consequently, Old Major's vision of a peaceful brotherhood of animals has mutated into a world where reality and truth are molded and disseminated to support the ruling class.

With biting irony and sharp insight into human nature, Orwell illustrates the dangers inherent in a complacent citizenry and the consequences of unchecked power. To this day, Animal Farm remains a haunting vision—the lessons of which might be heeded by all concerned with issues of self-determination and political process. (From Penguin Classics; cover image, above.)

Author Bio 
Aka— Eric Arthur Blair
Birth— June 25, 1903
Where—Motihari, Bihar, India
Death—January 21, 1950
Where—London England
Education—Eton, U.K.

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933.

In 1936, he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there. At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded, and Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air.

During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm, was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.

George Orwell died in London in January 1950. A few days before, Desmond MacCarthy had sent him a message of greeting in which he wrote: "You have made an indelible mark on English literature. . .you are among the few memorable writers of your generation." (From Penguin Classics; image top-right.)

Book Reviews 
The plot is an allegory in which animals play the roles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and overthrow and oust the human owners of the farm, setting it up as a commune in which, at first, all animals are equal; soon disparities start to emerge between the different species or classes. The novel describes how a society's ideologies can be changed and manipulated by individuals in positions of power, including how the idea of utopia is seemingly impossible with the corruption of power.

The events and characters in Animal Farm parallel the early history of the Soviet Union; Orwell makes this explicit in the case of Napoleon, whom he directly connects to Stalin in a letter of 17 March 1945 to the publisher. Of course the dogs are also important characters in this novella who enable George Orwell to be able to discover and express more of what had happened in Russia.

..when the windmill is blown up, I wrote "all the animals including Napoleon flung themselves on their faces." I would like to alter it to 'all the animals except Napoleon." If that has been printed it's not worth bothering about, but I just thought the alteration would be fair to JS [Joseph Stalin], as he did stay in Moscow during the German advance.

The other have their parallels in the real world, but care should be taken with these comparisons, as Orwell's intent was not always explicit and they often simply represent generalised concepts.

• Old Major is the inspiration which fuels the Revolution and the book. According to one interpretation, he could be based upon both Karl Marx and Lenin. As a socialist, George Orwell may have agreed with much of Marx, and even respected aspects of Lenin. According to this interpretation, the satire in Animal Farm is not of Marxism, or of Lenin's revolution, but of the corruption that occurred later although very similar to it. However, according to Christopher Hitchens:

As an allegory, the story has one enormous failure: the persons of Lenin and Trotsky are combined into one [i.e., Snowball], or, it might even be truer to say, there is no Lenin-pig at all. Such a stupendous omission cannot have been accidental.... Orwell in his essays was fond of saying that both Lenin and Trotsky bore some responsibility for Stalinism; by eliding this thought... he may have been subconsciously catering to the needs of tragedy.*

Hitchens goes on to agree, however, that in the book "the aims and principles of the Russian Revolution are given face-value credit throughout; this is a revolution betrayed, not a revolution that is monstrous from its inception". Though Old Major is presented positively, Orwell does slip in some flaws, such as his admission that he has largely been free of the abuse the rest of the animals have had to suffer.

• Napoleon, a Berkshire boar, is the main tyrant of Animal Farm. Napoleon begins to gradually build up his power, using puppies he took from mother dogs Jessie and Bluebell, which he raised to be vicious dogs as his secret police. After driving Snowball off the farm, Napoleon usurps full power, using false propaganda from Squealer and threats and intimidation from the dogs to keep the other animals in line. Among other things he gradually changes the Commandments to allow himself privileges and justify his dictatorial rule. By the end of the book Napoleon and his fellow pigs have learned to walk upright and started to behave similar to humans. Orwell modeled him after Joseph Stalin, who set up a dictatorship whose repression and despotism was far worse than that of the Imperial Russian government supplanted by the Bolsheviks. (In the French version of Animal Farm, Napoleon is called César, the French spelling of Caesar.

• Snowball, a white boar, is Napoleon's rival. He is inspired by Leon Trotsky. He wins over most animals, but is driven out of the farm in the end by Napoleon. Snowball genuinely works for the good of the farm and devises plans to help the animals achieve their vision of a utopia but is chased from the farm by Napoleon and his dogs and rumours are spread about him (by Napoleon) to make him seem evil and corrupt and that he is secretly sabotaging the animal's efforts to improve the farm.

• Squealer, a small fat porker, serves as Napoleon's public speaker. Inspired by Vyacheslav Molotov and the Russian paper Pravda, Squealer twists and abuses the language to excuse, justify, and extol all of Napoleon's actions. He represents all the propaganda Stalin used to justify his actions. In all of his work, George Orwell made it a point to show how politicians used language. Squealer limits debate by complicating it, and he confuses and disorients, making claims that the pigs need the extra luxury they are taking in order to function properly, for example. However, when questions persist, he usually uses the threat of Mr. Jones's return as justification for the pigs' privileges. Squealer uses statistics to convince the animals that life is getting better and better. Most of the animals have only dim memories of life before the revolution; therefore they are convinced.

• Minimus is a poetical pig who writes the second and third national anthems of Animal Farm after the singing of "Beasts of England" is banned, representing admirers of Stalin both inside and outside the USSR such as Maxim Gorky. As Minimus composed the replacement of "Beasts of England", he may equate to the three main composers of the National Anthem of the Soviet Union which replaced The Internationale -- Gabriel El-Registan, Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov, and Sergey Mikhalkov.

• Pinkeye is a small piglet who tastes Napoleon's food for poisoning.

• The Piglets are hinted to be the children of Napoleon (albeit not truly noted in the novel), and are the first generation of animals to actually be subjugated to his idea of animal inequality.

• The Rebel Pigs are pigs who complain about Napoleon's takeover of the farm but are quickly silenced and later executed. This is based on the Great Purge during Stalin's regime. The closest parallels to the Rebel Pigs may be Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev.

• Mr. Jones represents Nicholas II of Russia, the deposed Tsar, who had been facing severe financial difficulties in the days leading up to the 1917 Revolution. The character is also a nod towards Louis XVI. There are also several implications that he represents an autocratic but ineffective capitalist, incapable of running the farm and looking after the animals properly. Jones is a very heavy drinker and the animals revolt on him after he drinks so much that he does not feed them nor does he take care of them. Ironically Napoleon himself becomes almost obsessed with drinking.

• Mr. Frederick is the tough owner of Pinchfield, a well-kept neighbouring farm. He represents Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in general.

• Mr. Pilkington is the easy-going but crafty owner of Foxwood, a neighbouring farm overgrown with weeds, as described in the book. He represents the western powers, such as Britain and the U.S. The card game at the very end of the novel is a metaphor for the Tehran Conference, where the parties flatter each other, all the while cheating at the game. The irony in this last scene is present because of all of the Pigs being civil and kind to the humans, defying all for which they had fought. This was present in the Tehran Conference with the Alliance that the Soviet Union formed with the United States and Britain; capitalist countries that the Soviet Union had fought in the early years of the revolution. At the end of the novel, both Napoleon and Pilkington draw the Ace of Spades (which in most games, is the highest-ranking card) at the same time and begin fighting loudly, symbolizing the beginning of tension between the U.S. and Soviet superpowers.

• Mr. Whymper is a man hired by Napoleon to represent Animal Farm in human society. He is loosely based on Western intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw and, especially, Lincoln Steffens, who visited the U.S.S.R. in 1919.

• Boxer is one of the main characters. He is the tragic avatar of the working class, or proletariat: loyal, kind, dedicated, and the most physically-strong animal on the farm, but naive and slow. His ignorance and blind trust towards his leaders led to his death and their profit. In particular, his heroic physical work represents the Stakhanovite movement. His maxim of "I will work harder" is reminiscent of Jurgis Rudkus from the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle.

• Clover is Boxer's friend and a fellow draft horse. She helps and cares for Boxer when he splits his hoof. She blames herself for forgetting the original Seven Commandments when Squealer revises them. Clover is compassionate, as is shown when she protects the baby ducklings during Major's speech; albeit made out to be somewhat vain in the opening of the novel by the narrator, who remarks that she never "recovered" her figure after giving birth to her fourth foal. She is also upset when animals are executed by the dogs, and is held in great respect by three younger horses who ultimately replace Boxer.

• Mollie is a self-centered and vain white mare who likes wearing ribbons in her mane, eating sugar cubes (which represent luxury) and being pampered and groomed by humans. She represents upper-class people, the bourgeoisie and nobility who fled to the West after the Russian Revolution and effectively dominated the Russian diaspora. Accordingly, she quickly leaves for another farm and is only once mentioned again.

Other Animals
• Benjamin is a wise, old donkey that shows little emotion. The animals often question him about his lack of expression but always answers with: Donkeys live a long life. He is dedicated to Boxer and is dearly upset when Boxer is taken away. Benjamin has known about the pig's wrongdoing the whole time. He represents the cynics in society.

(Essay from Wikipedia.)

* Christopher Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters, Basic Books, pp 186-187., 2002.

Discussion Questions 
1. "Surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?" Throughout the animals' reign on the farm, Napoleon and Squealer dangle the possibility of Jones' return as a constant danger, keeping most of the other animals in fear, and thus, submission. Do you think that this was a valid threat? Do you feel that, overall, the animals were better or worse off once they were in control of the farm?

2. Throughout the novel, the natural characteristics of each animal figure heavily in their motives and pronouncements. How do the actions of Napoleon (a pig), Boxer (a horse), Benjamin (a donkey) and the dogs and sheep reflect the traits normally associated with the animal? Do your feel that Orwell purposely chose certain types of animals to assume certain roles?

3. Repeatedly, the animals sacrifice themselves in order to complete the windmill, only to see it destroyed time and again. What, if any, symbolic role does the windmill play? How do you account for the pigs' insistence that it be built and re-built?

4. On pages 3 - 10 of the novel, Old Major expresses his vision of a society free of human influence and control. Compare and contrast this against what eventually plays out on Manor Farm once the animals have taken over. What, if any, concepts or goals remain the same?

5. In one of the first scenes in the novel, Old Major sings Beasts of England, effectively bringing the animals together under a common purpose. Indeed, throughout the initial struggle against Man, it is a wildly popular and inspirational song. Yet later on, when the animals have successfully conquered the humans, Squealer, "attended by two dogs," announces that Beasts of England had been abolished and "was no longer needed." Why? Can you cite other examples where what was once held "sacred" and "necessary" to the common cause was later banished by decree?

6. Following the massacre of "guilty" animals at the hands of Napoleon and the other pigs, Clover reflects sadly on what she thought life should have been like on Manor Farm: "If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major's speech." Is Clover overly idealistic in feeling this way? Do you feel that such a community can exist?

7. Initially, the seven commandments issued by the animals were deemed unalterable, and symbolized a code by which the animals could live peacefully and equally among themselves. How and by what means were the command-ments eventually changed? Choose and discuss one or two individual commandments. Who benefited in each instance and how?

8. Animal Farm is replete with subtle and not so-subtle lessons on blind conformity and the misuse of power. What are some of the lessons you've personally taken away from the novel regarding education of the masses, knowledge of history, idealist thought and class structure? Has the novel changed your worldview in any way?

9. Can you account for how the pigs ascended so quickly to power and dominion over all other animals? What key steps did they take, or more specifically, which elements did they make certain to control?

10. Although Napoleon is considered the absolute Leader of Animal Farm, it is Squealer who is most adept at conveying the "party line" to the animals, often convincing them to disbelieve their own eyes. What methods does Squealer employ to deceive and/or placate the other animals? How does the concept of memory (or lack thereof) figure in Squealer's pronouncements and dealings with them?

11. The novel ends with a chilling passage, wherein Clover notices something odd about the humans and pigs meeting in the farmhouse: "Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. What is Orwell saying here? How do you interpret this final scene?

12. Discuss Napoleon's interaction with the humans after the animals have taken control of the farm. What does Napoleon's dealings with Whymper say about the self-sufficiency of the animals? What is at the root of Napoleon's interplay with Pilkington and Frederick?

13. In reading Animal Farm, Lord Acton's famous pronouncement "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" may come to mind. How and why is this statement applicable to the course of events in the novel?

14. When first published, Animal Farm was seen as a direct attack on Stalinism and the communist regime in Russia. In even a cursory reading, one can see direct parallels in the novel to actual players in Russian history. Is it your opinion, however, that Animal Farm is necessarily a rejection only of Communism? Against what other systems or situations are Orwell's observations applicable?

15. In the aftermath of the rebellion against Mr. Jones, Snowball and Napoleon emerge as the predominant figureheads—yet it is Napoleon who eventually consolidates and assumes power as unquestioned leader. Snowball, now banished from the farm, goes on to assume a newer and possibly more powerful role. Describe the differences between Snowball and Napoleon. What actions taken by Napoleon ensured his ascension to power and "victory" over Snowball? Why does Snowball play so heavily in the decisions and actions on Manor Farm even after he's no longer there?

16. Among the various characters in the novel, whom do you feel is the noblest or most worthy? Which animal would be best suited to lead a group against Napoleon and the pigs? What qualities would this animal need to posses to do so?

17. Why do Napoleon and Squealer consistently emphasize ceremony, tradition and rank? Do you feel that titles such as "Animal hero, second class," or the "Order of the Green Banner" (page 87) mean as much to the rest of the animals as they do the pigs?

18. Do you find it strange that Molly, the narcissistic and lazy horse, successfully leaves the farm and goes to live among humans, even though she is fully aware of the "evil" that Man represents? What deeper meanings or symbolisms do Molly's actions hold?

19. The animals successfully repel a second human attack on the farm. As a consequence of the battle, however, the windmill is destroyed. Squealer considers this outcome an unmitigated victory. Why is Boxer so reluctant to agree?

20. Benjamin, the dour and unflinching Donkey, frequently assumes a sort of "middle ground" regarding events on Animal Farm. He repeatedly states that "Donkeys live a long time," and that regardless of political outcomes, "life would go on as it always had—badly (page 41)." Discuss the symbolism of Benjamin and his various pronouncements. What role does this character serve in Animal Farm?
(Questions issued by Penguin Classics.)

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