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.
• 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.
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