Name: Animal Farm
Author: George Orwell
Genre: Novella, Satire, Allegory
For this months Classic Corner, I will be taking a look at Animal Farm, the 1945 Novella by George Orwell.
I first read Animal Farm back in an English class in Year 8 at secondary school and though I did enjoy the book and my teacher did explain to me the symbolism within it most of it went over my head. A few years later I did Soviet Russia in my A Levels so it would be interesting to see what insights I have since learning more abut the true history behind the novel (I might even write a separate feature exploring some of the symbolism within Animal Farm) but for now back to the review.
The novel takes place on Manor Farm and is told from the perspective of the farm animals. The farm is run by Mr. Jones, an irresponsible and alcoholic farm owner. One night a boar, the Old Major predicts a day when the animals will be able to rise up and revolt against their cruel owner and run the farm for themselves. They come up with a song called Beasts of England and begin to plan for a revolution.
The Major passes away but two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon plot to incite the rebellion as his legacy. Unexpectedly, an opportunity comes for the farm animals to take control when Mr Jones comes back to the farm after a day of heavy drinking. The animals turf him out of the farm and take control. Mr Jones’ wife disappears with the dog, however a litter of puppies the dog had seem to vanish into thin air.
In the initial meetings the animals agree on a series of rules which they daub onto the barn wall which they call “Animalism” – these come down to seven commandments but the most important one is that “All animals are equal”. They also agree Mr. Jones farmhouse should be left as a memorial with no animal living there. They also begin to plan the harvest for that year which is very successful. They also use pigeons to spread their story to encourage other farm animals to do the same thing.
This angers the human farm owners and Mr Jones plots an attack to take back the farm. However the animals fight them off to victory. They call the fight The Battle of the Cow Shed and invent their own military accolades for bravery within the fight. They award one of these to Snowball.
The animals make the pigs their leaders as they are the cleverest animals of them all. However a power struggle begins to build between Snowball and Napoleon as Snowball wishes to modernise the farm by building a windmill, whilst the other Napoleon doesn’t. As Snowball wins the animals over, Napoleon launches an attack – it appears he has been keeping and growing the puppies into full sized dogs which he uses to hound Snowball out of the farm.
Napoleon now takes control of the farm and begins to make various changes, starting with the pigs now meeting on their own to discuss the running of the farm, without the other animals in attendance and using a young pig called Squealer to tell the other animals what their tasks are.
That year however the harvest is much less fruitful so he agrees to build the windmill and tells the animals that Snowball was a spy for Mr. Jones and he deliberately didn’t want to build a windmill to prevent information going back to him. That summer the animals toil laboriously to build the windmill, completing it. However the walls of it are too thin and when a violent storm comes it blows it over. However, Napoleon blames this on Snowball, saying he came along to attack the windmill at night.
As fear sets in, Napoleon calls all the animals to attention and accuses some of them of being in league with Snowball. Those who come forward he gets the dogs to execute them. The animals are horrified and believe this was against the rules on the barn wall. However the rule has been changed from “no animal must kill another animal” to “no animal must kill another animal without good reason”. As the animals aren’t as intelligent as the pigs however they believe they must’ve misread it.
Napoleon orders the animals to rebuild the windmill which they then do over the following year. However he also makes the chickens lay more eggs to sell to the neighboring farms and says the pigs will now sleep in Mr. Jones house. Again the animals are horrified and return to the wall and again some wording has changed – what once said “no animal will sleep in a bed” has now become “no animal will sleep in a bed without sheets”.
Again the animals toil away to build the new windmill, with a horse on the farm, Boxer getting increasingly worn out due to old age and the strain of the work. Once again the windmill is completed but this time the humans launch another attack which though the animals see them off, it destroys the windmill. Again Snowball is blamed and the pigs accuse him of liaising with the surrounding farms.
The attach however causes Boxer to collapse and the pigs say they will call in a vet to care for him. They do so but the animals react with fright when they realise the van that turns up says it is an abattoir on the side. However the pigs explain this away by saying that the vet simply bought the van recently and hadn’t painted it yet. However Boxer unfortunately died before he could be saved.
Years pass and the windmill is again rebuilt, with a second one also constructed however many of the ideals Snowball possessed when they first took over the farm, such as the barns having heating and a place on the farm for old farm animals to retire have disappeared.
The pigs also increasingly begin to resemble humans – they walk upright and wear human clothes. Again the animals are confused by this but when they read the rules on the barn wall they have again been changed from “Four legs good, two legs bad” to “Four legs good, two legs better”. Most crucially of all however the rule “All animals are equal” has changed to “all animals are equal, but some are more equal then others”.
Napoleon holds a dinner party at the farmhouse for the pigs and neighboring farm owners which the rest of the animals sneak up to the window to watch. Inside they are playing a card game and the pigs are talking about how well they are running Animal Farm, with the owners of the other farms agreeing they could take a tip or two back to their own farms. Napoleon also announces the farms name will change back to Manor Farm.
As the animals watch the pigs and humans playing cards, the animals realise they can no longer distinguish the two as shown in the final, blunt line: “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.”
As stated above this short novella is a satire exploring the horrors of communism in places such as Stalin’s Russia in the 1940’s, through the lends of a small farm in England. The reason the book uses the farm is due to Soviet Russia being an ally to the UK and USA during the Second World War at the time of publication so as a result, any direct criticism of the regime would’ve caused political controversy. Though the novel itself is very thinly veiled in its criticism of it.
As the book features animals. the story could seem quite simplistic but it is actually a far more complicated story with a deep metaphor through it. All of the characters are very well imagined with the Old Major, Boxer, Snowball and Napoleon all coming to life. The early chapters explore how the animals are initially all equal as they are controlled by one master, Mr. Jones. However once they take over the book examines how quickly things can fall apart in government, especially when there are two big personalities such as Snowball and Napoleon who pull the farm in both directions.
Once Napoleon takes over, the book examines how he gradually takes control over the other animals, creating a climate of fear and distrust to do so. Eventually the political ideal of Animalism created at the beginning becomes a meaningless symbol as the pigs create a life where they are an elite class above everyone else.
One of my favourite parts of the novel is in fact the ending as you hope that the system may correct itself or even that the humans take back the farm. However the ending leaves on a somewhat hopeless note as the animals realise they have only traded one master for another and that the pigs are now entirely unrecognisable from their human counterparts.
I would recommend this novel as being one to read to learn more about communism and it’s issues in a very simple and easy to understand way, though the book does carry a richer experience if you do some background reading into communism beforehand.