Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) wrote one of the finest classic political satires, “The Animal Farm”. It was published in England on 17th August 1945. George Orwell was a leftist and a staunch Democratic Socialist who often expressed his strong outlook through his intellectual engagements. He was an English novelist, journalist, and critic who was more propended towards the awareness of social justice and opposition to totalitarianism and communism. He is best known for his dystopian works of fiction; however, his writings also extend to many other topics and genres. Moreover, Orwell’s writing is often characterized by its critical nature, especially when it comes to politics, social justice, and language. His works often focus on the nature and power of totalitarianism, socialism, imperialism, oppression, and propaganda. His works are also seen as a critique of the status quo and a call to action for social and political change. According to various sources, the Spanish Civil War and the great number of tensions between the British and Indian populations greatly swayed Orwell’s perception which came out in the form of animosity towards communism and totalitarianism that one can easily discern in his masterpiece, The Animal Farm. Among his recognized publications, other than Animal farm, include Burmese Days (1934), The Lion and Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941), and Ninety Eighty-Four (1949).
This publication, The Animal Farm, is allegorical which makes it an intriguing read which subtly projects the message of the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s Communist Russia. The novel represents the realistic outlook of the revolutions and changing systems and regimes. Historically, all the revolutions in the past had some utopian goals; however, the majority of revolutions failed to achieve the utopian goals they had been seeking. Therefore, Orwell begins writing this novel as a utopian story that rather ended up as dystopian fiction and the entire novella revolves around the most famous line from this book, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” (pg. 90) which depicts the dismal side of the revolution that revolution merely replaces existing hierarchy with the another rather than eliminating the morbid system of the society. Therefore, author has tried to portray the hypocrisy and the phoniness of the Soviet Union and its politicians in the context of animals. Further, author had tried to put in light the oppressions of the working class and burgeoning inequality in Communist Russia by correlating to the oppressed animals in the Animal Farm. It is a parody of the dictatorship and of the Soviet political regime. This fact was confirmed by Orwell himself. He described the main focus of the book in a letter to his agent Leonard Moore in 1946: “If they question you again, please say that Animal Farm is intended as a satire on dictatorship in general but of course the Russian Revolution is the chief target. It is humbug to pretend anything else”.[i]
The novel has been widely debated and interpreted in different ways. One argument in favor of the novel is that it serves as a powerful commentary on the dangers of totalitarianism and the corrupting nature of power that is evident in the character of Napoleon, who, as the leader of the farm, becomes increasingly tyrannical and oppressive towards the other animals. As Lord Acton supports this argument in his famously stated, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.[ii] This statement is exemplified in Napoleon’s or generally in pigs’ actions, as they become increasingly ruthless and oppressive as they gain more power. This corrupting nature of power and dangers of totalitarianism is further confirmed by the author, Aldous Huxley. He states, “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude”.[iii] This statement is still relevant today, as totalitarian regimes continue to exist around the world and the potential for abuse of power remains a constant threat.
Another argument in favor of Animal Farm is its ability to highlight the importance of freedom, democracy, and individuality. As author Toni Morrison writes in her book The Origin of Others, “Democracy demands of us that we be informed and make conscious choices.”[iv] Animal Farm illustrates how democracy is essential for the protection of individual freedom and the prevention of oppression. The novel shows that when the animals are able to democratically make decisions, they are able to create a society where everyone is treated equally and with respect. This is also highlighted in the following quote from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”: “The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this.”[v] This quote emphasizes the importance of allowing individuals to think and act for themselves, rather than being controlled by a dictator. In Animal Farm, the animals are initially excited about their newfound freedom and the possibility of creating a better society. However, as the pigs become more and more oppressive, the other animals begin to lose their freedom and individuality.
However, there also exists some arguments that goes against this Fable that other authors have debunked in their writings. For instances, in “An Experiment in Criticism,” CS Lewis argues that the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm are not fully developed and are instead used solely as vehicles for Orwell’s political message. He states that “the animals are not really characters at all, but mere allegorical figures, each representing a particular class or group in society.”[vi] Lewis goes on to say that while Orwell’s political message is powerful and important, the lack of fully developed characters detracts from the overall impact of the novel and reduces it to a “polemical tract.” Therefore, this lack of complexity and nuance makes the book less effective as a work of literature. Another critique that has been made is that the novel is too political in nature. In his book “The Art of Fiction,” author David Lodge argues that a political novel should not be didactic and should instead leave room for the reader to make their own judgments.[vii] He argues that Animal Farm is too heavy-handed in its political message and does not leave enough room for the reader to form their own opinions. Another critique that has been made is that the novel is too allegorical in its approach. In his book “The Allegory of the Cave,” author Plato argues that allegory is a limited form of representation because it only presents one possible interpretation of reality and that true understanding can only be achieved by breaking free from the constraints of the allegory and experiencing the world directly.[viii] He argues that this can lead to a lack of nuance and understanding of the complexities of real-world political events. One of the most prominent criticisms of Animal Farm comes from the philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, who argues that the novel fails to capture the nuances of totalitarianism and the role of individuals in such systems. In her book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt notes that Orwell’s portrayal of the pigs as the sole villains of the story ignores the fact that totalitarian systems are often the result of the actions and choices of many individuals, not just a single group.[ix]
The author, George Orwell, begins writing by showing a farm, Manor Farm, owned by Mr. Jones – a tyrant, cruel, and apathetic living creature – where he had numerous animals. Within those animals, an Old Boar (Old Major) calls for a secret meeting at night where he instigated his dream for the need of revolution to live free, happy, and balanced life. Soon after his death, all animals; pigs, dogs, cows, sheep, hens, etc. worked to revolt against the Mr. Jones. Finally, the revolution took place and Mr. Jones was defenestrated and the Manor farm was changed to Animal Farm. Two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, emerged out as prominent characters in this revolution and headed the affairs of Animal Farm afterwards. Days passed, every animal was passionately playing its respective role in the farm and soon after, Mr. Jones attacked the farm to reassert his dominance over the farm. A battle, which was recalled as Battled of Cowshed, stirred up and went into the favor of animals.
In the Meanwhile, Snowball came with an idea to build windmill, that could alleviate the workload of animals and generate more profit, to which Napoleon was not happy and mindsets began to contradict. During the meeting, Napoleon ordered the dogs – puppies that he had hidden earlier – to chase Napoleon out of the farm. Moreover, he proclaimed himself a leader of the farm and declared Snowball a traitor. Later on, Napoleon takes the credit of the windmill. For a year, the animals, especially Boxer (cart-horse), worked tirelessly to build the windmill. Unfortunately, the storm destroyed the windmill and Napoleon used this opportunity and blamed Snowball for its collapse. Moreover, after this collapse, Napoleon tightened and washed out those animals that were questioning or disheartened by Napoleon’s power. However, Boxer had a stern believe over Napoleon and always chanted the slogan “Napoleon is always right” (pg. 42).
As this satirical novella reached interval, Napoleon had started behaving more like human being, forgoing the fundamentals of Animalism like sleeping in bed, wearing clothes, consuming whisky, and engaging in trade with neighboring farmers. In the meanwhile, life became stringent for other animals and Boxer injured himself while working laboriously to reconstruct the windmill. Pigs deceived other animals that Boxer is taken away for the treatment however, they were too late to realize that he’s being carried away to the knacker’s yard to get slaughtered. In the meantime, Squealer, another pig who was Napoleon’s Propagandist, would justify every illicit action of Napoleon and convince everyone on the statesmanship of the Napoleon despite their sufferings and overburdening.
As the climax part arrives, the positive aspect of the revolution is nowhere to be seen and all the promises made before the revolution to animals entirely vanished. The class seems to be divided into two, the pigs, which dominated the farm, and other animals, which were working tirelessly with no rewards promised. Gradually, the bond between the human beings and the pigs was getting stronger and there remained no difference between the two. Moreover, Napoleon had invited Mr. Pilkington – a human farmer – to the animal farm and agreed to work together. Eventually, principles of animalism were made succinct that states: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” (pg. 90). Further, the Animal Farm was retitled as the Manor Farm and all the other animals outside gazed the bloated faces of pigs and human beings. In words of Orwell, “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” (pg. 95).
In this publication, Orwell has tried to dichotomize the structure of classes in the context of animals that how the lower classes are suppressed when they are uneducated and naive by the one who’re educated and have commendable intellect. Therefore, the pigs, who are intelligent, use their intelligence only to exploit other animals rather giving them a better life. Thus, the difference in status between the pigs and other animals created inequality and shifted the whole power towards the pigs. Thus, reflected a notion that desire for power leads to corruption and the revolutionary leaders become as corrupt and incompetent as the government they overthrew.
Analysis on Characters presented in Animal Farm:
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the characters represent different elements of society and human nature.
Napoleon represents Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. He is a pig who becomes the leader of Animal Farm after the rebellion and gradually becomes more and more tyrannical, using propaganda and manipulation to maintain power. He becomes more interested in maintaining his own power and wealth than in the well-being of the other animals. He also represents the corrupt nature of those in power, as seen in other works such as Lord Acton’s quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.[x]
Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, a communist revolutionary and leader in the Soviet Union who was exiled by Stalin. He is a pig who is initially a leader in the rebellion and works alongside Napoleon, but is eventually driven out by Napoleon’s manipulation and lies. He represents the idea of a true communist leader who is dedicated to the well-being of all animals, but is ultimately betrayed by those in power. This concept can be seen in works such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, where the character of Gatsby is initially seen as a hero but is ultimately betrayed by those in power.[xi]
Boxer represents the working class, who are strong and dedicated but ultimately exploited by those in power. Boxer is a horse who also represents the idea of “Useful idiot” as he is a loyal supporter of the rebellion and works tirelessly to improve Animal Farm, but is eventually sent to the knacker’s to be slaughtered when he is no longer useful to Napoleon. Boxer’s character can be compared to the “proletarian” characters in Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” who are promised a better life through revolution, but ultimately have their labor exploited for the benefit of the ruling class.[xii]
Benjamin represents the intelligentsia who remain aloof and uninvolved in the political struggles. He is the apathetic and cynical members of society who do not believe in or support revolutionary change. He is a donkey who is unenthusiastic about the rebellion and remains skeptical throughout the story, but ultimately does not take action to stop the corruption of Napoleon. This concept can be seen in works such as The Republic by Plato, where the character of Thrasymachus represents the dangers of cynicism and apathy.[xiii] Another literary work that Benjamin can be compared to is “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The character of Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, observes the corruption and excess of the wealthy characters in the novel, but chooses to remain detached and not get involved.[xiv]
Old Major represents Karl Marx, the philosopher and economist who developed the theory of communism. He is a pig who is the initial leader of the rebellion and inspires the other animals to rebel against their human oppressors, but dies before the rebellion takes place. Old Major talks about the idea of “Animal of the world unite” (pg. 2) which is similar to the call to unite the working class that Marx and Engels make in “The Communist Manifesto” where they say “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.”[xv]
Squealer, the pig responsible for manipulating the truth and maintaining the regime’s control over the animals’ minds, can be compared to the concept of the “Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s “1984.” Just as the Ministry of Truth is responsible for rewriting history and manipulating the truth to maintain the government’s control over the population, Squealer uses his rhetorical skills and manipulation of language to control the animals’ perception of reality and maintain Napoleon’s power.[xvi]
Similarly Other characters also represent someone or something in this book. For Instance, Mollie represents the bourgeoisie, or the capitalist class, who are more interested in personal gain and luxury than in revolutionary change. She is a horse who is initially excited about the rebellion but quickly becomes disillusioned and eventually runs away from Animal Farm. Muriel represents the educated and rational members of society who can see through the lies and manipulation of those in power. She is a goat who is able to read and writes and is able to question the actions of Napoleon and the other pigs. Clover represents the loyal and hardworking members of the working class who are initially supportive of the rebellion but become disillusioned by the corruption of those in power. She is a mare who works hard to improve Animal Farm but becomes increasingly disillusioned with Napoleon’s actions. The sheep represent the masses who are easily manipulated and swayed by propaganda. They are easily convinced by Napoleon’s lies and slogans, and blindly follow his lead. Moses is the Raven that represents religion while the other animals represent various other elements of society and human nature, such as the dogs representing the secret police and the pigeons representing the messenger.
In conclusion, Animal Farm is a powerful allegory that illustrates the dangers of power and corruption. Through the characters and events in the novel, George Orwell effectively illustrates how those in power can become corrupt and use their power to exploit and control others. The novel also highlights the importance of equality and the dangers of blindly following leaders without question. Also, in this allegory, Orwell presents the idea of revolution as ultimately failing and leading to the same problems as before, however, other writers have presented successful revolutions that bring about positive change. For example, in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the character of Jean Valjean leads a successful revolution against the oppressive government and works to create a better society for the people. Similarly, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the character of Offred leads a successful revolution against the oppressive government, leading to the creation of a new and improved society. These examples show that revolution can lead to positive change, as long as it is guided by strong leadership and a clear vision for a better future. Another quotation that goes against the revolution that took place in Animal Farm could be found in the work of Eric Hobsbawm’s “The Age of Revolution”. He states “The revolutions of 1789-1848 were not made by the masses, but by minorities of educated, professional and property-owning men who created the ideology and led the movement.”[xvii] This quotation could be used as a counterargument against the idea that the animals in Animal Farm represent the working class and that their rebellion is a true representation of revolution from below. Instead, it suggests that revolutions are typically led by a small group of educated and privileged individuals, rather than the masses. This could be used to argue that the events in Animal Farm are not a true representation of a revolution, but rather a takeover by a small group of animals who were able to manipulate the others. Overall, Animal Farm serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving too much power to one person or group, and the importance of staying vigilant and questioning authority. It is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.
[i] Edward Quinn, Critical Companion to George Orwell: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work (New York: Facts on File, 2009), 53.
[ii] John Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018), 23.
[iii] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932; repr., New York, N.Y: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2011), 89.
[iv] Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017), 67.
[v] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (S.L.: Arcturus Publishing Ltd, 1859), 45.
[vi] C S Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 47.
[vii] David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (London: Vintage Books, 2011), 78.
[viii] Plato, The Allegory of the Cave (Enhanced Media, 2017), 34.
[ix] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951; repr., United Kingdom: Penguin Classics, 2017), 267.
[x] John Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018), 23.
[xi] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925; repr., Penguin Books, 1925).
[xii] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (J E Burghard, 1848).
[xiii] Plato, Republic (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013).
[xiv] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925; repr., Penguin Books, 1925).
[xv] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (J E Burghard, 1848), 4.
[xvi] George Orwell, “1984” (1949; repr., Harlow: Pearson Education, 1949).
[xvii] E J Hobsbawn, The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848 (London: Abacus, 2014), 4.