Animal Farm is a dystopian allegorical novella by George Orwell. Published in England on 17 August 1945, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II. Orwell, a democratic socialist and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences with the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel “contre Stalin”.
The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, but A Fairy Story was dropped by the US publishers for its 1946 publication. Of all the translations during Orwell’s lifetime, only Telugu kept the original title. Other variations in the title include: A Satire and A Contemporary Satire. Orwell suggested for the French translation the title Union des républiques socialistes animales, recalling the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques, and which abbreviates URSA, which means “bear”, a symbol of Russia, in Latin.
Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005);it also places at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996 and is also included in the Great Books of the Western World.
The novel addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders but also how wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed and myopia destroy any possibility of a Utopia. While this novel portrays corrupt leadership as the flaw in revolution (and not the act of revolution itself), it also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems within a revolution could allow horrors to happen if smooth transition to a people’s government isn’t satisfied.
Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm, calls the animals on the farm for a meeting, where he compares the humans to parasites and teaches the animals a revolutionary song, “Beasts of England”.
When Major dies three days later, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and turn his dream into a philosophy. The animals revolt and drive the drunken and irresponsible Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it “Animal Farm.”
The Seven Commandments of Animalism are written on the wall of a barn. The most important is the seventh, “All animals are equal.” All the animals work, but the workhorse, Boxer, does more than others and adopts the maxim — “I will work harder.”
Snowball attempts to teach the animals reading and writing; food is plentiful; and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items ostensibly for their personal health. Napoleon takes the pups from the farm dogs and trains them privately. When Mr. Jones tries retaking the farm, the animals defeat him at what they call the “Battle of the Cowshed.” Napoleon and Snowball struggle for leadership. When Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, Napoleon opposes it. Snowball makes a speech in favour of the windmill, whereupon Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away. In Snowball’s absence, Napoleon declares himself leader and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held and instead a committee of pigs will run the farm.
Using a young pig named Squealer as a mouthpiece, Napoleon announces that Snowball stole the idea for the windmill from him. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. After a violent storm, the animals find the windmill annihilated. Napoleon and Squealer convince the animals that Snowball destroyed the windmill, although the scorn of the neighbouring farmers suggests the windmill’s walls were too thin. Once Snowball becomes a scapegoat, Napoleon begins purging the farm, killing animals he accuses of consorting with Snowball. Meanwhile, Boxer takes up a second maxim: “Napoleon is always right.”
Napoleon abuses his powers, making life harder for the animals; the pigs impose more control while reserving privileges for themselves. The pigs rewrite history, villainizing Snowball and glorifying Napoleon. Squealer justifies every statement Napoleon makes, even the pigs’ alteration of the Seven Commandments of Animalism. “No animal shall drink alcohol” is changed to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess” when the pigs discover the farmer’s whisky. “Beasts of England” is banned as inappropriate, as according to Napoleon the dream of Animal Farm has been realized. It is replaced by an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals, though cold, starving, and overworked, remain convinced through psychological conditioning that they are better off than they were when ruled by Mr. Jones. Squealer abuses the animals’ poor memories and invents numbers to show their improvement.
Mr. Frederick, one of the neighbouring farmers, swindles Napoleon by buying old wood with forged money, and then attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill. Though the animals win the battle, they do so at great cost, as many, including Boxer, are wounded. Boxer continues working harder and harder, until he collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer to the veterinarian, explaining that better care can be given there. Benjamin the donkey, who “could read as well as any pig”, notices that the van belongs to “Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler”, and attempts to mount a rescue; but the animals’ attempts are futile. Squealer reports that the van was purchased by the hospital and the writing from the previous owner had not been repainted. He recounts a tale of Boxer’s death in the hands of the best medical care. Shortly after Boxer’s death, it is revealed that the pigs have purchased more whisky.
Years pass, and the pigs learn to walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and the humans of the area, who congratulate Napoleon on having the hardest-working animals in the country on the least feed. Napoleon announces an alliance with the humans, against the labouring classes of both “worlds”. He abolishes practices and traditions related to the Revolution, and reverts the name of the farm to “Manor Farm”.
The animals, overhearing the conversation, notice that the faces of the pigs have begun changing. During a poker match, an argument breaks out between Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington when they both play the Ace of Spades, and the animals realize that the faces of the pigs look like the faces of humans and no one can tell the difference between them.
Animalism is an allegorical mirror of the Soviet Union, particularly between the 1910s and the 1940s, as well as the evolution of the view of the Russian revolutionaries and government of how to practice it. It is invented by the highly respected pig Old Major. The pigs Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer adapt Old Major’s ideas into an actual philosophy, which they formally name Animalism. Soon after, Napoleon and Squealer indulge in the vices of humans (drinking alcohol, sleeping in beds, trading). Squealer is employed to alter the Seven Commandments to account for his humanization, which represents the Soviet government’s tweaking of communist theory to make it more a reformation of capitalism than a replacement.
The Seven Commandments are laws that were supposed to keep order and ensure elementary Animalism within Animal Farm. The Seven Commandments were designed to unite the animals together against the humans and prevent animals from following the humans’ evil habits. Since not all of the animals can remember them, they are boiled down into one basic statement: “Four legs good, two legs bad!” (with wings counting as legs for this purpose, Snowball arguing that wings count as legs as they are objects of propulsion rather than manipulation), which the sheep constantly repeat, distracting the crowd from the lies of the pigs. The original commandments were:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
- No animal shall wear clothes.
- No animal shall sleep in a bed.
- No animal shall drink alcohol.
- No animal shall kill any other animal.
- All animals are equal.
Later, Napoleon and his pigs are corrupted by the absolute power they hold over the farm. To maintain their popularity with the other animals, Squealer secretly paints additions to some commandments to benefit the pigs while keeping them free of accusations of breaking the laws (such as “No animal shall drink alcohol” having “to excess” appended to it and “No animal shall sleep in a bed” with “with sheets” added to it). Eventually the laws are replaced with “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others“, and “Four legs good, two legs better!” as the pigs become more human.
- Old Major
A prize Middle White boar is the inspiration that fuels the Rebellion in the book. He is 12 years old. According to one interpretation, he could be based upon both Karl Marx, founder of Marxism and the base for Communism (in that he describes the ideal society the animals could create if the humans are overthrown), and Vladimir Lenin (in that his skull is put on revered public display, as was Lenin’s embalmed body). However, according to Christopher Hitchens: “the persons of Lenin and Trotsky are combined into one [i.e., Snowball], or, it might even be [...] to say, there is no Lenin at all.”
- “A large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way”, Napoleon is the main tyrant and villain of Animal Farm; he is based upon Joseph Stalin. He begins to gradually build up his power, using puppies he took from their parents, the dogs Jessie and Bluebell, and which he raises 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 for his benefit. By the end of the book, Napoleon and his fellow pigs have learned to walk upright and started to behave similarly to the humans against whom they originally revolted.
- In the first French version of Animal Farm, Napoleon is called César, the French spelling of Caesar, although another translation has him as Napoléon.
- Napoleon’s rival and original head of the farm after Jones’ overthrow. He is probably an allusion to Leon Trotsky. He wins over most animals and gains their trust by leading a very successful first harvest, but is driven out of the farm by Napoleon. Snowball genuinely works for the good of the farm and the animals and devises plans to help the animals achieve their vision of an egalitarian utopia, but Napoleon and his dogs chase him from the farm, and Napoleon spreads rumours to make him seem evil and corrupt and that he had secretly sabotaged the animals’ efforts to improve the farm.
- A small white fat porker who serves as Napoleon’s right hand pig and minister of propaganda. Squealer could be an allusion to Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus under Stalin. Squealer manipulates the language to excuse, justify, and extol all of Napoleon’s actions. 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 the return of Mr Jones, the former owner of the farm, to justify 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. In the end, he is the first pig to walk on his hind legs.
- A poetic pig who writes the second and third national anthems of Animal Farm after the singing of “Beasts of England” is banned.
- The Piglets
- Hinted to be the children of Napoleon (albeit not truly noted in the novel) and are the first generation of animals actually subjugated to his idea of animal inequality.
- The young pigs
- Four pigs who complain about Napoleon’s takeover of the farm but are quickly silenced and later executed.
- A minor pig who is mentioned only once; he is the pig that tastes Napoleon’s food to make sure it is not poisoned, in response to rumours about an assassination attempt on Napoleon.
- Mr. Jones
- The former owner of the farm, Jones is a very heavy drinker and the animals revolt against him after he drinks so much that he does not feed or take care of them. The attempt by Jones and his farmhands to recapture the farm is foiled in the Battle of the Cowshed.
- The tough owner of Pinchfield, a well-kept neighbouring farm. He buys wood from the animals for forged money and later attacks them, destroying the windmill but being finally beaten in the resulting Battle of the Windmill. There are stories of him mistreating his own animals, such as throwing dogs into a furnace. Pinchfield is noted as being smaller than Pilkington’s Foxwood farm but more efficiently run, and Frederick briefly enters into an “alliance” with Napoleon by offering to buy wood from him but then betrays the deal and mounts a bloody invasion of Animal Farm.
- Mr. Pilkington
- The easy-going but crafty owner of Foxwood, a neighbouring farm overgrown with weeds, as described in the book. At the end of the game, both Napoleon and Pilkington draw the Ace of Spades and then begin fighting loudly. Foxwood is described as being much larger than Pinchfield, but not as efficiently run.
- Mr. Whymper
- A man hired by Napoleon for the public relations of Animal Farm to human society. Whymper is used as a go-between to trade with human society for things the animals can’t produce on their own: at first this is a legitimate need because the animals can’t manufacture their own windmill components, but eventually Whymper is used to procure luxuries like alcohol for the pigs.
- Boxer is a loyal, kind, dedicated, and respectable horse. He is physically the strongest animal on the farm, but impressionable (a major theme in the book), which leaves him stating “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right” despite the corruption. Boxer represents the working class or proletariat.
- Clover, a mare, is Boxer’s companion, constantly caring for him; she also acts as a matriarch of sorts for the other horses and the other animals in general (such as the ducklings she shelters with her forelegs and hooves during Old Major’s speech).
- Mollie is a self-centred, self-indulgent and vain young white mare whose sole enjoyments are wearing ribbons in her mane, eating sugar cubes, and being pampered and groomed by humans. She quickly leaves for another farm and is only once mentioned again, in a manner similar to those who left Russia after the fall of the Tsar.
- Benjamin, a donkey, is one of the longest-lived animals, has the worst temper, and is one of the few who can read. Benjamin is a very dedicated friend to Boxer, and does nothing to warn the other animals of the pigs’ corruption, which he secretly realizes is steadily unfolding. When asked if he was happier post-Revolution than before the Revolution, Benjamin remarks, “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.” He is skeptical and pessimistic, his most-often-made statement being “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.” But he is also one of the wisest animals on the farm, and is able to “read as well as any pig.”
- A wise old goat who is friends with all of the animals on the farm. She, like Benjamin and Snowball, is one of the few animals on the farm who can read (with some difficulty as she has to spell the words out first) and helps Clover discover that the Seven Commandments have been continually changed.
- The Puppies
- Offspring of Jessie and Bluebell, taken away from them by Napoleon at birth and reared by Napoleon to be his security force. These dogs are trained to be vicious, going so far as to rip many of the animals to shreds including the four young pigs, a sheep and various hens. They attempt to do the same to Boxer, who halts one of the puppies under his hoof. The puppy begs for mercy and through Napoleon’s orders, Boxer sets the puppy free.
- Moses the Raven
- An old crow who occasionally visits the farm, regaling its denizens with tales of a wondrous place beyond the clouds called Sugarcandy Mountain, where he avers that all animals go when they die—but only if they work hard. He is interpreted as symbolising the Russian Orthodox Church, with Sugarcandy Mountain an allusion to Heaven for the animals. He spends his time turning the animals’ minds to thoughts of Sugarcandy Mountain (rather than their work) and yet does no work himself. He feels unequal in comparison to the other animals, so he leaves after the rebellion, for all animals were supposed to be equal. However, much later in the novel he returns to the farm and continues to proclaim the existence of Sugarcandy Mountain. The other animals are confused by the pigs’ attitude towards Moses; they denounce his claims as nonsense, but allow him to remain on the farm. The pigs do this to keep any doubting animals in line with the hope of a happy afterlife, keeping their minds on Sugarcandy Mountain and not on possible uprisings. In the end, Moses is one of the few animals to remember The Rebellion, along with Clover, Benjamin, and the pigs.
- The Sheep
- They show limited understanding of the situations but nonetheless blindly support Napoleon’s ideals. They are regularly shown repeating the phrase “four legs good, two legs bad”. At the end of the novel, one of the Seven Commandments is changed after the pigs learn to walk on two legs and their shout changes to “four legs good, two legs better”. They can be relied on by the pigs to shout down any dissent from the others.
- The Hens
- The hens are among the first to rebel against Napoleon: in response to their being forced to give more eggs, they destroy their eggs instead of handing them to the higher powers (the pigs), who want to sell them to humans. Napoleon then uses fear and starves them until the pigs get what they want. They represent the some peasants and the more wealthy Kulaks who destroyed their stock rather than handing them over during Stalin’s Collectivisation policy.
- The Cows
- Their milk is stolen by the pigs, who learn to milk them, and is stirred into the pigs’ mash every day while the other animals are not given any such luxuries.
- The Cat
- Never seen to carry out any work, the cat is absent for long periods, and is forgiven because her excuses are so convincing and she “purred so affectionately that is was impossible not to believe in her good intentions”. She has no interest in the politics of the farm, and the only time she is recorded as having participated in an election she was found to have actually “voted on both sides”.
In the preface of a 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm he explained how escaping the communist purges in Spain taught him “how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries.” This motivated Orwell to expose and strongly condemn what he saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals.
In that preface Orwell also described what gave him the idea of setting the book on a farm:
… I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
Orwell encountered great difficulty getting the manuscript published, as it was feared that the book might upset the alliance between the US, UK and the Soviet Union. Four publishers refused; one had initially accepted the work but declined after consulting with the Ministry of Information. Eventually Secker and Warburg published the first edition in 1945.
The novel’s Battle of the Windmill is referred to by Sant Singh Bal as one “of the important episodes which constitute the essence of the plot of the novel.” Harold Bloom writes that the “Battle of the Windmill rings a special bell: the repulse of the Duke of Brunswick in 1792, following the Prussian bombardment that made the windmill of Valmy famous.” By contrast, Peter Edgerly Firchow and Peter Hobley Davison consider that in real life, with events in Animal Farm mirroring those in the Soviet Union, this fictional battle represents the Great Patriotic War (World War II), especially the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Moscow.Prestwick House’s Activity Pack for Animal Farm also identifies the Battle of the Windmill as an allegory for World War II, while noting that the “catalyst for the Battle of the Windmill, though, is less clear.” During the battle, Fredrick drills a hole and places explosives inside, and it is followed by “All the animals, except Napoleon” took cover; Orwell had the publisher alter this from “All the animals, including Napoleon” in recognition of Joseph Stalin’s decision to remain in Moscow during the German advance.
The Battle of the Cowshed represents the allied invasion of the Soviet Russia in 1918, and the defeat of the White Russians in the Russian Civil War.
Efforts to find a publisher
During World War II, it became apparent to Orwell that anti-Soviet literature was not something which most major publishing houses would touch — including his regular publisher Gollancz. He also submitted the manuscript to Faber and Faber, where the poet T. S. Eliot (who was a director of the firm) also rejected it; Eliot wrote back to Orwell praising its “good writing” and “fundamental integrity” but declaring that they would only accept it for publication if they had some sympathy for the viewpoint “which I take to be generally Trotskyite”. Eliot said he found the view “not convincing”, and contended that the pigs were made out to be the best to run the farm; he posited that someone might argue “what was needed .. was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs”.
One publisher he sought during the war, who had initially accepted Animal Farm, subsequently rejected his book after an official at the British Ministry of Information warned him off — although the civil servant who it is assumed gave the order was later found to be a Soviet spy. The publisher then wrote to Orwell, saying:
If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships.Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offense to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.
“The Freedom of the Press”
Orwell originally wrote a preface which complains about self-imposed British self-censorship and how the British people were suppressing criticism of the USSR, their World War II ally. “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. … Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.” Although the first edition allowed space for the preface, it was not included, and as of June 2009 has not been published with most editions of the book.
Secker and Warburg published the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945 without any introduction. However, the publisher had provided space for a preface in the author’s proof composited from the manuscript. For reasons unknown, no preface was supplied and all the page numbers needed to be redone at the last minute.
Years later, in 1972, Ian Angus found the original typescript titled “The Freedom of the Press”, and Bernard Crick published it, together with his own introduction in The Times Literary Supplement on 15 September 1972 as “How the essay came to be written”. Orwell’s essay criticized British self-censorship by the press, specifically the suppression of unflattering descriptions of Stalin and the Soviet government. The same essay also appeared in the Italian 1976 Animal Farm edition, with another introduction by Crick, claiming to be the first edition with the preface. Other publishers were still declining to publish it.
References to the novella are frequent in other works of popular culture, particularly in popular music and television series.
Animal Farm has been adapted to film twice. The 1954 Animal Farm film was an animated feature and the 1999 Animal Farm film was a TV live action version, both differ from the novel. In the 1954 film Napoleon is overthrown in a second revolution while the 1999 film shows Napoleon’s regime collapsing in on itself, as happened in the Soviet Union.