Animal Farm uses allegory to create a political satire that exposes the evils of the Soviet system.
Eric Blair, also known as George Orwell, began writing Animal Farm in 1943 and after being met with great difficulty in the efforts of publishing his novella in pro-Soviet Britain, it was released on August 17, 1945 (Orwell vii-viii). Orwell was raised in British India, a military child, and educated at Eton, where he gained an aversion to affluent people. He later worked in Burma for the Imperial constabulary and found that he was hated by native Indians for his connection to British Imperialism. Orwell counts these life experiences as influences for his political writings (Orwell vii). In 1937, Orwell was wounded while serving in the Spanish Civil War when Stalin was attempting support a democracy in Spain (Orwell v). Animal Farm reflects Orwell’s political thought that he developed from his experience fighting the Soviet dictatorship in Spain. Animal Farm uses allegory to create a political satire that exposes the evils of the Soviet system. Russell Baker dubs Animal Farm “one of the century’s most devastating literary acts of political destruction (Orwell vi).
The central characters of Animal Farm are barn animals- pigs, horses, cows, sheep, hens, geese, donkeys, and dogs- that Orwell endows with the ability to reason and speak. The animals of Manor Farm are first instilled with the idea to rebel by old Major, a well-respected Boar who, in a glorious speech, tells the animals that he dreamt that they would one day be free from “the tyranny of human beings” (Orwell 30). The patriarch insists that the animals work together to overthrow humans so that they may live by their own designs and reap the full profits of their labor (Orwell 30). And rebel they do; it happens incidentally, one day when the farmer, Jones, neglects to feed them and then whips them for trying to find food themselves. After the rebellion, the pigs establish a sort of government that has seven commandments for all animals to adhere to. At first the establishment, renamed Animal Farm, appears successful, but the ruling pigs become corrupt with power and destroy the farm and oppress the animals in worse conditions than when the farm was owned by humans.
Animal Farm addresses the issue of the Soviet Union’s corruption of Marxist values within Joseph Stalin’s rise as dictator. In the allegory, Old Major represents Karl Marx: he sets forth the original ideals of Animal Farm, which mirror the principles of Marxism. As Marx believes all history is a struggle between the classes and that eventually a revolution would eliminate class divisions, Old Major believes that a revolution will inevitably take place on Manor Farm and the animals will take over. Also as promoter of this revolution, Old Major represents revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin.
After Old Major dies, the revolution takes place and two leaders rise up from the pigs: Snowball and Napoleon. They represent Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, respectively, and Snowball is ousted from Animal Farm by Napoleon just as Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union by Stalin in an attempt to eliminate his political rivalries. After Snowball’s expulsion, Napoleon becomes more tyrannical, forcing the animals to build a windmill that would supply power to the farm, feeding them less, setting up in the house apart from the other animals, installing a crew of vicious dogs as his protectors, taking greater provisions and luxuries for himself and the other pigs, secretly altering the seven commandments, and terrorizing the animals into confessing crimes and then murdering them.
As Napoleon becomes more despotic, the animals seem to become more complacent and forgetful of the original purpose of the revolution. The animals take up Boxer’s motto “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right” (70). The ever faithful and hardworking animals represent the gullible working class of the Soviet Union. The animals do exhibit some growth as the novella progresses as shown by their suspicion that the seven commandments have been revised, and are proven correct when they find Squealer painting the amendments onto the wall that holds the commandments.
However, the danger of the animals’ submission to Napoleon is evident through the resolution of Animal Farm in which they are subjugated and Napoleon and the pigs become almost exactly like the human owners that the animals rebelled against. The final scene shows the pigs having dinner with humans and changing the name back to Manor Farm, demonstrating that they have reverted to the practices that they abhorred in the beginning of the novella. The animals and the humans break out into a fight and the working class animals witness it: “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: (139). The regression of the farm mirrors the regression of the Soviet Union, once the government has been established it is just like the government that they had overthrown.
Animal Farm was met with criticism and anger when it was first published. The Newsweek article, a good example of such censure states:
“Even the most casual reader will discover after a few pages that the experiences on the Animal Farm, as it was renamed, follow closely the experiences of the Russian people during the revolution and its continuing re action. This, of course, will make fellow travelers furious, but if they think hard, they’ll relax. The humor is quite British and page after page of the book lags.” Yet in later years, Animal Farm will be hailed as one of the greatest and most influential political satires ever written and becomes standard reading in history and literature courses in high schools and colleges in both America and Britain.
Animal Farm’s success is due not only to its apt allegory of the events in the Soviet Union revolution, but in its accessibility. Worldwide readers, and American readers particularly may not be eager to read a political tract condemning the Soviet revolution, but this short, easy-to-read and relatable text is the perfect medium for expressing the corruption of ideals as well as create sympathy for the people of the Soviet Union that were oppressed by the dictatorship.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Penguin, 1996.
“The Barnyard Soviet.” Rev. of Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Newsweek. 9 September 1946. (attached).