70 pages 2 hours read

Animal Farm

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 1945, Animal Farm by George Orwell (1903-1950) achieved immediate success and remains one of Orwell’s most popular works. A political satire in the guise of a moving and whimsical animal fable, the novella is about a group of farm animals who overthrow their owner, Mr. Jones, and establish animal rule. Although the animals start out with high hopes for Animal Farm as a harmonious and just utopia where “all animals are equal” (19), it soon descends into tyranny and despotism under a pig named Napoleon. In the end, the animals’ lives are just as miserable, if not more so, than they had been under Jones, and the farm comes under the joint management of humans and pigs. The revolution has come full circle.

Orwell’s allegory parallels the events of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). Many characters and events in the book suggest real-life counterparts. Napoleon is a stand-in for Stalin, while Snowball, the idealistic pig whom Napoleon overthrows, is an analog for Leon Trotsky. The old boar Major is a Karl Marx-like figure who inspires revolution. Mr. Jones represents the Russian Czar Nicholas II, whose mismanaged leadership led to the communist takeover. The farm dogs represent the brutal Soviet police, and the sheep, the ignorant and unthinking masses. Neighboring human-run farms symbolize capitalist countries that either desired the downfall of the Soviet Union or sought to form alliances with it. As in Russia under Stalin, life on Animal Farm includes show trials and executions, deceptive propaganda, and revisionist history.

Orwell wrote Animal Farm during World War II, when the Soviet Union joined the Allied powers to fight Nazi fascism. Orwell believed that the Soviet Union’s ally status blinded many Westerners to the corruption of its regime. A committed socialist, Orwell saw Stalin’s dictatorship as a betrayal of true socialist principles. Thus, Orwell hoped that Animal Farm would help destroy “the Soviet myth” (x) and open people’s eyes to the dangers of communism in the postwar world.

Frequently assigned as reading material in schools, Animal Farm has been adapted twice for the screen: in 1954 as an animated feature, and in 1999 as a live action/CGI animated film. This guide uses the edition of Animal Farm published by Harcourt Brace.

Plot Summary

Major, an old boar, stirs up his fellow animals on Manor Farm to revolt against their human masters, pointing out that if human beings were gone, animals would enjoy a happy and free life. Inspired by this appeal, the overworked and underfed animals chase their drunken and incompetent owner, Mr. Jones, from the farm. Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, emerge as rival leaders of the newly established Animal Farm. They argue constantly about the direction Animal Farm should take. Snowball advocates building a windmill to bring electricity. Napoleon trains several dogs to chase Snowball away from the farm and seizes total power.

Animal Farm quickly descends into tyranny; the ruling class of pigs exploits the labor of the other animals, systematically lies to them, and creates a cult-like status for the leader, Napoleon. The animals work in slave-like conditions and are constantly hungry, while the leaders live in the farmhouse and enjoy generous rations. The corruption on the farm reaches its nadir when the pigs arrange to have Boxer, an old cart horse who has collapsed from exhaustion, transported away to be slaughtered so that they can buy whiskey.

Economic necessity forces Napoleon to form an alliance with human outsiders. The book ends with the humans and the pigs enjoying a party in the farmhouse, as the other animals notice that they can no longer distinguish the pigs from the humans by appearance or behavior. The original principles upon which Animal Farm was founded have crumbled, and the conditions in which the animals end are worse than those under Mr. Jones. 

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