George Orwell's Animal Farm: Discussion and Resources
Some books have the power to change the way people see the world. Sometimes, the book is filled with philosophical theories like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Books can detail a person’s life like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. And at times, a fictional book based on real-life occurrences can makes people stop and think about the world like George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Orwell was best known for his book Animal Farm but he was actually a very prolific journalist, writing hundreds of essays, reviews, and columns for various papers. In fact, Irving Howe called him “the best English essayist since Hazlitt.” When he moved on to novels, it was Animal Farm that first won him international fame. He also wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, another major literary work, and his final novel, Coming Up For Air.
On the surface, Animal Farm is about a revolution that takes place on a farm. An old boar called Old Major convinces the animals on the farm that humans are parasites and that animals are above them. After his death, two pigs named Snowball and Napoleon used him to start a revolt. The animals form their own government, put up their own laws, and things on the farm are perfect, for a while. When the pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership, it isn’t long until they start to abuse their powers and even fight with each other over who should rule. Napoleon eventually comes out on top, turning Snowball into a scapegoat, declaring that he is always right. As years go by, the commandment that “All animals are equal” becomes “"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” By the end of the book, there is no difference between the pigs and the humans they had revolted against.
Propaganda is one of the most effective tools that any one person can use against someone else and the book clearly shows how dangerous it can be. Snowball uses it to convince the animals that humans are all evil and should be overthrown. He also uses it to convince the animals that building a windmill will make all their lives easier when it will only make life better for the pigs. Napoleon shows his hand in propaganda when he lies to the animals about Snowball destroying their beloved windmill and manages to turn them all against Snowball. He also used it after he exiled Snowball when he spread rumors that Snowball has been a traitor to them all along. Propaganda is so damaging because while it’s usually a lie, easily believable, and hard to refute once it gets into people’s heads.
There are many parallels between the Russian Revolution and the characters in the book. Nearly every character, no matter how small, represents something. Mr. Jones, the irresponsible, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind human owner, represents Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia, who shared similar qualities. Old Major, who invented Animalism, is a hybrid of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx because they invented communism. Animalism is almost a direct mirror of communism in Russia. Snowball is meant to represent Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. Napoleon represents Joseph Stalin, who used propaganda in the same ways. Then, Squealer represents the propaganda machine of the government Lenin established. The vicious dogs in the book represent the KGB, the secret police who used force on Stalin’s detractors.
The main political ideology in the book is Animalism, a mirror of communism. Communism and Animalism, when they are not corrupted, are meant to make everyone equal. It’s meant to turn a country into a classless, oppression-free society where everyone is equal, contributing to the general good of the whole. That whole is then divided up and distributed back to everyone. In other words, everyone works for everyone else. A branch of this belief is socialism, where a person gets compensation based on how much labor they put into something. Orwell clearly demonstrates how, while the ideas behind these ideologies are good, once they are corrupted they are far worse than anything that came before them.