Animal Farm Summary and Analysis

Book Introduction

How is Animal Farm an allegory? Animal Farm is a political allegory published by George Orwell in 1946. Like his other major work, 1984, this novella paints the picture of a world in which political control goes too far and personal freedoms are threatened. Animal Farm is more digestible, however, than 1984 because it is presented in the form of a fable with animals living on a farm serving to portray a boiled-down version of the rise of the Soviet Union and communism in Russia. Some of the characters are based on important political figures of that time such as Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.

Animal Farm Literary Elements

animal farm cliff notesAuthor: George Orwell

Type of Work: Novella

Genres: Dystopian fiction; historical/political allegory; fable, satire

Published Date: 1946

Setting: The time frame is undefined, but since it alludes to the Russian Revolution, one might assume that it occurs at the same time (1917-1945). The place setting is a fictitious farm in England called Animal Farm.

Main Characters: Napoleon, Snowball, Boxer, Mr. Jones

Protagonist: Any animals who have to fight for freedom amongst corrupt political revolution

Antagonist: Any figure or group who represents or contributes to a corrupt political group

Major Thematic Elements: The corruption brought on by communism; the inevitability of a social class structure; the inherent naivety of working-class individuals; rhetoric as a political tool

Motifs: songs; rituals

Exposition: Old Major gathers the animals to tell them about his dream of all the animals on Animal Farm working together free of human rulership and oppression. He encourages the animals to consider working together to make his dream a reality.

Plot: Linear/chronological

Major Symbols: Animal Farm; the windmill; the barn

Climax: Napoleon has his trained dogs run Snowball off the farm after Snowball has given an impassioned speech. Napoleon declares that the power of Animal Farm lies in his and the other pigs’ hands.

Literary Significance of Animal Farm

animal farm allegoryAlthough short, Animal Farm packs a big punch. As an overtly political novella, it uses the classic format of Aesop’s Fables in order to have animals deliver the story and its message. Essentially, this novella tells a boiled-down version of the Soviet Union’s rise to power in post-tsarist Russia. This story focuses on the dangers of communism for the ordinary working-class people. Although Orwell himself was a supporter of socialism, he was vastly critical of the Soviet Union’s policies and saw the revolutions there to be poor representations of what a true socialist society could look like. As can be seen in Animal Farm, Orwell was an overt critic of both communism and capitalism and both forces are portrayed as harmful in this novella.

Animal Farm attacks the idea of Communist Party rule in any government but bases itself around the 1917 abdication of Tsar Nicholas II from the Russian throne and the ensuing political mess that occurred for many years afterwards. Various socialist and communist leaders found themselves gunning for political control of Russia including Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, etc. Stalin eventually gained control and made the Communist Party the ruling agent for Russia. All of this gives Animal Farm enormous inherent historical worth because it provides a unique context for studying the effects of this revolution—even though Orwell himself was English, the effects of the revolution ended up being worldwide.

Animal Farm Book Summary

animal farm for dummiesThe novel opens as Mr. Jones, the proprietor of Animal Farm, has returned home for the day. All of the animals convene in the barn in order to listen to Old Major, a prize boar, deliver a speech about his dream that Animal Farm can exist in prosperity without human rulership. Old Major is a well-respected animal who knows that his life is about to end, and he wants to express his dream and his wisdom so that the other animals can benefit. His speech shows the other animals that their life purposes are all to work hard and then die—but he believes that there can be a better way of living. Old Major says that the humans, and Mr. Jones in particular, are to blame and once they are removed from the picture, the animals will be able to all live luxuriously.

Three nights later, Old Major has died, and the animals begin to make secret plans to carry out a revolution against the humans. The pigs, being the cleverest animals, are tasked to teach and organize other animals. At this point in chapter two, Napoleon and Snowball emerge as leaders and they enlist the help of another pig, Squealer, to spread their political message across the farm. They come up with a political philosophy called Animalism and they begin encouraging everyone to refer to each other as “Comrade.” Many of the animals find the concept of Animalism to be difficult to understand but the pigs encourage them that their lives under human rulership are not happy lives and that with a revolution they will be able to live fuller and happier lives. Once all animals are primed, the Rebellion occurs, and Mr. Jones is driven off his farm. The animals destroy all items they see as tools of oppression such as halters, whips, etc. and they bask in their accomplishments. It is revealed that the pigs have learned to read, and they name their new human-free farm Animal Farm. Snowball and Napoleon create seven commandments for Animalism and paint them on the barn wall.

Chapter three sees the animals working hard all summer to keep the farm running. The pigs devise ways for animals to use human tools and the farm keeps running much in the same way it was before—with hard work and specific duties. The year’s harvest winds up being greater than any year before it and the pigs deem their new farm successful. On Sundays, the animals hold a flag-raising ceremony and in the mornings, the animals meet for democratic meetings in which issues are raised and policies are created for the common good. Snowball and Napoleon remain in leadership roles, but their opinions begin to clash more and more. Later in the chapter, the other animals realize that the pigs have been keeping all of the milk and apples for themselves. They justify it by saying that since the pigs are the smartest, they need the milk and apples in order to think clearly and keep making good decisions for the farm. They threaten that if the pigs’ intellect fails, Mr. Jones will come back to take over the farm.

Chapter four sees the effects of the animal overthrow on Mr. Jones beyond just his own farm. His neighbors, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick, fear that ideas will spread to animals on their own farms. However, the two farmers have a strong rivalry which prevents them from working together. Their animals begin to hear the propaganda from Animal Farm. Mr. Jones rallies other farmers and attempts to take his farm back. The animals ambush the men and they are swiftly defeated.

About halfway through the novella, Snowball and Napoleon’s disagreements grow larger. Snowball and Napoleon continue to deliver speeches to the animals, rallying for support of their ideas. Finally, after a passionate speech, Napoleon has his trained dogs run Snowball off the farm and Napoleon announces that he will be the sole leader of Animal Farm and that meetings will only be held for ceremonial purposes from that point forward rather than democratic ones. Amidst growing confusion, Squealer explains away any issues and Napoleon’s threatening dogs terrify animals into submission.

Moving forward into chapter six, the animals work hard to keep up with the farm and to build a windmill. Napoleon cuts animal rations and conditions grow more and more uncomfortable for the animals. Napoleon hires a human solicitor to get items for the farm that they cannot produce themselves and the other animals are shocked to see Napoleon working with a human. They also notice that as the pigs have moved into the farmhouse, some of the Animalism commandments have changed with no explanation as to why.

The animals endure a harsh winter and hear rumors that Snowball has been breaking onto the farm at night and sabotaging their efforts. Napoleon calls a meeting in which he forces several animals to falsely admit that they have been conspiring with Snowball and then has his dogs rip out their throats in front of all the others.

In chapter eight, Mr. Frederick attacks Animal Farm with armed men and they blow up the windmill that the animals all worked so tirelessly to build. The animals start to blame themselves for the misfortunes that are starting to fall on the farm. They are unable to put two and two together to see that corruption coming from the pigs in power is what is causing all of their problems.

Wearily, the animals set about rebuilding the windmill. They are running out of food and rations. Napoleon and the other pigs continue to spread propaganda about Snowball and actively works to brainwash the animals. Boxer dies and Napoleon says that he died at a hospital. However, they later get a big shipment of glue in but Squealer denies that Boxer was sold to slaughter so that the farm could have glue.

In the final chapter, it is shown that years have passed and that not many animals currently on the farm are able to remember the Rebellion in its true form. The farm is prosperous but only the pigs seem to benefit from this. Squealer and Napoleon begin to walk upright on their hind legs and whip the other animals into submission. The final commandment of Animalism has been amended from “all animals are equal” to “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” The pigs become more and more human-like to the point where the animals lose track of who is human and who is a pig.