Key Themes in Animal Farm – An Introduction
The novella opens on Manor Farm where animals are dutifully working for their human rulers. Considering that Animal Farm is an allegory, it is important to note that this version of the farm—Manor Farm—is meant to represent imperialist Russia ruled by aristocrats. Later, once the animals overthrow the humans in charge, the farm is renamed Animal Farm and represents Russia under communist revolution. The farm on which this story takes place is located in the English countryside which suggests that a communist revolution is not as far away as most English people wanted to believe at this time. Considering that the Russian communist revolution occurred from about 1917 into the 1940s, it can be surmised that Animal Farm likely took place sometime in this timeframe.
There are two major motifs that speak to the broader themes of this novella: songs and rituals. Songs are an important motif because they intertwine with some of the major themes of the novella seamlessly. The story starts with Old Major teaching the animals “Beasts of England” which, combined with his speech about his dream of animals working only for themselves instead of humans, sets the revolution in motion. Later, once Napoleon has turned the farm more into a dictatorship than anything else, songs and chants are made up as pieces of propaganda to encourage the farm animals’ unwavering support for Napoleon. Although the first song encouraged animals to work together for a common good, the function of songs shifts to brainwashing focused on erasing individuality.
The other major motif of the novella is rituals. They follow a similar path that songs do—starting out as a revolutionary tool to pump up the animals to work together for a common good. However, after Napoleon takes over, the way rituals occur changes. For example, rituals that originated during the days of rebellion and revolution are ended such as the democratic meetings. Replacing these types of rituals are rituals that reinforce Napoleon’s dictatorship by making the working-class animals dependent on the ruling class to tell them what to do, think, and feel.
Themes in Animal Farm by George Orwell
Here’s a list of major themes in Animal Farm.
- The Corruption Of Communism.
- Social Class Structure.
- Forced Naivety of Working-Class Individuals.
- Rhetoric as a Political Tool.
The Corruption of Communism
The Corruption Brought on by Communism – Since Animal Farm is an allegorical tale about the rise of Joseph Stalin in communist Russia in the form of an animal fable, this is the most striking theme of the novella.
First, the theme is seen with the animals forming a rebellion to throw their human overseer, Mr. Jones, off the farm. The animals become completely self-sufficient with the pigs acting as leaders because of their superior intelligence. The theme is seen enforced again by the rise of two leaders—the pigs Snowball and Napoleon. When Napoleon overthrows Snowball by having his aggressive dogs chase him off the farm, we see the total rejection of any sort of democracy with Napoleon asserting himself as dictator of Animal Farm. He then uses propaganda to encourage support from the rest of the farm. The animals’ rebellion started out as a democratic move to be free of human rulership. However, this eventually gave way to corruption in their political system that represents the corruption in Stalin’s Russia.
Social Class Structure
The Inevitability of a Social-Class Structure – The animal rebellion that initially overthrew the human leadership of Manor Farm aimed for a social and political system in which all animals on the farm are equal. In fact, one of their founding Animal Commandments read “all animals are equal.”
However, as time passed, the animals inevitably slid into a social and political class system due to the pigs asserting themselves as the smartest animals and, therefore, the leaders of the farm. This is a thematic element that speaks to Orwell’s belief that humans have a tendency to slip into class stratification in which certain individuals hold more power than others, and in some cases, this can happen unintentionally or even secretly.
The novella shows that even though intentions may be good at the start of a political or social revolution, it does not mean that the ideals will actually carry forward into practice because the animals split into an intellectual/leading class and a working class—and there is no in between or crossover.
The Working Class
The Forced Naivety of Working-Class Individuals – One of the things that Orwell does skillfully in the novella is to portray the working class as clearly as he portrays the ruling class. He provides insight into both classes of animals and his portrayal of the working class is meant to show readers how gullible, hardworking, loyal, and unquestioning these individuals can be when they trust in their leaders.
This naivety paves the way for corruption to take root and grow into something dangerous before the working class can even realize what has happened. In the case of Animal Farm, the ruling class pigs know this and exploit it through propaganda.
Rhetoric as a Political Tool
Rhetoric in Animal Farm – Rhetoric is another important theme in Animal Farm. Crucial to Napoleon’s ability to position himself as the sole leader of the farm, the story shows how propaganda, and language in general, can be manipulated to help corrupt leaders achieve political goals.
For example, Napoleon begins to change the Animal Commandments to fit his liking and his spokesperson, Squealer, justifies this to the animals in way that convinces them that everything is okay. He does this either by saying that it has always been that way and that the animals are misremember or by telling the animals that what is happening is still for the common good and that the animals are being successfully led because they are still no longer working for the humans.
Furthermore, the pig Minimus writes a patriotic song called “Animal Farm, Animal Farm” that replaces Old Major’s democratic visionary anthem “Beasts of England.” This is done to minimize revolutionary thinking and is justified by Napoleon and Squealer claiming that “Beast of England” is about rebellion but there is no longer a need for rebellion so the song should be replaced. This seems harmless enough but the truth of the matter is that the working class is now being exploited so badly that they would be justified in a rebellion—and the pigs know this so they use a new hymn to minimize that threat.