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One does not necessarily have to be familiar with the characters of the Russian Revolution to "get" Animal Farm, but it certainly helps. Orwell fairly transparently uses certain characters to stand for prominent figures in the history of communism and the Russian Revolution. Old Major, for instance, is intended to evoke Karl Marx as he explains the nature of class conflict between pigs and humans. Of course, like Marx, he dies long before his ideas were ever really put into practice, but his teachings are used to justify many of the pigs' actions, even as they deviate from his true meaning. Napoleon, of course, is meant to stand for Stalin, who uses the revolution to arrogate power and privilege to himself, and Snowball is Leon Trotsky, driven from the Soviet Union because his popularity was a threat to Stalin. Other animals stand for groups of people. Boxer, for instance, represents the working-class people who rallied around Stalin despite the fact that they were quite clearly being exploited. Mr. Jones, the farm's cruel owner, is Nicholas II. Moses, the raven, represents the priests. The sheep are blind party followers. The list goes on, but the important thing is that Orwell uses these characters to demonstrate how power has corrupted, and how the best intentions can go wrong. Tellingly, he exploits our common view of the characteristics of certain animals to make his point even more powerfully. The fact that he portrays the revolution's leaders as pigs, viewed as both intelligent and gluttonous, for example, makes his satire all the more biting and obvious.
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