Summary of the Novel
The animals of Manor Farm have always been miserable under Mr. Jones and his men. They have come to accept their difficult lives as part of the natural order of things. It is Old Major, a prize-winning boar, who shares his dreams with the other animals. He tells them that the cause of all their suffering is man. With man gone, the animals would enjoy the abundance the land provides and build a new society based on equality. He says that Jones has no concern for the animals—that he uses them until they are no longer productive. He butchers the pigs and drowns the dogs when they get old. Old Major predicts that Jones will even sell Boxer, the horse, and the hardest and most faithful worker on the farm, to the slaughterhouse once he is no longer able to work. He encourages the animals to work for this revolution. He warns them never to become like man and to always treat each other as equals.
Three nights later, Old Major dies, and the task of preparing the animals for the revolution falls to the pigs, who are smarter than the others and who later teach themselves to read. Three young pigs, the intellectual Snowball, the domineering Napoleon and the eloquent Squealer, organize Old Major’s dream of the future into a political philosophy called Animalism.
When the drunken Mr. Jones fails to feed the animals one night, the animals drive him and his men off the farm. They change the name to “Animal Farm,” and the pigs, who seem to have assumed leadership, write the principles of Animalism, reduced to Seven Commandments, on the barn wall. These are to be the unalterable rules by which the animals will live ever after:
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
At first the revolution seems to be a success. All of the animals, directed and supervised by the pigs, work hard to bring in the harvest. But there are indications from the beginning that the pigs treat themselves specially. They remain the supervisors, doing no physical labor, and they take extra food (mild and windfall apples) for themselves instead of sharing with the others. Meanwhile Jones, with the aid of his neighbors, tries to retake the farm. They are driven off at the “Battle of the Cowshed” by the military tactics of Snowball and the strength of Boxer. Both are decorated as heroes for their roles in the victory.
A power struggle for control of Animal Farm develops between Snowball and Napoleon, and it culminates with the building of a windmill. When the animals seem about to vote in favor of the project, Napoleon, who opposes the plan, unleashes nine dogs he has been training secretly to follow his orders without question. Snowball is chased off the farm, barely escaping the jaws of the dogs. In a turnabout, Napoleon orders that work on the windmill begin. The work is difficult, and the animals suffer in the process. When a storm blows the windmill down, Napoleon blames the exiled Snowball and condemns him as an enemy. Napoleon exploits the animals’ fear that Jones will return and their fear of his fierce dogs to consolidate his power. He uses Squealer to lie to the animals and convince them that things aren’t what they seem. As work on the second windmill begins, Napoleon and the pigs become more and more corrupt. They change the commandments, move into Jones’s house, and drink whisky. Napoleon even kills other animals who dare to stand up to his authority.
The second windmill is blown up in an attack by Frederick, after he steals wood from Animal Farm, by paying for it with counterfeit money. But Napoleon pronounces this defeat to be a great victory, and work begins on a third attempt to build a windmill. None of the promises of leisure time and comfort come true—no heat or electricity in the barn, no machines to do their hard work. In fact, life grows harder for all of the animals, except the pigs, and food is scarcer. When Boxer, the hardest worker on the farm, is hurt, Napoleon sells him to the horse slaughterer. Squealer convinces the others that Boxer died in the hospital after getting the best treatment. Old Major’s prediction about Boxer has come true, but it is Napoleon who is the villain.
In the end, the pigs completely subvert the ideals of Animalism. They are the new masters. They walk on two legs. They violate and change each of the Seven Commandments. Ultimately, these commandments are erased and replaced with only one: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In the final scene, Mr. Pilkington comes for a tour and Napoleon announces some changes. The name is changed back to “Manor Farm,” and a new level of understanding is reached between pig and man. The book ends when someone cheats in a card game. The animals, watching from outside, cannot tell the difference between the pigs and the men.
The Life and Work of George Orwell
George Orwell was born Eric Hugh Blair in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, India. He was the second of three children, and the only boy, born to Richard and Ida Blair. His elder sister, Marjorie, and his younger sister, Avril, completed this middle-class Anglo-Indian family. His dour, discouraging father was an agent in the Opium Department of the British Civil Service. As was the custom with such middle-class children born abroad, he was sent back to England for his education. His mother, a modern, rather left-wing woman and militant suffragette, accompanied him.
Orwell attended the best English schools, including Eton College (1917-1921), a school that epitomized “traditional” British education. Poorer than the other students and feeling insecure about himself, he never quite fit in with the rest of his classmates. Politically, he had difficulty accepting the world of British imperialism that surrounded him. These feelings of being an “outsider,” coupled with Orwell’s firm belief (which he expressed early in his life to friends and family) that he felt fated to become a “great writer,” affected the course of his entire life. Influenced by his mother’s “revolutionary” politics and charged by his own political ideas, Orwell ultimately turned to a writing career.
However, when he graduated from Eton College in 1921, Orwell briefly followed the family tradition and entered civil service as a member of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He served in this position from 1922 to 1927, gathering material for his two most famous essays, “On Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging.” During these five years, he witnessed and participated in the British policies of colonialism. A Socialist at heart, Orwell came to the conclusion that British imperialism was futile and destined to come to an end.
Orwell returned to England to devote his time to writing and supported himself in this period of fairly severe poverty with a series of temporary jobs and journalistic writing assignments. An account of these difficult years was recorded in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). His novel Burmese Days (1934) came from his Far East experiences. It was followed by A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), which expressed his negative attitudes toward British society. An assignment covering the lives of the miners of northern England enabled Orwell to share the experiences and hardships of these working-class people.
Orwell married Eileen O’Shaughnessy in the summer of 1936. At the end of that year, he and his new wife left for Spain where he joined a “Trotskyist” unit of the militia and fought in the Spanish Civil War. What he witnessed there shook his Socialist ideals. He was appalled by the brutal tactics employed by the Communists who were armed by the Soviet Union and turned loose against Stalin’s political enemies in Spain. Orwell was wounded in Spain and diagnosed with tuberculosis upon his return to England. An account of his Spanish experiences is the subject of Homage to Catalonia (1938), an autobiographical work.
During World War II, Orwell was kept out of active service because of his worsening health. He continued to contribute to the war effort through his writing and his broadcasts to India over the BBC. When his wife died in 1943 during a minor operation, Orwell left London and went to the Hebrides Islands with his adopted son. From November 1943 to January 1944, he worked on Animal Farm, which he published in 1945 as the war was coming to an end. His tuberculosis grew worse but his writing continued. He completed 1984, a political novel which he began in 1948 and saw published in 1949, just six months before his death on January 21, 1950, at the age of 46.
Estimated Reading Time
Animal Farm is a relatively short book of about 130 pages in 10 chapters. Each chapter is approximately 12 pages long. By breaking your reading time into five half-hour segments, two chapters at a sitting, you can read the book in three hours.