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.
In 1917, as George Orwell was preparing to attend Eton School, two major world events were taking place. Europe was embroiled in a major conflict that later would be called World War I, and Russia was on the brink of a revolution that would have an impact on the planet for the next 75 years. Both events stemmed from a long history of complex political entanglements, secret agreements, and economic considerations. World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914.
In Russia, the decade leading to the Revolution of 1917 began with a series of Russian defeats in the war with Japan. Military mutinies and workers’ strikes culminated in a march on the Tsar’s Winter Palace at Petersburg. When workers attempted to present a petition calling for factory reforms and civil and political rights, Tsarist troops opened fire. Ninety-six workers were killed and over 300 were wounded. Another 34 died later. The seeds were sown. In March 1917, the Revolution began, and Russia, economically drained by the cost of the world war and demoralized by defeats in that war, rose against Tsar Nicholas II. In October, the Bolsheviks (Communists) staged a second revolution and seized power.
Among their leaders was Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov (Lenin), a committed revolutionary, who was inspired by the teachings of Karl Marx (1818-1883). Marx, a German economist and the author of Das Kapital and co-author of The Communist Manifesto, called for a struggle of the proletariat (workers) against the aristocracy. The ensuing years of political struggle and civil war brought about the rise to power of Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin, as well as the arrest and the murder of the Tsar and his entire family. The next two decades brought the death of Lenin in January 1924. A power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin ensued. It ended with Trotsky’s deportation from the Soviet Union in 1929, and his assassination in Mexico City in 1940. Under the new Communist regime, the people suffered through famine and civil war. Stalin’s taking despotic control of the country after a series of public trials in the 1930s to “purge” the government of his political enemies furthered that suffering.
Reaction to the Novel
When Animal Farm was completed in February 1944, it was offered to Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club, whose book choices were distributed to more than 40,000 readers. The offer was refused. However, it was a decision Gollancz later regretted as a professional publishing mistake, for the work became one of the few undoubted masterpieces of our time. It is viable as a work of fiction that one can read and appreciate with no historical background, and as a simple, classic story of struggle against tyranny and the corruption of power. It also belongs to the genre of allegory; Orwell himself subtitles Animal Farm “A Fairy Story.” In developing his characters—barn animals and people on the Manor Farm in England—and the events of the story—the oppression of the animals, the ultimate subversion of their dream for change, and the victory of tyranny over idealism—Orwell renders a faithful view of Russian history and world politics from 1917 to 1943.
His story symbolically depicts Russia under the rule of the Tsars; the Communist Revolution of 1917; the War of Intervention where British, American, and French forces attempted to intervene in the events and affect the outcome of the Russian Civil War; the New Economic Plan to modernize the Soviet Union and lead it into the twentieth century; Stalin’s first Five Year Plan; the power struggle within the Communist party that brought about the expulsion of Trotsky and the dictatorship of Stalin; the “Great Purge” of 1937-38; the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939; the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941; World War II; and the subsequent uneasy friendship between Stalin and the allied leaders during that war.
Coincidentally, Animal Farm came into existence the same year that the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to a review by C. M. Woodhouse published in The Times Literary Supplement in London on August 6, 1954, it has had nearly as much impact.
... Orwell’s still, small voice has also made itself continuously heard in its own quiet, persistent, almost nagging way.... Already in a score of countries and dozen languages Animal Farm has made its peculiar mark in translation and in strip-cartoon...; and the political flavor of its message... has not been lost in the transcription. Already Orwell has launched the ‘long haul’ of wresting back some of those cardinal, once meaningful, words like ‘equality,’ ‘peace,’ ‘democracy,’ which have been fraudulently converted into shibboleths of political warfare; and already it is impossible for anyone who has read Animal Farm (as well as for many who have not) to listen to the demagogues’ claptrap about equality without also hearing the still, small voice that adds... but some are more equal than others.
The book was promptly condemned by Josef Stalin and banned in the Soviet Union.
Master List of Characters
Mr. Jones—the owner of the Manor Farm in England, an alcoholic who treated his animals poorly; Tsar Nicholas II.
Old Major—the prize Middle White Boar who identifies man as the cause of all the animals’ problems, formulates the ideals of Animalism, and calls for revolution against man; Karl Marx.
Napoleon—fierce-looking Berkshire boar who becomes the tyrannical leader of Animal Farm; Josef Stalin.
Snowball—vivacious pig leader of Animal Farm and military tactician who is run off the farm by Napoleon; Leon Trotsky.
Squealer—a fat porker and a convincing speaker who becomes Napoleon’s “mouthpiece.” He assuages the fears and doubts of the other animals and it is said that he can turn “black into white”; Soviet propaganda.
Boxer—loyal, hard-working horse who believes in the Revolution and everything Napoleon says; the loyal proletariat.
Benjamin—cynical donkey and friend of Boxer who thinks life will continue to go badly, even after the revolution; the “silent majority” who didn’t protest, but did what was necessary to survive under the Tsar or under Stalin.
Clover—stout mare and friend of Boxer.
Mollie—Mr. Jones’s cart horse who is vain and fond of ribbons, special treatment and lump sugar; the aristocracy under the Tsar.
Bluebell—a dog whose pups are taken and trained by Napoleon.
Jessie—another dog whose pups are taken by Napoleon.
Pincher—a third dog.
Muriel—the white goat who learns how to read.
Moses—the raven and spy for Mr. Jones who tells and animals about Sugar Candy Mountain, a place where they won’t have to work and where they will have all the food they want; the Church in Russia.
Sheep—followers of Napoleon who are taught by Squealer to call out slogans at critical moments.
Minimus—a pig who writes poems about Napoleon.
Mr. Pilkington—the owner of Foxwood farm, who tries to help Jones recover his farm after the Rebellion; Churchill and Great Britain.
Mr. Frederick—the owner of Pinchfield farm who later blows up the windmill; Hitler and Germany.
Mr. Whymper—the agent who sees an opportunity to make money by helping Napoleon carry on trade with the outside world; Capitalists.
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.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
George Orwell says of Animal Farm, a novel subtitled A Fairy Story, that it was the first book in which he tried, with “full consciousness” of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Set at Manor Farm, run by Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Animal Farm begins with a sketch of farm life from the perspective of the animals. Jones, who drinks excessively, and his nondescript wife do little to care for the animals while living off the animals’ labor. It is old Major, the prize Middle White boar, who speaks in his old age of better times when the animals will set their own laws and enjoy the products of their labor. He tells the farm animals, “All the habits of Man...
(The entire section is 941 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Old Major calls a meeting as soon as Mr. Jones goes to sleep. Jones, who is cruel to his animals, is drinking excessively of late. When all the animals are gathered, Major begins to speak. He had a dream in which he remembers the song Beasts of England from his distant past. He teaches it to the others and tells them they should rise up to defeat Jones and do their work for themselves, for their own benefit. He says that all men are evil and that all animals are good and equal.
Three days after telling his dream, Major dies. Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer develop Major’s teachings into a system called Animalism. The rebellion comes quickly and suddenly after Jones was drinking in town. When he returns home,...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Because Animal Farm is a thoroughgoing allegory, either specifically of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath or, more generally, of the dangers of any political revolution, it is two stories at once: the surface plot story of the events leading up to and following the revolt of a group of farm animals against their human oppressor, and the underlying conceptual story of political revolution for which the surface story stands.
The surface story begins almost immediately with the beast fable convention that animals can think, talk, and feel, as the animals gather together to hear the dream of revolution by the old pig, Major. After Major reminds the animals of their oppressed life, he incites them to...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapter I Summary and Analysis
Mr. Jones: the owner and operator of the Manor Farm
Old Major: prize Middle White boar and founder of Animalism
Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher: farm dogs
Boxer: a horse who is the hardest worker on the farm
Clover: a stout motherly mare
Muriel: a white goat
Benjamin: an ill-tempered, taciturn donkey who is the oldest animal on the farm
Mollie: foolish white mare who pulled Jones’s cart
Moses: the tame raven, Mr. Jones’s special pet and spy
After Mr. Jones locks the henhouse for the night and goes to bed, the animals of the Manor farm meet in the barn to hear what Old Major, the...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
Chapter II Summary and Analysis
Napoleon: one of the pig leaders, a fierce-looking Berkshire boar, not much of a talker, but with a reputation of getting his own way
Snowball: another pig leader, vivacious and inventive
Squealer: a fat pig who is a persuasive talker
Three nights after giving his speech, Old Major dies in his sleep. The work of organizing the animals falls to the pigs, the cleverest of the animals. Preeminent among the pigs are Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, who have formed Old Major’s teachings into a system of thought called Animalism. Among the difficulties they face is a sense of loyalty some of the animals feel for Mr. Jones. Other animals are apathetic...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
Chapter III Summary and Analysis
Sheep: unintelligent animals who follow the leader
The days after the Rebellion are good for the animals. All of the animals work hard to bring in the harvest, except the pigs, who direct and supervise. The harvest is a bigger success than Jones and his men had ever had. The animals are happy, and the food they eat is their own. Boxer is the hardest worker. His answer to any problem is, “I will work harder!”, which he adopts as his personal motto. The others work according to their abilities, with a few exceptions. Mollie gets up late and leaves early, and the cat has a way of disappearing. Benjamin is the only animal who seems unchanged, slow and...
(The entire section is 1073 words.)
Chapter IV Summary and Analysis
Mr. Pilkington: neighbor of Animal Farm and owner of Foxwood Farm
Mr. Frederick: neighbor of Animal Farm and owner of Pinchfield Farm
As the news of the Rebellion on Animal Farm spreads across the countryside, the animals on neighboring farms become unmanageable. The stories unnerve the neighboring farmers, Mr. Pilkington, the owner of Foxwood Farm, and Mr. Frederick of Pinchfield Farm. Although Pilkington and Frederick are on permanently bad terms with each other, they are sufficiently frightened by the recent events to overcome their differences long enough to join forces with Mr. Jones in an attempt to help him retake the Manor Farm (as they insist on...
(The entire section is 659 words.)
Chapter V Summary and Analysis
Minimus: pig with a remarkable ability for composing songs and poems
After the Battle of the Cowshed, Animal Farm is safe from human attack for the time being, due in a large part to Snowball’s military genius. However, there remain other problems. Mollie has become more troublesome, working less and becoming more concerned with thoughts of ribbons and sugar. After she is confronted by Clover, Mollie disappears from the farm. Later she is seen by the pigeons when she is pulling a human’s cart on the other side of Willingdon. She is never mentioned again. The weather also presents a problem. The winter is bitterly cold, and the pigs make plans for spring planting....
(The entire section is 1451 words.)
Chapter VI Summary and Analysis
Mr. Whymper: human solicitor (lawyer) from Willingdon who acts as intermediary between Animal Farm and the outside world
Life for the animals begins to get worse. They work harder and longer, 60 hours a week, including Sundays. Boxer is the key to finishing the windmill. He gets up three-quarters of an hour earlier every morning to haul a load of stones from the quarry. Even Benjamin, yolked together with Muriel the goat, does his share. But the routine work on the farm is neglected and shortages develop. One Sunday morning as the animals are waiting to get their orders from the pigs, Napoleon announces that he will begin trade with neighboring farms in order to get money...
(The entire section is 1076 words.)
Chapter VII Summary and Analysis
It is bitter winter and the food is in short supply. Corn rations are cut and much of the potato crop is spoiled by the frost. Starvation stares animals in the face. To conceal their hardships from the outside world, Napoleon tricks Whymper on his weekly visits to the farm into believing the farm is prospering. In Whymper’s hearing, the sheep talk about an increase in their rations. Empty food bins are filled with sand and topped with meal to give him the impression that there is an abundance of food.
During this time Napoleon is rarely seen by the animals, even on Sunday mornings, and when he does come out of the farmhouse, he is surrounded by six fierce dogs.
In January, with...
(The entire section is 1096 words.)
Chapter VIII Summary and Analysis
After the terror of the executions dies down, Clover, recalling that the Sixth Commandment forbade killing, asks Muriel to read what is written on the barn. The Commandment clearly states, “No animal shall kill another animal without cause.”
Work on the second windmill goes on, along with the regular work of the farm. To the animals it seems as if they are working harder and being fed less than when they worked for Jones. Every Sunday Squealer reads from a long list of figures that prove how production is increasing, but the animals would prefer fewer figures and more food.
Napoleon appears in public less and less often, and when he does, it is always with his dogs. A black...
(The entire section is 1504 words.)
Chapter IX Summary and Analysis
Work begins on rebuilding the windmill. Boxer, injured in the Battle of the Windmill, refuses to take even a day off from work. Clover and Benjamin are concerned about his failing health. Boxer’s hope is that he can see the windmill well under way before his retirement. Although when the Rebellion first occurred there were plans to retire the animals, as yet, no animal had actually retired. The pasture, originally set aside for this purpose, is now being used to grow barley for the pigs.
Winter is severe and the rations are reduced, except for the pigs and the dogs. Squealer calls it a “readjustment.” He tells the hungry animals that reducing everyone’s rations would be against the...
(The entire section is 1058 words.)
Chapter X Summary and Analysis
Years pass and most of the old animals who fought in the Rebellion are gone. Muriel, Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher are dead, and so is Mr. Jones. Snowball is forgotten, and Boxer is forgotten. Only Benjamin is much the same, only older, sadder, and more quiet. The young animals possess none of the ideals that inspired the Rebellion. They accept everything that they are told about the Rebellion and the principles of Animalism without question. The farm is more prosperous, enlarged by two fields bought from Mr. Pilkington. Mr. Whymper has made a handsome profit from his work as Napoleon’s agent. The completed windmill has never provided the luxuries promised by Snowball. It is used instead for milling...
(The entire section is 1078 words.)