Major, an old pig, gathers the animals of the Manor Farm together to tell them that if it were not for the presence of man they could achieve a utopia. Soon afterward, the animals revolt against Mr. Jones, the owner, and take over the farm themselves, changing its name to Animal Farm.
For a time all goes well, but eventually the animals must yield much of the affairs of management to the pigs, the most intelligent of the animals. Among the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon continually vie for leadership, until Napoleon drives out his rival and declares him to be a traitor.
With the pigs responsible for all intellectual efforts, they soon become the master class and take on man’s privileges, justifying everything through the propaganda of the pig Squealer. Napoleon establishes a personality cult around himself and becomes the leader, ordering all activities. The animals’ lives move back into the pattern of the time before the revolution.
This novel can be seen simply as a satire on the Soviet Union and its betrayal of the ideals of socialism, but it is more than that. Orwell makes the animals’ revolt a symbol for any modern revolution. The rise of a ruling class of intellectual workers, the development of a leader figure, the use of scapegoats, and, above all, the rewriting of history and the misuse of language for party purposes, all figure in this satire.
The use of multiple historical references gives a universal quality to this work. Orwell appears to be saying that any revolutionary movement is self-defeating. This is a bleak picture, but the novel asks the reader to make his own decision.
Gardner, Averil. George Orwell. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Gives information on Orwell at the time of writing Animal Farm and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of meaning and symbols as they apply to Russian history. Includes some criticism that Animal Farm received at its publication.
Hammond, J. R. A George Orwell Companion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Features pictures of Orwell spanning his career and gives an extended reference to characters and events of Animal Farm as they compare to historical Russia. Considers the evolution of Orwellian philosophy through his novels and essays.
Hollis, Christopher. A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works, 1956.
Hunter, Lynette. George Orwell: The Search for a Voice, 1984.
Kalechofsky, Roberta. George Orwell. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. Has an extended section on Animal Farm about the corruption of the seven commandments of animalism and compares the themes of Animal Farm as similar to those of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Lee, Robert A. Orwell’s Fiction, 1969.
Meyers, Jeffrey. A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell. Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams, 1977. Gives a detailed account of the political allegory of Animal Farm, specifically with Russian history.
Norris, Christopher, ed. Inside the Myth: Orwell, Views from the Left, 1984.
Williams, Raymond. George Orwell. New York: Viking Press, 1971. Includes several quotes from Orwell and the criticism he received for Animal Farm. Also explains the difficulties Orwell went through in trying to find a publisher.