Study Guide

Animal Farm

by George Orwell

Animal Farm Essay - Animal Farm, George Orwell

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Introduction

Animal Farm George Orwell

See also 1984 Criticism and George Orwell Criticism.

(Pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair) English novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, and memoirist.

The following entry presents criticism of Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm, which was published in 1945.

Animal Farm (1945) is considered one of Orwell's most popular and enduring works. Utilizing the form of the animal fable, the short novel chronicles the story of a group of barnyard animals that revolt against their human masters in an attempt to create a utopian state. On a larger scale, commentators widely view Animal Farm as an allegory for the rise and decline of socialism in the Soviet Union and the emergence of the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Critics regard the story as an insightful and relevant exploration of human nature as well as political systems and social behavior. After its translation into Russian, it was banned by Stalin's government in all Soviet-ruled areas.

Plot and Major Characters

The story opens as the barnyard animals of Manor Farm discuss a revolution against their master, the tyrannical and drunken farmer Mr. Jones. Old Major, an aging boar, gives a rousing speech in the barn urging his fellow animals to get rid of Jones and rely on their own efforts to keep the farm running and profitable. Identified as the smartest animals in the group, the pigs—led by the idealistic Snowball and the ruthless Napoleon—successfully plan and lead the revolution. After Jones and his wife are forced from the farm, the animals look forward to a society where all animals are equal and live without the threat of oppression. But soon, the pigs begin to assume more power and adjust the rules to suit their own needs. They create and implement an ideological system, complete with jingoistic songs and propaganda as well as strict rules. Once partners and friends, Napoleon and Snowball disagree on several issues regarding the governing of the farm. Snowball's attempted coup is repelled by a pack of wild dogs—controlled by Napoleon—who also enforce punishment against the other animals when they oppose or question Napoleon's rule. Before long, the pigs separate themselves from the other animals on the farm and begin to indulge in excessive drinking and other decadent behavior. Under the protection of the dogs, they consolidate their iron-fisted rule and begin eliminating any animal they consider useless or a threat to their power. Animal Farm ends with the majority of the animals in the same position as in the beginning of the story: disenfranchised and oppressed under a corrupt and brutal governing system.

Major Themes

Critics note that like many classical animal fables, Animal Farm is an allegory—in this case, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin's tyrannical government. It is generally accepted that Orwell constructed his story to reflect this purpose: Manor Farm represents Russia; Mr. Jones is the tsar; the pigs represent the Bolsheviks, the bureaucratic power elite; Snowball is Leon Trotsky, who lost a power struggle with Stalin; Napoleon is Stalin; and Napoleon's dogs are Stalin's secret police, known as the GPU. The corruption of absolute power is a major theme in Animal Farm. As most of the animals hope to create a utopian system based on the equality of all animals, the pigs—through greed and ruthlessness—manipulate and intimidate the other animals into subservience. Critics note that Orwell was underlining a basic tenet of human nature: some will always exist who are more ambitious, ruthless, and willing to grab power than the rest of society and some within society will be willing to give up power for security and structure. In that sense Animal Farm is regarded as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the pitfalls of revolution.

Critical Reception

Animal Farm is regarded as a successful blend of political satire and animal fable. Completed in 1944, the book remained unpublished for more than a year because British publishing firms declined to offend the country's Soviet allies. Finally the small leftist firm of Secker & Warburg printed it, and the short novel became a critical and popular triumph. It has been translated into many languages but was banned by Soviet authorities throughout the Soviet-controlled regions of the world because of its political content. As a result of the book's resounding commercial success, Orwell was freed from financial worries for the first time in his life. A few years after its publication, it attracted critical controversy because of its popularity amongst anticommunist factions in the United States; Orwell was alarmed that these forces were using his short novel as propaganda for their political views. In the subsequent years, Animal Farm has been interpreted from feminist, Marxist, political, and psychological perspectives, and it is perceived as an important and relevant book in the post-World War II literary canon. Moreover, it is considered one of Orwell's most lasting achievements.

Principal Works

Animal Farm (short novel) 1945

The Complete Works. 20 vols. (novels, short novel, essays, diaries, and letters) 1986-1998

Down and Out in Paris and London (nonfiction) 1933

Burmese Days (novel) 1934

A Clergyman's Daughter (novel) 1935

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (novel) 1936

The Road to Wigan Pier (nonfiction) 1937

Homage to Catalonia (nonfiction) 1938

Coming Up for Air (novel) 1939

Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (essays) 1940

The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (essays) 1941

Critical Essays (essays) 1946; also published as Dickens, Dali, and Others 1946

James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (nonfiction) 1946

The English People (essays) 1947

Nineteen Eighty-Four (novel) 1949

Shooting an Elephant, and Other Essays (essays) 1950

England Your England, and Other Essays (essays) 1953; also published as Such, Such Were the Joys 1953

The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell. 4 vols. (essays, letters, and diaries) 1968

Criticism

Times Literary Supplement (review date 25 August 1945)

SOURCE: Review of Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Times Literary Supplement (25 August 1945): 401.

[In the following review, the reviewer considers Orwell's views on revolution and dictatorship as expressed in Animal Farm.]

Animals, as Swift well knew, make admirable interpreters of the satiric intention, and Mr. George Orwell has turned his farm into a persuasive demonstration of the peculiar trick the whip wrested from the hands of a tyrant has of turning itself into a lash of scorpions and attaching itself to the new authority. The animals are naturally pleased with themselves when they rise in revolutionary fervour and chase the drunken farmer off his own land, and their enthusiasm survives the prospect of the labour and discipline that lie before them if the farm is to be properly worked. From the first, however, there are inequalities of brain and muscle, and the pigs gradually assume the intellectual leadership. The revolution changes its shape and form, but lip-service is still paid to its first precepts; if they become more and more difficult to reconcile with the dictatorial policies of the large Berkshire boar, Napoleon, such a loyal and simple creature as Boxer, the carthorse, is ready to blame his own stupidity rather than the will to power working in those who have the means to power in their trotters.

Even more powerful than Napoleon is Squealer, Napoleon's publicity agent, who justifies every reactionary decree by arguing that it is really in the animals' own interest and persuades them that to add to the seventh commandment of the revolution, “All animals are equal,” the rider “but some animals are more equal than others,” is not to tamper with the principle of equality. Dictatorship is evil, argues Mr. Orwell with a pleasant blend of irony and logic while busily telling his fairy story, not only in that it corrupts the characters of those who dictate, but in that it destroys the intelligence and understanding of those dictated to until there is no truth anywhere and fear and bewilderment open the way for tyranny ferocious and undisguised. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, and his book is as entertaining as narrative as it is apposite in satire [Animal Farm].

C. M. Woodhouse (essay date 6 August 1954)

SOURCE: Woodhouse, C. M. “Animal Farm.Times Literary Supplement (6 August 1954): xxx-xxxi.

[In the following essay, Woodhouse discusses Animal Farm as a fairy tale.]

In the sixth volume of The Second World War, Sir Winston Churchill has described the scene at Potsdam in July, 1945, when from a little distance he watched President Truman tell Marshal Stalin of the great event that was to take place in the following month; the latest triumph of western genius, the masterpiece that was destined so profoundly to affect the history of the world. The Marshal showed polite interest, the mildest of curiosity that barely rose above the level of...

(The entire section is 2856 words.)

Timothy Cook (essay date winter 1984)

SOURCE: Cook, Timothy. “Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Orwell's Animal Farm: A Relationship Explored.” Modern Fiction Studies 30, no. 4 (winter 1984): 696-703.

[In the following essay, Cook investigates the influence of Sinclair's The Jungle on Animal Farm.]

Although George Orwell tells us that the idea of Animal Farm came from his actual experience of seeing a small boy easily controlling a huge carthorse with a whip,1 various scholars have suggested literary sources or precedents for his fable. These include a number of Kipling's short stories,2 the fourth book of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and, least...

(The entire section is 4023 words.)

Myrddin Jones (essay date summer 1984)

SOURCE: Jones, Myrddin. “Orwell, Wells and the Animal Fable.” English: The Journal of the English Association 33, no. 146 (summer 1984): 127-36.

[In the following essay, Jones posits that H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau was Orwell's inspiration for Animal Farm and draws parallels between the two works.]

I

In his Preface to the Ukranian edition of Animal Farm, Orwell said that the germ of his story came from seeing

a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals...

(The entire section is 4100 words.)

Jenny Mezciems (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Mezciems, Jenny. “Swift and Orwell: Utopia as Nightmare.” Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters 15, no. 3 (1985): 189-210.

[In the following essay, Mezciems compares the utopian fiction of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell.]

It seems appropriate that, at a Utopian conference in 1984, one should think of Swift in relation to this significant date and with substantial reference to Orwell's view of Gulliver's Travels as well as to his own dystopian fictions. Utopian fictions (to give definitional priority to the positive side of the genre), being essentially timeless and placeless, cannot be considered only in terms of the time at which they...

(The entire section is 8359 words.)

Bernard Grofman (essay date spring 1990)

SOURCE: Grofman, Bernard. “Pig and Proletariat: Animal Farm as History.” San Jose Studies 16, no. 2 (spring 1990): 5-39.

[In the following essay, Grofman examines aspects of Animal Farm, including its literary roots, its place in didactic literature, and its critical reception.]

This essay has a very simple aim: to rescue Animal Farm from the often repeated claim that it is merely a children's story and to demonstrate how closely its events are tied to the events of Soviet political history.1 In the process I hope to demonstrate that Animal Farm works at several levels, as a charming story about “humanized” animals, as an...

(The entire section is 8212 words.)

Samir Elbarbary (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Elbarbary, Samir. “Language as Theme in Animal Farm.International Fiction Review 19, no. 1 (1992): 31-8.

[In the following essay, Elbarbary explores Orwell's use of language in Animal Farm.]

George Orwell's repeated insistence on plain, firm language reflects his confidence in ordinary truth. This is visible in the language of the narrator in Animal Farm, which is characterized by syntactic tidiness and verbal pithiness. “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes”; this is how the narrator begins the fable. Set in ironic juxtaposition to this terse phrasing...

(The entire section is 4485 words.)

Michael Peters (essay date August 1995)

SOURCE: Peters, Michael. “Animal Farm Fifty Years On.” Contemporary Review 267, no. 1555 (August 1995): 90-1.

[In the following essay, Peters considers the continuing relevance and influence of Animal Farm on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.]

Few books are as well-known as Animal Farm. Published fifty years ago, in August 1945, as the Cold War was about to begin, the novel with its mixture of simple fairy-tale and historical allegory, still has the power to charm and provoke, even though that war now seems to be part of a previous age. The novel, while frequently taught in schools to thirteen and fourteen year olds, is rarely to be...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)

John V. Knapp (essay date June 1996)

SOURCE: Knapp, John V. “Creative Reasoning in the Interactive Classroom: Experiential Exercises for Teaching George Orwell's Animal Farm.College Literature 23, no. 2 (June 1996): 143-56.

[In the following essay, Knapp discusses his methods for teaching Animal Farm.]

                                    Simplification is vexation,
                                             Work sheets are as bad;
 Then the old ennui just crushes me,
                         And practice drives me mad!
                                 So give me argumentation!
                                 More give and take agrees,
                                 Helps me in my...

(The entire section is 5876 words.)

Robert Pearce (essay date February 1998)

SOURCE: Pearce, Robert. “Orwell, Tolstoy, and Animal Farm.Review of English Studies 49, no. 193 (February 1998): 64-9.

[In the following essay, Pearce determines the influence of Tolstoy's What I Believe on Animal Farm.]

Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell are sometimes contrasted as two figures with totally opposite attitudes to life, the one an other-worldly believer and the other a this-worldly humanist. In a celebrated essay, published in 1947,1 Orwell defended Shakespeare's King Lear against the Russian's intemperate attack and, moreover, also criticized his whole outlook on life. Tolstoy, he wrote, was an imperious and egotistical...

(The entire section is 2758 words.)

Christopher Hollis (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Hollis, Christopher. “Animal Farm Is a Successful Animal Fable.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 43-9. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1956, Hollis regards Animal Farm as a successful animal fable.]

Whatever the advantages or disadvantages of the German invasion of Russia, at least it saved Britain from the risk of immediate invasion and defeat, and thus such a man as Orwell, who was alarmed at the ultimate consequences of the Russian alliance, was able to live his life under a lesser strain in the last years of the war than in the first. He was able to give...

(The entire section is 2023 words.)

Spencer Brown (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Brown, Spencer. “Mealymouthed Critics Ignore Animal Farm's Anticommunist Flavor.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 70-81. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1955, Brown contends that Animal Farm is one of the best anticommunist books ever written and was written specifically about the communist government in the Soviet Union.]

Published in 1946, George Orwell's Animal Farm remains to this day, in my opinion, the best of anti-Communist books. If we had to do without all the others, fine as some of them are—Koestler, Dallin, Silone, Borkenau, Serge, and the...

(The entire section is 3566 words.)

Daphne Patai (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Patai, Daphne. “Animal Farm Exposes Orwell's Sexism.” In Readings on Animal Farm, edited by Terry O'Neill, pp. 116-26. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Patai provides a feminist interpretation of Animal Farm.]

Although Animal Farm is mentioned in scores of studies of Orwell, no critic has thought it worth a comment that the pigs who betray the revolution, like the pig who starts it, are not just pigs but boars, that is, uncastrated male pigs kept for breeding purposes. Old Major, the “prize Middle White boar” who has called a meeting to tell the other animals about his dream,...

(The entire section is 4034 words.)