Animal Farm, George Orwell
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.
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.
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.
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
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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...
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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 indifference, and no comprehension whatever. Sir Winston was sure, he tells us,
that he had no idea of the significance of what he was being told. … If he had had the slightest idea of the revolution in world affairs which was in progress his reactions would have been obvious. … But his face remained gay and genial. …
According to President Truman, he did not even ask a single question.
What Marshal Stalin was being told about was not, though as a matter of mere chronological chance it could have been, the imminent publication of a little book called Animal Farm, which appeared on the bookstalls in the same month in which the atomic bomb hit...
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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 plausibly, a section of John Gower's tedious Latin complaint Vox Clamantis, cited by Sean O'Casey, who makes his dislike of Animal Farm and his scorn for those who think it original very clear.3
Orwell was of course far too well read to have claimed “originality,” in the narrow sense of his having been the first person to make use of the human-animal relationship for political or social commentary. As an Eton scholar he would have known that the tradition goes back at least as far as Aristophanes' Birds. More importantly, we know from his own writings how much he admired Swift, in particular Gulliver's Travels, where he would have found the relationship between man and horse...
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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.]
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 became aware of their strength, we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.1
But if this was the actual stimulus, it was not the only source of Orwell's tale. A much more extensive and significant source is H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau.
That Orwell knew and admired Wells's work is evident from his letters and essays. In May 1947 he said that Wells was one of the favourite authors of his boyhood (C.E.J.L. IV. 394) and a year later, that he was a ‘very early influence on me’ (C.E.J.L. IV. 478). We also know that he had been reading The Island of Dr. Moreau so closely...
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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 were written, or of particular local circumstances in the real world. They have a habit of breaking down tidy period divisions and neat chronological ordering. The year 1984 will pass; indeed it was pointed out several years ago by some expert on our calendar that we are some six years adrift in our calculations, so that here we all are in 1990.1 With the suspense gone, and also the pressure to pass or fail Orwell's novel according to how accurately it predicted the way we now live, we may set about the serious task of placing it in the broader utopian literary tradition.
Gulliver's Travels is a long-established utopian text in its own right, but it is also one of direct importance to Orwell. Eric Blair,...
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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 allegory about the human condition, and, most importantly, as a thinly disguised and biting political satire about Soviet totalitarianism. No reader can fully enjoy the book without knowing, for example, that the pig Snowball represents Trotsky and the pig Napoleon represents Stalin.
I. LITERARY ROOTS
The work to which Animal Farm is most often compared is Gulliver's Travels (see, e.g., 1946 reviews by Edward Weeks in The Atlantic and Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker), although comparisons with Candide are also common. It is true that for Animal Farm Orwell draws inspiration from many satirists, including, of course, Voltaire (whom Orwell greatly admired)...
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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 is another distinct language: the crassly elitist, manipulative, unintelligible, and circumlocutory discourse of the pigs, through which the fictitious passes off as factitious and the animals' world is created for them. The magical agency in this fairy tale takes the form of language which becomes a distorting mirror rather than a clear pane.1 I suggest that the deliberate derangement of language, and linguistic exclusiveness which sustain the usurpation of power, stand out as one of the novel's central thematic concerns. In a sense, the revolution on the farm is a language-focused enterprise, a product of specifically aggressive linguistic energy, and language, which can effectively control reality, is at the root of the tragic...
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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 found in sixth form or university syllabuses. Like the author, the book occupies an ambiguous place in the literary world. Yet its fame amongst the reading and, to an extent, the non-reading public is indisputable; the slogan, ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’, is one that has become part of the language.
Orwell was very clear about his intentions in writing the book. During the Spanish Civil War, he had seen the effects of the repressions and deceptions of Stalinism at first hand. He wished to open people's eyes to the reality of the Soviet regime ‘in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone’, even when that regime had become an ally to Britain and the USA in the fight...
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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 education, Then Orwell seems a breeze.
(“The Bald-headed Bard” 1996)
Most of us enjoy a change now and then, whether to a different brand of ice cream or to a method by which we teach the “classic” works of literature. One older method, lecturing, has well-known limitations, especially for younger students and those not especially motivated to do close readings of literary texts. While lecturing works in some places and for some students, those of us who teach literature are always interested in alternative procedures to accomplish some fairly typical goals: we want our students to understand the text through close reading and real engagement with the printed page; we want them to...
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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 bully, and he quoted his biographer Derrick Leon that he would frequently ‘slap the faces of those with whom he disagreed’.2 Orwell wrote that Tolstoy was incapable of either tolerance or humility; and he considered that his attack on the artistic integrity of Lear arose partly because it was too near the knuckle. Lear's ‘huge and gratuitous act of renunciation’ bore an uncomfortably close resemblance to Tolstoy's similarly foolish renunciation in old age of worldly wealth, sexuality, and other ties that bind us to ‘the surface of the earth—including love, in the ordinary sense of caring more for one human being than another’.3 But this, according to Orwell, was what love was all about, and he...
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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 his mind once more to creative writing. Yet the problem what to write was not simple. The crying need to his mind was to arouse public opinion to the dangers of the Russian alliance. Yet the mood of the country at the time when Stalingrad was being defended was not such that it would tolerate a straightforward and bitter attack on Russia—the kind of attack which he had already launched in his essay in the composite volume, the Betrayal of the Left, which he had published in 1941, when of course public opinion in Britain was willing to tolerate it because Russia was still bound in hostility to us by the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Now direction could only be found out by indirection. The consequence, immediately and apparently inconvenient to...
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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 rest—and were left with Orwell alone, we could still get by. For no other writer has shown us so clearly the worst tragedy of our age, worse in one respect at least than the crimes of the Nazis, for the Soviet tyranny combines with its terror the utter perversion of man's highest ideals.
The story is a detailed parallel with the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, from 1917 to 1945. The drunken farmer Jones flees from his mistreated and aroused animals, who, following the teachings of the late boar Major, set up an egalitarian commonwealth and attempt to run the farm by and for themselves. Few of them, unfortunately, are intelligent enough to do anything but heavy labor, and the direction of things gradually devolves...
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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, is initially described in terms that establish him as patriarch of this world: “He was twelve years old and had lately grown rather stout, but he was still a majestic-looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance in spite of the fact that his tushes had never been cut.” In contrasting his life with those of the less fortunate animals on the farm, Major says: “I am one of the lucky ones. I am twelve years old and have had over four hundred children. Such is the natural life of a pig.” Orwell here repeats the pattern we have seen in his other fiction, of stressing paternity as if the actual labor of reproduction were done by males. Authority comes from the phallus and fatherhood, and the sows, in fact, are hardly mentioned in...
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Crick, Bernard. George Orwell: A Life, Boston: Little Brown, 1980, 473 p.
Authorized Orwell biography; Crick was the first biographer to be granted access to Orwell's personal papers by his widow.
Fenwick, Gillian. George Orwell: A Bibliography, New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1998, 426 p.
Extensive bibliography of Orwell criticism.
Barton, Geoff. “Nature Tale.” Times Educational Supplement, no. 4134 (22 September 1995): vi-vii.
Consider the fiftieth anniversary edition of Animal Farm, its illustrations by Ralph Steadman, and the contemporary relevance of the story.
Brunsdale, Mitzi. Student Companion to George Orwell, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000, 173 p.
Provides support and instruction for those studying Orwell's works.
Byrne, Katharine. “Not All Books Are Created Equal: Orwell and His Animals at Fifty.” Commonweal, no. 123, (17 May 1996): 14.
Examines Orwell's Animal Farm on its fiftieth anniversary, Orwell's politics, and whether the story continues to be relevant.
Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters, New York: Basic Books, 2002, 211 p.
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