Animal Farm was written soon after George Orwell resigned from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1943, while he worked as the literary editor for the Tribune, in London. He had not written a novel during the three years he was with the BBC and was having an extremely hard time writing at all, with World War II in full force. Animal Farm was completed in four months. It was one year later that he found someone who would publish it and almost another year before it was finally offered to the public. Animal Farm and the book he wrote following it, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), are Orwell’s most highly acclaimed works.
An anti-Soviet satire, the book was ahead of its time. The U.S.S.R. was fighting with the allied forces in World War II, and the book was seen as an attack on the U.S.S.R. and Joseph Stalin. After World War II, the book was published. The political situation was different then, and Animal Farm appeared just as the Cold War was beginning.
Orwell called Animal Farm “the first . . . in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Animal Farm was a huge success as soon as it was published. It was established as a modern classic almost immediately. A very short book, written simply and fluently, it is a drastic departure from anything else Orwell had or would produce.
Animal Farm abounds with allegory, beginning with Old Major, who recalls Karl Marx. Every character and event may be seen as symbolic of historical Russian figures and events between the years 1917 and 1943. Orwell said the book’s purpose was “the destruction of the Soviet myth.” The flag raised by the animals, with hoof and horn, is similar to the Russian flag of hammer and sickle. Napoleon is generally likened to Stalin, and the countenance and actions of Snowball are thought to resemble those of Leon Trotsky. The name Snowball recalls Trotsky’s white hair and beard, and possibly, too, that he crumbled under Stalin’s opposition. The event in which Snowball is chased away from the farm is similar to the expulsion of Trotsky from Russia in 1929. The book is written with such sophistication and subtlety, however, that a reader unaware of Russian history might very well see it as an animal story only. Moreover, reading the book strictly to find reference to Russian history misses an important point: Orwell said the book “is intended as a satire on dictatorship in general.” The name of the ruling pig, “Napoleon,” is a reminder that there have been dictators outside Russia. Not Stalin in particular, but totalitarianism is the enemy Orwell exposes.
The problem Orwell addresses is how to combine power with ideals. How do the oppressed who rise above their oppressors manage to keep from becoming like the oppressors? With this book, Orwell gives an instance of the slave coming to resemble the master after overthrowing him. There is not a happy ending. From the beginning of the story, the dogs are against the rats, thus foreshadowing an animal government in which social justice will not be acquired.