Animal Farm, first published in 1945, is an allegorical novel by British author George Orwell (a pseudonym for Eric Arthur Blair). Because the book takes aim at the policies of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, a British ally in World War II, publication was delayed until the war ended. The first edition sold out in a month, nine foreign editions were published the following year, and the book has been a brisk seller ever since. Unlike 1984, Orwell’s later anti-totalitarian novel, Animal Farm is presented in the approachable form of a fable. In deceptively simple and deeply ironic prose, Orwell tells the story of the animals of Manor Farm who work hard but are treated poorly by their drunken master, Mr. Jones. After the animals overthrow Jones and form the collective Animal Farm, they gambol about in exuberant joy; the Seven Commandments painted on the barn decree the equality of all animals and forbid the animals from taking up Man’s tyrannous ways. It’s not long, though, until the despotic boar Napoleon and his canine secret police begin to chip away at the animals’ hard-won freedoms; soon their lives very much resemble those they lived before the Rebellion, only worse. Their subjugation now comes at the hands of their fellow animals, those once sworn to be their comrades. Presenting the novel as a beast fable contributes greatly to its brilliance; the familiarity and the simplicity of the literary form belie the terror and the suffering that soon descend upon Orwell’s animals.
Orwell wrote in the Preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm that the idea for the book’s form came to him while watching a small boy whipping a giant cart-horse travelling along a path:
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.
While the cart-horse incident engendered the allegorical format, it was Orwell’s experiences in Spain fighting in the Spanish Civil War that first propelled him to write a book exposing the “Soviet Myth” to the West. Shot in the throat by a Fascist sniper and then hunted by the Communists, Orwell was lucky to escape Spain alive. As the Communist purges began in Spain concurrently with those in the Soviet Union, Orwell saw friends killed, arrested, and tortured for mere suspicion of disloyalty. A devoted British Socialist, Orwell was one of a small minority who criticized Stalin at a time when Hitler was the enemy and Stalin a British ally. Observing England’s positive reaction to the Soviet propaganda machine, Orwell felt horrified and betrayed, but it also served as “a valuable object lesson” for the author. Watching “how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries” led Orwell to write his classic satire that addresses this same conundrum. Readers may not be surprised by Napoleon’s thirst for power, but they still wince each time the animals swallow the official rubbish fed them to justify his tyranny once he gains power.
Animal Farm operates beautifully on a political level, a reaction against the West’s blind embrace of Soviet communism. Envisioning an animal utopia, the boar, Old Major, describes elemental Marxist theory: He lays out the struggle between the bourgeoisie, the property owners, and the proletariat, the workers who produce goods and perform services but neither profit nor enjoy the fruits of their labor. In Marxism, this capitalist system ends through a proletariat revolution that ushers in true socialism in its place, just as the Rebellion does for the animals of Animal Farm. In a socialist society, labor is per
formed based on need, not profit, and there is co-ownership of property; these are all tenets laid out in the foundational doctrine of Animalism. The allusions to Soviet Communist history abound, from giving Snowball a role eerily reminiscent of Leon Trotsky’s, to Napoleon’s industrialization of the farm and his own “Great Purge” of confessed spies and traitors.
Whether Animal Farm is read as a sly satire of the human condition or as a cautionary tale about totalitarian rule, there is undeniable power in the universal truths Orwell lays bare. The subtle shades of privilege and exceptionalism, as well as the rationale for their acceptance, are observed daily on an international level, and they also can be found in everyday classroom dynamics. More disturbing still is our propensity for believing what is most convenient, even in the face of clear injustice, rather than facing more difficult truths and acting on them. It is in this last capacity that Animal Farm succeeds on the highest level: This story demands that readers think.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how Animal Farm works as both a fable and an allegory.
2. Identify and discuss how the different characters are used as allegorical figures.
3. Explain how the novel addresses themes related to idealism, justice, power, and corruption.
4. Identify hierarchical or class structures among the animals in the novel, and explain how and why they shift.
5. Identify and define the forms of propaganda that appear in the novel, and explain how propaganda is used to control and manipulate the animals.
6. Explain how the author uses style and point of view to deliver the novel’s message.
7. Discuss the various ways the novel’s title can be interpreted as the novel progresses.
8. Identify how a utopian and idealistic vision can be corrupted.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
- The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the book. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
- Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
- Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
(The entire section is 450 words.)
1. How much of the mistreatment of the lower-class animals, such as the cows, horses, sheep, and hens, do you perceive to be their fault, and why? How is it that any group might overthrow the control of one oppressor only to be oppressed again?
2. In what ways does Animal Farm operate as anti-Soviet propaganda? What parallels can you find between the Soviet Union under the control of Stalin and Animal Farm under the control of Napoleon? What lessons is the novel trying to teach in developing the comparison?
3. The revolt led by the three Black Minorca pullets is quickly quashed by Napoleon and his secret guard. Construct a scenario in which the lower animals, led by the hens, are successful...
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abolished: ended, stopped
benevolent: compassionate, kindly
brood: a litter
confinements: periods when pregnant females are restricted to a space or room in preparation for giving birth
cynical: pessimistic, sarcastic
enmity: hostility, hatred
ensconced: settled, entrenched; concealed
hands high: a four-inch measurement (roughly the size of a human hand) used to calculate the height of a horse or a pony
hideous: repulsive, gruesome
knacker: a person who slaughters animals no longer fit for work and unfit for human consumption
laborious: difficult, painstaking
lest: for fear that
mincing: in a...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)
apathy: a lack of interest; unconcern
carpet bag: a traveler’s bag made of carpet fabric
castrate: to remove the male testes (reproductive organs)
contrary: conflicting, disagreeing
disheartened: discouraged, dismayed
expelled: ejected, banished
expounded: explained, talked about
gambolled: skipped, frolicked
knoll: a hill, a mound
linseed: flaxseed (a seed used especially as a source of oil)
lithograph: an authorized copy of an original work of art made with metal plates or a stone table
maltreating: mistreating, abusing
nimble: sprightly, quick
preeminent: most distinguished, having the greatest rank or...
(The entire section is 1537 words.)
conceived: imagined, considered
cryptic: obscure, puzzling
hoisting: raising, erecting
indefatigable: untiring, determined
maxim: a saying, a proverb
obstinate: stubborn, pigheaded
parasitical: freeloading, living off another’s work
propulsion: force, momentum
quarrelling: fighting, disagreeing
shirking: avoiding a job/task
1. What roles do the different animals have in harvesting the hay? In what ways is the harvest similar to or different from harvests controlled by the farmer?
The horses did the majority of the physical work, though even the...
(The entire section is 1063 words.)
conferred: deliberated; bestowed
din: a group of noises, a commotion
exploits: deeds, achievements
hobnailed: constructed with short nails (hobnails) to create durability (such as in shoe soles)
ignominious: shameful, humiliating
manoeuvre: a military move or operation; an evasive movement
monstrous: horrific, terrible
posthumously: following or occurring after death
scorn: to ridicule
smithies: the workshops of blacksmiths
stone: an official British unit of weight equivalent to fourteen pounds
1. Why don’t the surrounding farmers help Jones when he is first overthrown?...
(The entire section is 694 words.)
blithely: merrily, without a care
chaff-cutter: a machine for cutting up straw or hay for fodder
cog-wheels: mechanical gear, wheels with cogs
contemplating: considering, envisioning
disinterred: unearthed, dug up (from the ground)
disputes: arguments, quarrels
dogcart: a light one-horse carriage with two seats arranged back to back
eloquence: persuasiveness, expressiveness
fantastic: bizarre, incredible
gruff: rough, brusque, stern
mangel-slicer: a machine that slices mangels (reddish-orange beets grown chiefly as cattle food)
pretext: a pre-contrived reason for an action, an excuse determined before acting
(The entire section is 860 words.)
arable: fit for growing crops (used in reference to land)
inscribed: engraved, carved, written
malignity: malicious behavior, evil/mean action
matted: disheveled (often in regard to being covered in sweat)
perpendicularity: the state of standing exactly upright
quarry: an open excavation where building stone, slate, or limestone can be obtained
roused: stirred, revived
shrewdly: cleverly, insightfully
solicitor: a lawyer, an attorney
1. Describe the animals’ work and general mood at the farm as the chapter opens.
The animals “worked like...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
capitulated: surrendered, relented
coccidiosis: an infestation or disease caused by a parasite
countenance: facial expression
envious: jealous, covetous
expulsion: removal, the act of expelling, the state of being expelled
fidgeted: fiddled, made nervous movements
grazed: fed on growing herbage (such as grass)
hitherto: previously, up till now/then
lumbering: awkward or cumbersome (movement)
spinney: a small wood with undergrowth
stupefied: dazed, astonished
toiled: labored, worked hard
treachery: deceit, betrayal
unanimously: done while having the agreement and consent of all
(The entire section is 1206 words.)
beatifically: radiantly, serenely
censured: faulted, criticized
chinks: cracks, slits (often in a wall)
clamoured: shouted, bellowed
conciliatory: peacemaking, pacifying
cunning: sly knowledge, shrewdness
flogged: beaten, whipped
forgeries: fakes, imitations
gored: pierced, stabbed through with a horn or horns
impending: forthcoming, approaching, about to occur
magistrates: judges, officials
meddle: to interfere, to intrude in some matter
paddock: a pen, an enclosure
pensioner: a person who receives a fixed sum paid regularly (as by a government)
privy: aware of
reposed: reclined, relaxed...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
accumulated: collected, gathered
affecting: moving, touching
canter: a gait between a trot and a gallop in speed
demeanour: manner, appearance
indignantly: in the manner of feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy
lamented: mourned, grieved
littered: gave birth
piebald: composed of different colors
poultices: dressings used for medicinal/healing purposes (often made out of herbs)
readjustment: a modification, a rearrangement
stratagem: a trick/ruse in war used to deceive the enemy
superannuated: elderly, incapacitated
(The entire section is 748 words.)
bon mot: a clever remark
deputation: a delegation, a group of representatives
enquiry: a request for information
filial: of, relating to, or befitting of a son or daughter (such as in duty or obedience)
haughty: proud, self-important
imperishable: enduring, not subject to decay
indiscipline: unruliness, disorderliness
memoranda: written communications
pampering: spoiling, indulging
proprietors: landowners, landlords
rheumy: marked by a watery discharge from the eyes or nose
wireless set: a wireless radio transceiver that can send and receive messages
witticism: a clever remark...
(The entire section is 918 words.)
1. Who is described as “not of first-rate intelligence” but is Animal Farm’s hardest and most selfless worker?
2. One of the motifs of Animal Farm is propaganda, defined as
A. a national anthem.
B. the use of ceremony or ritual.
C. information or speech meant to persuade or manipulate public opinion.
D. the use of secret police to enforce a leader’s rule.
E. the use of double agents to find and punish traitors.
3. Of what does Old...
(The entire section is 1048 words.)
1. Propaganda is persuasive speech and misinformation intended to manipulate public opinion. How are various forms of propaganda employed by the pigs, and in what ways is their propaganda effective?
Animal Farm contains a surfeit of examples of propaganda. Maxims, songs, manipulative speeches, and deliberate misinformation are used to manipulate the opinions of the animals. We see propaganda used both to inspire and to control, sometimes at the same time.
In the beginning of the novel, Old Major uses a speech about his dream envisioning the “golden future time” when animals rule the earth to persuade the animals to overthrow Man. His dream contains the words to a stirring and catchy song, the tune...
(The entire section is 3311 words.)