According to old Major, what is the nature of life like for all animals on the farm?
Early in Chapter One of George Orwell’s 1945 allegorical tale of revolution and repression Animal Farm old Major, “the prize Middle White boar” and the most respected animal on the farm, announces that he wishes to address the other animals. The myriad species of farm animals having assembled out of deference to this wise old sage, Major declares that his life is drawing to a close and he does not wish to die without addressing the repressive atmosphere in which the animals have lived. Before declaring that the time for revolution against the owner of the farm, Mr. Jones, has arrived, the boar first describes the nature of life for animals under the tyrannical control of farmers throughout England:
"Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.”
Animal Farm represented Orwell’s view of the perversion of legitimate revolution by a small cadre of apparatchiks and the replacement of one tyranny with another. His model was Russia and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Orwell’s point was that the people of Russia had legitimate grievances against the Romanov Dynasty (i.e., the czar) and that the latter’s overthrow in 1917 was therefore warranted. As Animal Farm progresses, Orwell develops the theme of Napoleon’s (read: Stalin’s) ascent among his fellow revolutionaries/animals at the expense of his main rival, Snowball (read: Leon Trotsky). All of that aside, however, Major’s view of the nature of life on England’s farms before the revolution was decidedly bleak and the conditions warranted violent redress.
At the beginning of the novella, old Major gives an impassioned speech persuading the animals on Manor Farm to revolt against Mr. Jones. Old Major begins his speech by speaking about the nature of life on the farm. Old Major tells the animals that their lives are miserable, laborious, and short. He mentions that they are given just enough food to survive, worked until they can no longer stand, and are slaughtered the second that they cannot contribute to the farm. The nature of life on the farm for the animals is bleak, unfulfilling, and tragic. Old Major also tells the animals that none of them knows what it's like to be happy or have leisure time. He proceeds to explain how Man is the cause of their misery and slavery.