In George Orwell's Animal Farm, what does old major's skull represent in Russian history?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To answer this question, remember that Orwell intended the character of Old Major to mirror that of Vladimir Lenin. Just like Lenin inspired and led the Bolshevik Revolution, Old Major developed the rebellion against Mr. Jones. Without Old Major, life on the farm would never have changed, because the animals would never have realized their oppression.

As such, displaying Old Major's skull represents what happened in Russia when Lenin died in 1924. Instead of being buried, Lenin's body was put on display in a specially constructed mausoleum. This was done so that the people of Russia could come and pay their respects to their deceased leader. 

So, by putting Old Major's skull on display, the animals pay homage to his contribution, just as the Russian people did with Lenin in 1924. The only key difference is that Napoleon removes Old Major's skull, an act symbolic of his total power. In contrast, Lenin's body can still be viewed in his Russian mausoleum.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Most animals in Animal Farm represent real people from the Russian Revolution and the USSR. Old Major, for example, is a combination of the founder of Marxism/communism, Karl Marx, and an integral member of the Russian Revolution and early leader of the USSR, Vladimir Lenin. Correspondingly, the boar's skull represents Lenin's embalmed corpse.

When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, his body was preserved and placed in a mausoleum for thousands of Russians to visit. The Russian people begged for the body to remain on exhibition, and it has been to this day. We can assume that the body was preserved as a symbol of communism and to promote its principals, ultimately further enabling the Russian government's complete control over its people.

Similarly, Old Major, the father of Animalism and the instigator of the rebellion, was a symbol for the principals of Animalism. He motivates the animals to rebel when he stated, "Is it not crystal clear, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?" (11). Therefore, when he died, the pigs dug up his skull and kept it on display, marching the animals past it whenever they concluded a meeting. They used it as a sort of propaganda to control the animals and to keep them from questioning the pigs. After all, wasn't Animalism Old Major's idea? 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial