In George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, what is the role of Snowball in the "Battle of the Cowshed"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, Snowball (who is modeled on Leon Trotsky) plays some very important roles in the Battle of the Cowshed. This battle symbolizes the conflict, during but especially after the Russian Revolution, between the Bolsheviks and their opponents (and their opponents’ allies; for more on this matter, see the links below).

Snowball’s roles in the conflict are various and include the following:

  • He is both a tactician and an effective military leader. When the long-expected attack occurs, the narrator reports that

Snowball, who had studied an old book of Julius Caesar's campaigns which he had found in the farmhouse, was in charge of the defensive operations. He gave his orders quickly, and in a couple of minutes every animal was at his post.

  • Snowball orders the first attack.
  • Snowball actually exposes himself to real danger by personally taking the lead in a second attack by the animals upon the humans.
  • Snowball gives the signal for a strategic retreat, which he had obviously planned beforehand.
  • Once the strategic retreat has been successful, Snowball himself heroically leads the counter-attack:

Snowball now gave the signal for the charge. He himself dashed straight for Jones. Jones saw him coming, raised his gun and fired. The pellets scored bloody streaks along Snowball's back, and a sheep dropped dead. Without halting for an instant, Snowball flung his fifteen stone [that is, his heavy weight] against Jones's legs. Jones was hurled into a pile of dung and his gun flew out of his hands.

Snowball, then, is wounded in the battle, and it is he himself who defeats the main enemy.

  • When Boxer regrets having apparently killed a boy during the battle, it is Snowball who stokes his resolve:

'No sentimentality, comrade!' cried Snowball from whose wounds the blood was still dripping. ‘War is war. The only good human being is a dead one.'

Snowball can speak with such conviction and authority because he has obviously himself suffered in the battle (unlike Napoleon, modeled on Joseph Stalin, who is nowhere to be seen).

  • When an animal killed in the conflict has to be buried, it is Snowball who pays her proper respects during her burial. Likewise, it is Snowball who draws the broader lesson from this event:

At the graveside Snowball made a little speech, emphasising the need for all animals to be ready to die for Animal Farm if need be.

In short, Snowball’s contributions to the battle are genuinely heroic and worthy of respect – a fact that makes his later expulsion from animal farm, and the denial of his heroism, seem all the more ironic.