Explain the concept of Animalism as it is depicted in the novel Animal Farm.

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As mentioned in chapter two, the term Animalism is the name Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer had given to the lesson that Old Major had taught the animals when he spoke to them at their meeting in the big barn.

These three had elaborated old Major's teachings into a complete system of thought, to which they gave the name of Animalism.

In his address to the animals, Napoleon made it pertinently clear what values and codes of conduct they should adopt to avoid resembling their greatest enemy, man, as shown by the following extract from chapter one:

I merely repeat, remember always your duty of enmity towards Man and all his ways. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil. And, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal.

After the animals' successful rebellion, what Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer then did was to further expand these basic ideas and develop a theory around them. The principles of Animalism were to be adopted and strictly adhered to by all. The concept, therefore, had theoretical and practical applications. The formulation of the seven commandments which were written on the barn wall after the Rebellion embodied the practical application of Animalism and would make it easier for the general animal public to understand. In all, the commandments stated:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. 2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. 3. No animal shall wear clothes. 4. No animal shall sleep in a bed. 5. No animal shall drink alcohol. 6. No animal shall kill any other animal. 7. All animals are equal.

No mention, however, was made of what penalties would be incurred if an animal should disobey any of these prescripts. It was taken for granted that the animals would realize the value of these rules and would adhere to them out of respect for their fellow animals, Old Major's memory and, on the whole, that it was the right thing to do. They were, after all, comrades. This, unfortunately, turned out to be an oversight as later developments would prove.  

Since the pigs assumed leadership of the farm, they formulated plans and tasks to ensure prosperity. Their initial dedication was quite admirable for they, even though they did not perform any physical labor, did well in organizing things. They were the ones, however, who clearly disobeyed the principles of Animalism when they claimed certain privileges to the exclusion of all the other animals, the first of which was to take the milk and windfall apples for themselves - an obvious disregard of the rule: All animals are equal.   

Although some animals expressed displeasure at the pigs' disobedience, they were quickly appeased by Squealer's explanation and the threat that 'Jones would come back.' There was no punishment or sanction. It soon became easy for the pigs to fool the animals into believing that whenever they broke a commandment, that it had never been what they believed. They secretly altered sections of whichever commandment they broke, such as when they started sleeping in beds. The original commandment read: 'No animal shall sleep in a bed' which Squealer surreptitiously altered to: 'No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.'  

Since the other animals lacked memory or intelligence to truly challenge the pigs, they were easily persuaded by Squealer's clever explanations. Thus began the pigs' wholesale adjustment of each commandment for their benefit. The other animals were gradually exploited more and more and were constantly hungry and tired whilst the pigs grew fat and sleek. 

In the end, the pigs, under the leadership of Napoleon, had established a dictatorship and their tyrannical rule put the other animals in an even worse position than they had been before the Rebellion. Animalism and its noble principles had been thrashed by the pigs and had been replaced by a supercilious, paradoxical and fatuous single commandment:

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.