George Orwell’s classic satire is set at “Manor Farm,” later renamed “Animal Farm,” in the English countryside. Old Major is a prize boar that plants the seeds of rebellion among the animals that follow his lead due to his status and reputation:
Old Major . . . was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour's sleep in order to hear what he had to say.
In chapter 1 of the novel, Old Major gathers the animals together to relate to them his dream. He explains that “The life of an animal is misery and slavery” and blames “Man” as “the root cause of hunger and overwork.” Old Major teaches the animals to sing “Beasts of England,” which purports to bind the animals together as “Comrades.”
The first chapter of this novel is particularly significant, because Orwell outlines Old Major’s overall scheme and his plans for rebellion with a degree of specificity and concludes the unifying song with the promise “of the golden future time.” It provides a step-by-step vision of better times for ordinary animals outside the influence of Man. Understanding his dream is essential to an analysis of future betrayal by the pigs.
Chapter 2 opens with the death of Old Major and the starting point of the failure of his dream to reach fruition. While the animals initially find themselves living a Utopian existence without the interference of Man, disagreements inevitably arise among the animal populace. “Pre-eminent among the pigs [are] two young boars named Snowball and Napoleon” who vie for leadership of the community. They explain to their listeners the concept of “animalism” and set forth seven commandments for all to follow:
“THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
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.”
In chapter 3, Orwell makes it clear that only the pigs have sufficient intellect to run the day-to-day operations of the farm. The author foreshadows the difficulties that will arise as the plot progresses. The lives of the ignorant masses of animals are being directed by their leaders, and “everyone work[s] according to his capacity.” Snowball and Napoleon begin to establish their respective importance as animal leaders.
Chapter 4 clearly demonstrates the animal community’s separation from Old Major’s dream. The “Battle of the Cowshed” begins the departure from the original plans for rebellion. As the animals celebrate their victory, the heroes of the battle are divided into categories.
The animals decided unanimously to create a military decoration, Animal
Hero, First Class, which was conferred there and then on Snowball and Boxer. It consisted of a brass medal... There was also Animal Hero, Second Class, which was conferred posthumously on the dead sheep.
The differentiation clearly violated the principle that “All animals are equal.”
In Chapter 5 of Animal Farm, Napoleon emerges as the chief leader. He solidifies his hold over the decision making process through propaganda, which he continues to expand after the “Battle of the Cowshed.” As he proceeds to entrench his leadership role to a greater extent than Snowball, Orwell foreshadows the greater schism between the two as the plot advances:
Snowball declared that this was just the place for a windmill, which could
be made to operate a dynamo and supply the farm with electrical power. This would light the stalls and warm them in winter, and would also run a circular saw, a chaff-cutter, a mangel-slicer, and an electric milking machine.
Snowball's suggestion was not unanimous at Animal Farm, as “the whole farm was deeply divided on the subject of the windmill.” Orwell explains,
Napoleon, on the other hand, argued that the great need of the moment was to increase food production, and that if they wasted time on the windmill they would all starve to death. The animals formed themselves into two factions under the slogan, "Vote for Snowball and the three-day week" and "Vote for Napoleon and the full manger." Benjamin was the only animal who did not side with either faction. He refused to believe either that food would become more plentiful or that the windmill would save work. Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on—that is, badly.
Old Major's dream has died. Napoleon assumes a more totalitarian role in the government of Animal Farm, which marks the beginning of the abandonment of the “the Seven Commandments.”