How does Napoleon change over the course of Animal Farm?
The 1945 novella Animal Farm by George Orwell is an allegorical fable about power and corruption, as based on then-recent history of the Soviet Union.
The narrator introduces Napoleon in chapter 2 after old Major has shared his dream and has then passed away. After Major’s death, the animals plan the Rebellion and look to the pigs for leadership due to their status as among the smarter animals. Two leaders emerge:
Pre-eminent among the pigs were two young boars named Snowball and Napoleon, whom Mr. Jones was breeding up for sale. Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker but with a reputation for getting his own way. Snowball was a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but was not considered to have the same depth of character.
With this description, the narration introduces the novel’s main conflict: the power struggle between Snowball and Napoleon (which Orwell based on the power struggle between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin).
With additional input from a pig named Squealer, Snowball and Napoleon create the philosophy of Animalism, later distilled into the Seven Commandments. Immediately after the Rebellion, Napoleon shows goodwill to the other animals through an act of generosity:
Napoleon then led them back to the store-shed and served out a double ration of corn to everybody, with two biscuits for each dog.
At first, both Snowball and Napoleon assume the leadership role with Snowball at the forefront. Snowball shows himself to be a quick thinker and responsive to problems, such as creating the new farm sign and milking the cows. Napoleon seems to support Snowball but begins to subtly contradict his rival. When the animals begin to discuss what should be done with the extra milk, Napoleon interrupts with a distraction:
“Never mind the milk, comrades!” cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets. “That will be attended to. The harvest is more important. Comrade Snowball will lead the way. I shall follow in a few minutes. Forward, comrades! The hay is waiting.”
But when the animals return after working the harvest, the buckets of milk are gone, their eventual use for the pigs only later revealed.
This speech and subsequent action reveal Napoleon’s real character that will develop for the rest of the novel: a calculating tactician who lies, manipulates, and issues insincere appeals to patriotism through propaganda, often employing Squealer as his mouthpiece. His tactics are aimed first at undermining Snowball’s leadership and then the animals’ belief in themselves.
In contrast to Snowball, Napoleon is not interested in community organizing and transparency. Instead he uses secrecy to manipulate the animals, such as hiding the new puppies away from the others and forging relationships behind the scenes.
Napoleon’s manipulations, reversals of policy, contradictions, and outright lies regarding the windmill, Snowball’s character, and the history of the Rebellion bewilder and exhaust the animals, causing them to doubt their perceptions and experiences. If any animal falls out of line, Napoleon threatens them with dogs—the now grown puppies he had trained into becoming his personal guard who then drive Snowball out.
After Napoleon has established sole rulership, he reveals through Squealer what his real agenda is:
“Bravery is not enough,” said Squealer. “Loyalty and obedience are more important.”
In contradiction to his previous generosity regarding rations, Napoleon tells the animals that while work on Sundays is voluntary, animals who do not report for work would receive reduced rations. Now designated as the “Leader” and increasingly detached from communicating with the other animals, Napoleon sends out Squealer to justify his recent move into the farmhouse:
Again the animals seemed to remember that a resolution against this had been passed in the early days, and again Squealer was able to convince them that this was not the case.
After establishing his total control over the animals and working them into exhaustion, Napoleon parades in front of them by walking on his hind legs while accompanied by the vicious dogs. And worst of all:
He carried a whip in his trotter.
At the novel’s end, as the overworked and tired animals look into the windows of the farmhouse where Napoleon and the pigs play cards with their former enemies, they cannot distinguish between pig and man.