How do symbols function in Animal Farm and what do they reveal in the novel as a whole?

Expert Answers
kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Animal Farm, Orwell uses a number of symbols to draw the reader's attention to the inequalities which plague the farm and to reinforce some of his key themes. 

Sugarcandy Mountain, for example, is an important symbol in the book which first appears in Chapter Two. It is described as "animal heaven;" an afterlife in which animals never work and can eat sugar lumps which grow on the hedges (see reference link). By positioning this symbol at the beginning of Chapter Two, before the revolution takes place, Orwell uses Sugarcandy Mountain as a sort of "utopia" for the animals in which they can dream of a better life beyond the tyranny of Mr Jones (see reference link). It is interesting to note that Sugarcandy Mountain also appears in Chapter Nine of the novel, just after Napoleon is proclaimed the President of Animal Farm. In this respect, Orwell uses Sugarcandy Mountain to represent the desperation and misery of the animals under Napoleon and to make the important point that their lives are no better than they had been under Mr Jones. To put it bluntly, the revolution has failed to live up to its expectations. As the narrator comments: 

Their lives now, they reasoned were hungry and laborious; was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else?

Similarly, Orwell uses the barn to symbolise the hopes and dreams of these repressed animals. In Chapter Two, for instance, the barn is used as a canvas for the Seven Commandments, in which all animals are proclaimed equal and humans are identified as the enemy. The barn is also the setting for Old Major's speech (in Chapter One) which inspires the animals to revolt in the first place. But Orwell also uses the barn to demonstrate how the hopes and dreams of the animals are crushed by the supremacy of the pigs. This begins when the pigs move out the barn, in Chapter Six, and begin sleeping in the farmhouse (another symbol of inequality). Later, in the final chapter, the animals read Napoleon's amended commandments on the wall of the barn. Here, they learn the extent of Napoleon's brutal dictatorship: that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.