In Animal Farm, what does the Battle of the Cowshed show us about Snowball, Boxer, and Mollie?

Their characterizations during the Battle of the Cowshed show different things about Snowball, Boxer and Molly respectively. In Snowball's case, his depiction shows both his courage and generalship, as well as his pragmatism. Meanwhile, Boxer shows both his physical strength as well as his gentle nature, while Molly, in fleeing the battle, reveals her overall detachment from the Rebellion and its principles.

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Both during the battle and also before it, Snowball shows his capabilities as a military leader, strengths which extend beyond his battlefield exploits into the areas of preparation and erudition. This we see in his studies of Julius Caesar. In these preparations, we also get a sense of pragmatism on Snowball's part, given Snowball's willingness to learn from human example regardless of Animalism's hostility towards the human species. During the battle itself, he shows his courage and fortitude, leading the animals to victory even as he is wounded in the battle.

While Boxer shows his strength (being the strongest of the animals on the farm), he also reveals his kindly and well-meaning nature. During the battle, Boxer believes he has killed one of the humans, an act which causes him sorrow. This attitude is in stark contrast with Snowball's own ruthless and militaristic pragmatism. While the other animals are celebrating their victory, Boxer is concerned with the life he thinks he has ended.

Finally, Mollie flees the battle entirely and is later found hiding. Keep in mind here that, unlike so many of the other animals, Mollie is depicted as having preferred life as it had been before the Rebellion and thus does not have the same stake in its continued success. Thus, in this scene where the farm comes under attack, we see her refusing to come to its defense. Later, in chapter 5, we'll find Mollie fleeing the farm to return to life under human control.

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Snowball displays his military genius and commitment during the Battle of the Cowshed by developing and executing an effective defense strategy that prevents Mr. Jones and his men from retaking the farm. After studying a book on Julius Caesar's campaigns, Snowball influences Mr. Jones and his men to charge directly into an ambush. During the battle, Snowball displays his valor and tenacity by continuing to fight after being shot. Snowball never flees and charges directly towards Mr. Jones, who is hurled into a pile of dung.

In addition to Snowball's courage and grit, Boxer demonstrates his immaculate strength by kicking a stable lad from Foxwood in the skull, which leaves the boy lifeless on the ground. After Mr. Jones and his men scatter, Boxer displays his sensitive, compassionate nature by mourning the death of the stable lad. Fortunately, the boy survives Boxer's kick and flees the farm immediately. While Boxer demonstrates his sensitive side, Snowball displays his resolute personality by proclaiming,

"War is war. The only good human being is a dead one" (Orwell, 15).

At the end of the battle, the animals look for Mollie, who took cover in her manger during the entire conflict. Mollie's refusal to participate in the Battle of the Cowshed aligns with her selfish character. By refusing to fight on behalf of the animals, Mollie reveals that she is selfish and cowardly.

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Snowball shows his courage and his understanding of military tactics during the Battle of the Cowshed. He anticipates the humans will attack to retake the farm and prepares for them. When they come, he does not shy away but launches his carefully orchestrated battle-plan, starting with the pigeons and geese and moving on to the larger animals. He also tricks the humans into thinking they are retreating so that the animals can ambush them in the yard. He bravely attacks Jones, despite bullets making "bloody streaks" on his back.

Boxer also fights bravely. He shows character qualities such as not shirking from duty and great physical strength. He also reveals that he is not a strategic thinker: he kicks so hard that he kills a farmhand, which was not his intention.

Mollie shows her cowardice and lack of commitment to the principles of Animalism when she runs away during the battle and hides so she won't get hurt. The animals find her "hiding in her stall with her head buried among the hay in the manger." She cares about herself more than the larger goals of the farm, which foreshadows her eventual desertion of the other animals.

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The Battle of the Cowshed takes place in Chapter Four when Jones and his men try to recapture the farm. During the ensuing battle, the behavior of certain animals reveals much about their characters.

Snowball, for example, plans the battle tactics by reading a book on Julius Caesar's military campaigns and takes an active role in the fighting. This shows he is a natural leader and is committed to the principle of equality, as he fights alongside the other animals. His reaction to the death of the humans, however, illustrates he is a committed Animalist who still believes humans are the enemy:

War is war! The only good human is a dead one.

In contrast, Boxer's reaction to killing a human during the battle illustrates his soft and sensitive nature. He is overcome with regret and struggles to accept that his actions were justified, regardless of provocation:

I had no intention of doing that… I have no wish to take life, not even human life.

Mollie disappears as soon as the first gunshot is fired. Terrified of fighting and lacking courage, Mollie runs away from the battle and hides among the hay in the manger. She has no interest in fighting the humans, or anybody else — she simply wants peace. 

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