Animal Farm Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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What is George Orwell's message in the novel Animal Farm?

The novel is an allegory for the events of the Russian Revolution and, as such, its message concerns the corruption that results from power. While the animals in the story originally create an equal society, the pigs in charge, namely Napoleon, use their power to oppress the other animals, especially through propaganda and fear. Orwell's story is meant as a parallel to the rise of the Soviet Union. 

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Orwell's classic novella Animal Farm is a cautionary tale about the dangers of consolidating political power in a communist state and a warning against authoritarian regimes and dictators. Orwell's novella allegorically represents the events that transpired before, during, and after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when Joseph Stalin usurped power and oppressed the entire Soviet Union. Similarly, Napoleon usurps power in the novella shortly after the Battle of the Cowshed and develops into a tyrannical ruler, who oppresses his subjects by forcing them to work long hours while continually reducing their food rations. Orwell's message warns readers about allowing shrewd, selfish politicians to consolidate power and gradually take away civil rights and liberties. He also warns readers about the various methods of manipulation and propaganda used by authoritarian regimes to oppress and control the populace. Squealer acts as Napoleon's mouthpiece and cleverly manipulates the animals using various rhetorical devices and propaganda strategies to deceive the animals into believing and supporting Napoleon's selfish, oppressive political agenda. Orwell's novella also emphasizes the dangers of government corruption and illustrates how maniacal leaders and debased politicians can establish and create an oppressive, terrifying society, where the majority of the population lives in fear.

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Since Animal Farm is an allegory based on the problems resulting from Russian Revolution, and its subsequent oppressive communist state, one of the messages of the novel is about how power can often lead to corruption and oppression. Even when a revolution is done with the best intentions, all directed toward the greater social good, it can devolve into a government which is just as bad (or worse) than the oppressive regime which it replaced. 

Other messages or lessons of the novel include the means by which a government rules and/or oppresses its people (or animals in this allegory). When the revolution begins, it is to establish the law of the land that all animals are equal. However, over time the pigs (leaders) clearly put themselves in a higher position (under Napoleon) and this reestablishes a hierarchy (which was what the revolution was supposed to have eliminated). This hierarchy divides the animals; thus, they are no longer all equal. 

The novel also shows the ways a group/government can manipulate and brainwash its citizens through the use of propaganda. Napoleon and Squealer constantly change the seven commandments in order to suit their increasing power. By the end of the novel, the commandments read less like a document stating the equality and happiness of all animals, and it reads more like the establishment of the privileges of pigs over all animals. Napoleon and Squealer not only change the commandments (usually acting as if they had never been changed); they also change history to suit their narrative. Snowball had been the hero of the Battle of the Cowshed, but in order to praise Napoleon and criticize Snowball, Squealer gradually changes the story, eventually making Napoleon the hero of the battle. At the end of Chapter 5, Squealer says:

And as to the Battle of the Cowshed, I believe the time will come when we shall find that Snowball's part in it was much exaggerated. 

Using propaganda and fear, the novel shows how even a revolution with intentions of total equality can devolve into an oppressive state. The further message is about the tendency for power to corrupt. As Napoleon's regime gained power and privilege, the corruption increased as well. 

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Orwell was telling his readers that the tactics used by self-proclaimed "liberators" are disturbingly similar to those of the oppressors they seek to displace. In many cases, this is because their motives are the same as well.

Revolutionary leaders use tactics such as appeals to fear, unceasing propaganda, and simple brute force to seize power. Once in charge, they make up an enemy's list, launch witch hunts, and keep the society in a perpetual state of military preparedness.

We see the pigs using these methods throughout the novel. They squelch dissent by raising the specter of the farmer possible return. They create a bogeyman in the form of Snowball and execute alleged collaborators. They engineer the destruction of the windmill in order to justify their police state tactics. They shout down dissent by chanting the tribal narrative, to the point where it becomes an empty refrain.

The end result is that the population is every bit as oppressed as it was before the revolution. The only things that have changed are the names and faces of their oppressors.

Orwell was warning us that this pattern repeats itself throughout history. It will do so again, unless we think for ourselves, hold our leaders to account, and refuse to relinquish our freedoms.