What is the main theme in Animal Farm by George Orwell?

The main theme of Animal Farm by George Orwell is corruption. In particular, it deals with the way in which revolutionary ideals are corrupted when put into practice and the way in which the most corrupt individuals rise to power.

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The main theme in Animal Farm is corruption. This theme is explored in various ways: in the corruption of ideals when when one attempts to put them into practice; in the way personal corruption becomes political; in the rise of the most corrupt individuals to the positions of greatest power;...

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The main theme in Animal Farm is corruption. This theme is explored in various ways: in the corruption of ideals when when one attempts to put them into practice; in the way personal corruption becomes political; in the rise of the most corrupt individuals to the positions of greatest power; and in the way power corrupts them further when they get there.

The most important and overarching instance of corruption appears in the way Old Major's vision of Animalism becomes something at least as bad as Mr. Jones's regime over the course of the book. The points made by Old Major are perfectly reasonable. The farmer does live parasitically on the work and suffering of the animals and on the eventual deaths of most of them. However, even as he exploits them, he protects them from being exploited by each other.

Orwell shows how the personal corruption of the pigs leads them to step into the power vacuum left by Jones and quickly adapt the circumstances to create existences of power and luxury for themselves. This begins even before the expulsion of Snowball when the pigs steal the apples and the milk. Snowball is not free from corruption, and there are clear indications that he would have been far from perfect as a leader. However, Napoleon ousts him, not because he is more intelligent, but because he is more ruthless and unprincipled—in other words, more corrupt.

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The weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones.                   C. K. Chesterton, Heretics

I think the above quote states pretty accurately what Orwell had in mind. Changing institutions does not change human nature, which is "the greatest difficulty of man." Some people will work hard, cooperate, and share with others, but there will always be those who don't want to work, don't want to share, and don't want to cooperate. And there will always be the ones who want to tell the others what to do. 

B. F.  Skinner's novel Walden Two is a good example of a utopian experiment in which a large commune functions perfectly because the author, a famous psychologist, ignores the differences in human character and simply assumes that everyone will live in harmony and common purpose. A different picture of a utopian commune is to be found in the infamous Jonestown Massacre, where over nine hundred people were persuaded by the monomaniacal leader to commit suicide.

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I would go along with others to suggest that one of the main themes is that absolute power corrupts absolutely, which we see once the pigs become identical to the humans at the end of the book.

But an important thing to remember is that Orwell was very purposely focusing on the individuals involved in the rise to power of the communist government in the USSR and the various contentions and problems within that government. The book is not just about power but about how the various people interacted and his view of, for example, Trotsky being driven out because he was in fact too concerned with helping the average person.

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I like the idea of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."  Orwell was really ahead of his time in understanding how the government of nations such as the Soviet Union were not really transformative in how their government functioned.  They were just better at packaging it and selling it as something distinctively different.  Orwell's depiction of Napoleon and his drive for power, the practices of consolidating it in order to ensure that there is no threat, and the reduction of individuals to atomized part whose submission will either be received or simply be discarded is reflective of the theme of power corruption, as suggested in the previous post.  At the same time, I think that another theme here is that in order to avoid this, there has to be courageous individuals, and quite a few of them, to make sure that government is responsive to the needs of its people.  The lack of a courageous figure and quite a few of them is something that allows Napoleon to get away with what he does.  The enotes analysis of the themes in the book would also be helpful to you.

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There are a number of themes that you can identify in this book.  You should follow the link to read what eNotes has to say about the themes.

To me, the major theme is that power corrupts people.  I think that Orwell is trying to tell us that even people who start out very idealistic can become corrupted.  You can see this in how the pigs start out with Old Major's vision but are exactly like the people (oppressive) by the end of the book.

I would say that another theme is that people who are idealistic end up getting exploited and then oppressed by those who are power-hungry.  I think you can see this especially in the character of Boxer.  He is very idealistic but ends up getting worked to death by the new regime (which then essentially sells his body).

 

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