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; 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 main theme of George Orwell’s Animal Farm is the usurpation of political power by ruthless leaders. The twentieth century saw multiple legitimate revolutionary movements fall victim to conflicts among the revolution’s leaders, with the most cunning and ruthless leaders often emerging on top. Animal Farm depicts one such revolution, using allegory to depict Joseph Stalin's rise to power after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Replacing real historical figures with animal counterparts, Orwell shows how easily corrupt leaders can exploit revolutionary sentiment to seize power.

The book begins with Old Major, a venerable but aging boar, introducing his fellow farm animals to the theory of Animalism, thus providing a philosophical basis for revolting against their cruel human owner. After successfully wresting control of the farm from Mr. Jones, the animals aim to create a utopian society where all animals are equal and free from the tyrannical oppression of their human masters. Things begin to fall apart, however, as the pigs, led by the cunning and ruthless Napoleon (representing Joseph Stalin), slowly take control on the farm. After a brief power struggle, Napoleon maneuvers his way to the top and chases away his idealistic political rival Snowball (representing Leon Trotsky). Under Napoleon’s repressive rule, the pigs proceed to selfishly exploit the other animals and violate the core principles of Animalism. In the end, the animals' collective dreams of a better life are crushed, and they are left no better off under the pigs than they were under Mr. Jones. This, then, is Orwell’s main theme: the subversion of legitimate revolutionary movements by autocratic and manipulative leaders.

Another major theme in Animal Farm is the power of language to manipulate the masses. The pigs—Squealer in particular—cleverly use language and propaganda to distort the truth and obscure their self-serving actions. The core principles of Animalism, including the commandment that “all animals are equal,” are all eventually subverted by the pigs for their own benefit. The following passage demonstrates Squealer’s use of rhetoric to legitimize Napoleon’s autocratic methods:

“Comrades," he said, "I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

The pigs’ manipulations continue until, at the end of the novel, the original commandments painted on the barn have been replaced by the edict that “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.” This meaningless doublespeak, which is intended to confuse the animals and obscure the otherwise obvious hierarchy on the farm, demonstrates how language can be successfully used as a tool of oppression.

Another related theme is the control of information and exploitation of ignorance. As the pigs consolidate power, they are increasingly able to control what the other animals see, hear, and read. This allows the pigs to more easily manipulate the other animals, who are uneducated and generally unwilling or incapable of researching issues for themselves and arriving at informed conclusions. The ignorance of the animals on the farm ultimately proves to be their greatest weakness, leaving them unable to challenge the pigs’ leadership until it is too late.

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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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Some of the prominent themes that Orwell explores in the novella Animal Farm are the dangers of consolidating government power, the manipulation of language and meaning, and the corrupting influence of power. Orwell's novella can be perceived as a critique of communism and a warning against consolidating government power. In a communist system of government, the authority and power of the nation are consolidated at the top, which can easily become corrupted and used to oppress the populace. Orwell also explores the way that authoritarian regimes mislead and control the citizens by manipulating language and utilizing various forms of propaganda. The most obvious examples of propaganda are illustrated by Napoleon's expertise in manipulating language, his using Snowball as a scapegoat, and his revising the Seven Commandments. Napoleon's tyranny also portrays how power can corrupt an individual. As soon as Napoleon usurps power, he begins to act like a ruthless tyrant, executing political dissidents and oppressing the population while he enjoys exclusive privileges and lives in luxury.

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Orwell's Animal Farm starts with a set of ideals that are set forth one night by a boar named Major. Unfortunately, Major dies three nights later.

Major's ideals, however, are picked up by the animals to which he had explained them and used as the springboard for a revolution in which the animals overthrow their human masters.

Unfortunately, as Orwell's novel progresses, we see that the pigs, who had been masterminds of the revolution, become corrupt and argue with one another. By the end of the novel, the pigs become allies of the humans whom Major had declared as enemies of the animals at the novel's outset.

Thus, Orwell seems to be predicting that over time the original ideals of a movement will become corrupted and forgotten. Thus, in the final lines of the novel, Orwell writes:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

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