In George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, what roles does Snowball play in the rebellion?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, Snowball plays a number of crucial roles in the rebellion, including the following:

  • He is one of the three pigs (Napoleon and Squealer are the other two) who

elaborated old Major's teachings into a complete system of thought, to which they gave the name of Animalism. Several nights a week, after Mr. Jones was asleep, they held secret meetings in the barn and expounded the principles of Animalism to the others.

In other words, Snowball is a political theorist, not merely a political activist.  He is a pig of ideas as well as a pig of action.

  • Snowball takes an active role in advocating, defending, and explaining the ideology he helps to concoct, as in the following exchange:

The stupidest questions of all were asked by Mollie, the white mare. The very first question she asked Snowball was: “Will there still be sugar after the Rebellion?”

“No,” said Snowball firmly. “We have no means of making sugar on this farm. Besides, you do not need sugar. You will have all the oats and hay you want.”

Snowballs’ reply continues, but the point is clear: he plays a crucial role in helping to convince the other animals that a rebellion should take place.

  • The actual rebellion itself, however, is almost an accident. Mr. Jones falls asleep and neglects to feed the animals. When some of the animals begin to feed themselves, Jones and his men retaliate, but their cruelty is self-defeating:

This was more than the hungry animals could bear. With one accord, though nothing of the kind had been planned beforehand, they flung themselves upon their tormentors. Jones and his men suddenly found themselves being butted and kicked from all sides. The situation was quite out of their control. They had never seen animals behave like this before, and this sudden uprising of creatures whom they were used to thrashing and maltreating just as they chose, frightened them almost out of their wits. After only a moment or two they gave up trying to defend themselves and took to their heels.

In other words, active, organized leadership is not the immediate cause of the rebellion; instead, sheer hunger and desperation are its causes. Snowball may have helped lay the ideological groundwork for the rebellion, but the rebellion, when it does occur, might almost be called a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion (to steal a phrase from William Wordsworth). Ideology is less important than practical needs. Snowball and Napoleon justify the need for a rebellion, and they take it over when it does occur, but they play little role in the actual rebellion itself.