Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Animal Farm opens as Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, drunkenly locks the animals away and goes to bed. As soon as Mr. Jones leaves, all the animals hurry to the big barn. Word has spread that Old Major, a well-regarded prize white boar, has had a strange dream and wishes to communicate it to the rest of the farm animals. Once all the animals have gathered in the barn, Old Major sits on a platform and begins to discuss the suffering they endure on the farm. He points out that the animals are forced to slave away all day long for only meager rations of food. The horses are deprived of their foals, the chickens are deprived of their eggs, and the cows are deprived of their milk. All the products of the animals’ labor are stolen, Old Major claims, by man. As if this is not bad enough, as soon as the animals outlive their usefulness, they will be brutally slaughtered. Declaring that “all animals are comrades” and “all men are enemies,” Old Major tells the animals that one day, there must be a rebellion against human cruelty. When the animals manage to finally overthrow man, they will find freedom and riches. Inspired, the animals take a vote and decide that all animals, even wild ones outside the farm, are comrades. Old Major cautions the animals that even if they should successfully overthrow their human owners, they must take care to never become like humans themselves. Specifically, they must never live in a house, sleep in a bed, wear clothes, drink, smoke, touch money, or trade. Finally, Old Major reveals that his strange dream was of a future where man has disappeared, and he says this dream made him recall a song from his childhood titled “Beasts of England.” He teaches this song to the animals, and they all enthusiastically begin singing along. They only stop singing when Mr. Jones hears the commotion and fires a warning shot toward the barn.
On a superficial level, Animal Farm is a story about talking farm animals who dream of a better life. However, Animal Farm—which Orwell called “a fairy story”—has a secondary and more symbolic meaning. The story is both a political and a moral allegory that draws inspiration from real historical events, namely the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent era of Stalinism. The animals in the story are anthropomorphic, meaning that they exhibit human characteristics, such as the ability to talk and think like a person. Several of the animals represent real historical figures associated with the Russian Revolution: The philosophical Old Major represents both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, two men who touted the theory of communism as the means by which the economically oppressed working classes would eventually rise up to create an egalitarian society. Most of the animals on the farm are analogous to the poor, uneducated Russian peasant class, whose interests the leaders of the Russian Revolution claimed to represent.
By presenting his message indirectly through the medium of a fable, Orwell is able to give his ideas a broader and more universal application. Though the story of the animals on Manor Farm parallels real events in twentieth-century Russia, Orwell’s political critique extends far beyond that particular country. Written near the end of World War II, Animal Farm is intended to be a critique of the totalitarian regimes that Orwell saw coming to power all over the world—in Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as in Russia. By making the main characters of the story nonhuman, Orwell creates a necessary distance that serves to highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of the real human behaviors exhibited by the...
(The entire section is 940 words.)