Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 390
Of George Orwell’s six novels, the two most famous, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), were both written during the decade preceding his death. This animal fable is a political allegory of the Russian Revolution. The allegory, as various critics have demonstrated, has exact counterparts to the events and leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, the October Revolution, and the development of the Soviet Union into a dictatorship under the control of Joseph Stalin.
The animals are led by the teachings of old Major, whose historical counterpart is Karl Marx. Snowball, the theoretician, represents Leon Trotsky, and it is Snowball who organizes the rebellion against Farmer Jones, who represents capitalism. Another swine, Napoleon, representing Joseph Stalin, discredits Snowball with the help of his propagandist, Squealer. Napoleon organizes a counterrevolution with the help of his guard dogs (the state police or palace guards, in terms of the allegory) and drives Snowball into exile (as happened with Trotsky), then plays one neighbor, Frederick (Hitler), against the other, Pilkington (a Churchillian Tory), paralleling the events of World War II.
Orwell explained his motive for writing the book in a special preface he wrote for the Ukrainian edition. He intended to expose the transformation of the Soviet Union from Socialism “into a hierarchical state, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.” Ultimately, the democratic principles of Animalism as defined by old Major are redefined as the totalitarian principles of Napoleon, and the Seven Commandments are changed to accommodate Napoleon’s reign of terror, particularly the two words added at the end of one central commandment to make it read, “No animal shall kill another animal without cause.”
This barnyard fantasy demonstrates how an ideal state founded on humane principles easily can be corrupted by the real world. Brutal tyrants driven by greed and ambition may lie and cheat to achieve their own selfish ends. The novel is distinguished by its clarity of style and the apparent simplicity of its narration, which has made it a classic that can be read on one level by younger readers for its story content and on other, more sophisticated levels by those interested in its political thesis. It has become a model of political allegory, a small masterpiece that speaks eloquently to the turmoil of the twentieth century.