At a Glance

  • Animal Farm is a satirical political allegory that recasts the Russian Revolution with animals in place of humans. Old Major is Vladimir Lenin. Napoleon and Snowball correspond to Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky respectively. After the communist revolution, Stalin exiled Trotsky just as Napoleon exiles Snowball.
  • Orwell uses dramatic irony in scenes where the reader knows more than the animals, such as when Squealer claims that Boxer died in a hospital while receiving the best medical treatment. In reality, Napoleon sent Boxer to a glue factory to be slaughtered.
  • Orwell draws on traditional fairy tales, folktales, and fables in Animal Farm. He subtitled the novel "A Fairy Story," indicating that the narrative has fantastical elements that nevertheless impart an important moral lesson, like traditional fairy tales do.


(Novels for Students)

Point of View
The third-person point of view traditionally used for fables and fairy tales is the one Orwell chooses for Animal Farm, his tale of an animal rebellion against humans in which the pigs become the powerful elite. The storyteller in this case, as is also typical of the fable, tells the reader only what is needed to follow the story and the bare minimum about each character, without overt commentary. Orwell focuses on the bewilderment of the simple beasts—the horses, birds, and sheep—in the face of their manipulation by the pigs, eliciting sympathy from the reader.

Animal Farm takes place at an unspecified time on a British farm near Willingdon, a town that is mentioned only in passing. The farm is first called Manor Farm, later renamed Animal Farm and, finally, Manor Farm once more. Manor— which can mean the land overseen by a lord, the house of a lord, or a mansion—associates the farm with the upper, or ruling, class. Orwell focuses entirely on activities taking place at the farm, except for a brief scene in Willingdon when Jones asks his neighbors to help him. By keeping a narrow focus, Orwell makes the location in England unimportant.

The narrator in the novel functions as a storyteller, telling a fable Orwell gives the fable ironic overtones by using a naive narrator, one who refuses to comment on events in the novel that the reader understands to be false. After Muriel tells Clover that the fourth commandment of Animalism reads, "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets," the narrator declares: "Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it was there on the wall, it must have done so." Both the reader and the narrator know the truth of the matter—that the words of the commandment have been changed—but the narrator does not admit it. The tension between what the narrator knows but does not say and what the reader knows is dramatic irony.

Dramatic Irony
With dramatic irony an audience, or reader, understands the difference between the truth of a situation and what the characters know about it, while the characters remain ignorant of the discrepancy. For instance, Squealer explains that the van in which Boxer was taken to the...

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The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A prize-winning boar named Major has a dream that he shares with the other animals of Manor Farm one night after the drunken farmer who owns the farm, Mr. Jones, has fallen asleep. Major advises the animals to reject misery and slavery and to rebel against Man, “the only real enemy we have.” The rebellion, on Midsummer’s Eve, drives Mr. Jones and his men off the farm.

Major draws up Seven Commandments of Animalism to govern the newly named Animal Farm, stipulating that “whoever goes on two legs is our enemy,” that “all animals are equal,” and that they shall not wear clothes, sleep in beds, drink alcohol, or kill any other animal. The pigs quickly assume a supervisory position to run the farm, and two of them, Snowball and Napoleon, become leaders after the death of old Major. Factions develop, and Napoleon conspires against Snowball after the animals defeat an attempt by Mr. Jones and the neighboring farmers to recover the farm at the Battle of the Cowshed.

Snowball is a brilliant debater and a visionary who wants to modernize the farm by building a windmill that will provide electrification. Two parties are formed, supporting “Snowball and the three-day week” and “Napoleon and the full manger.” Meanwhile, the pigs reserve special privileges for themselves, such as consuming milk and apples that are not shared with the others.

Napoleon raises nine pups to become his guard dogs. After they have grown, his “palace guard” drives Snowball into exile, clearing the way for Napoleon’s dictatorship. Napoleon simplifies the Seven Commandments into one slogan: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” With the help of Squealer, his propagandist, Napoleon discredits Snowball’s bravery and leadership in the Battle of the Cowshed and claims as his own the scheme to build a windmill. Every subsequent misfortune is then blamed on Snowball.

Thereafter, the animals work like slaves, with Napoleon as the tyrant in charge. Gradually the pigs take on more human traits and move into the farmhouse. Before long, they begin sleeping in beds and consuming alcohol. Napoleon organizes a purge, sets his dogs on four dissenting pigs who question his command, and has them bear false witness against the absent Snowball. He then has the dogs kill them, violating one of the Seven Commandments, which are slyly emended to cover the contingencies of Napoleon’s rule and his desires for creature comforts.

Eventually, Napoleon enters into a political pact with one neighboring farmer, Pilkington, against the other, Frederick, whose men invade Animal Farm with guns and blow up the windmill. Working to rebuild the windmill, the brave workhorse Boxer collapses. He is sent heartlessly to the glue factory by Napoleon, who could have allowed Boxer simply to retire. All the principles of the rebellion eventually are corrupted and overturned. Finally, the pigs begin to walk on their hind legs, and all the Seven Commandments ultimately are reduced to a single one: “All Animals Are Equal, but Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” The pigs become indistinguishable from the men who own the neighboring farms, and the animals are no better off than they were under human control.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Manor Farm

Manor Farm. English farm at which the entire novel is set. When the novel opens, it is called Manor Farm and is run by a farmer named Jones. These names indicate that this farm stands for any farm, or any place, and that the entire novel should be read as an allegory. However, since Orwell wrote in the introduction to the Ukrainian edition that he wanted to expose the Soviet myth, Animal Farm also stands for the Soviet Union in particular. When the animals take over the farm, they rename it Animal Farm; when the pigs revert to the name Manor Farm in the final pages of the book, the complete failure of the animals’ revolution is indicated. No animal leaves the farm unless it is a traitor (Molly), declared an enemy of the state (Snowball), or sold to the enemy to be killed (Boxer). When they do leave, the animals rewrite history. Animal Farm is like the Soviet Union in having its own official history that serves the purposes of its rulers.

Orwell’s love of animals and his practice of raising his own vegetables and animals are clear in his loving description of the farm; his socialist politics come through in his sympathies with the animals as real workers and in his descriptions of the barn.


Farmhouse. House in which Jones originally lived. Like the farm, the farmhouse is perfectly ordinary, until the animals drive the humans from what the humans see as their rightful place. The farmhouse symbolizes the seat of government; no real work is done there. When the pigs move into the farmhouse, it is a sign that the revolution will fail. The novel closes with the other animals, the workers, watching through the windows of the farmhouse as the pigs meet with Mr. Pilkington to toast the renaming of Animal Farm as Manor Farm. This symbolizes the tendency of rulers to ignore the abuses suffered by the common people in all countries, British socialism’s betrayal of the worker in particular, and how the animals/workers are always excluded from gatherings of their leaders.


Barn. Originally an ordinary barn used for work, shelter, and storage. Under the rule of the animals, the barn becomes a meeting place, a place to resolve disputes, and the place where all legitimate political decisions are made. The barn is where all the real work is done, and it is where the revolution is born. The laws of Animal Farm are painted on the side of the barn.


Foxwood. One of farms bordering Manor Farm. Foxwood is described as large and neglected, with run-down hedges. It represents England, with its substandard military and ill-kept borders. Its clumsy but easygoing owner Mr. Pilkington symbolizes British politicians.


Pinchfield. Another of the neighboring farms. Pinchfield is described as smaller and better kept than Foxwood. It symbolizes Germany; its owner, Mr. Frederick, stands for Hitler. Pinchfield and Foxwood put pressure on the animals’ revolution, are threatened by it, and threaten it in turn. Jones asks for help after the animals’ rebellion, and the farmers reject his plea, as the nations of Europe rejected the pleas from the displaced czars. The business deals between farms symbolize the political deals in which the Soviet Communists sold out their own people.

Sugarcandy Mountain

Sugarcandy Mountain. Imaginary utopia in the preachings of Moses, the raven. Sugarcandy Mountain is animal heaven. Moses is useful to Jones because he preaches a dream beyond this life and keeps the animals pacified, but Moses leaves when the animals actually try to establish a utopia on earth. At the end of the book, he is not only back, but actively supported by the pigs. This indicates that the idea of heaven is threatening to real revolutionaries, but that tyrants find it useful for their subjects to have another realm about which to dream.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Ever since Orwell wrote Animal Farm readers have enjoyed it as a simple animal story. While it is possible to read the book without...

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The novel takes place on Manor Farm, which is renamed Animal Farm after the animals expel Mr. Jones, the farmer, from its grounds. It is a...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Throughout his career, Orwell is generally considered to have matured both creatively and perceptively as a writer, yet he never warranted...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

An extremely disciplined writer, Orwell consistently used language to enhance the development of plot while providing insight into thematic...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

During the mid-1930s, Orwell like many of his literary contemporaries became increasingly aware of the social and political concerns of the...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Discuss the pig's idea of "animalism." What happens to this theory as the novel progresses?

2. Why is the windmill such an...

(The entire section is 136 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1940s: The first half of the decade is spent dealing with the hardships and turmoil caused by World War II; the second half, adjusting...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Discuss the pigs' idea of "animalism." What happens to this theory as the novel progresses?

2. Boxer and Clover, the two...

(The entire section is 182 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Research the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its origins. What similarities do you see between it and the events in Animal Farm? Are...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research a current political scandal on the state, local, or national level, or one from the past (such as Watergate or Tammany Hall)....

(The entire section is 101 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Similar in thematic content to Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four is both an indictment of political oppression and a vigorous attack...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Katharine Byrne, "Not All Books Are Created Equal: Orwell & His Animals at Fifty," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXin, No. 10, May 17,...

(The entire section is 559 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Gardner, Averil. George Orwell. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Gives information on Orwell at the time of writing Animal Farm and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of meaning and symbols as they apply to Russian history. Includes some criticism that Animal Farm received at its publication.

Hammond, J. R. A George Orwell Companion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Features pictures of Orwell spanning his career and gives an extended reference to characters and events of Animal Farm as they compare to historical Russia. Considers the evolution of Orwellian philosophy through his novels and essays.

Hollis, Christopher. A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works, 1956.

Hunter, Lynette. George Orwell: The Search for a Voice, 1984.

Kalechofsky, Roberta. George Orwell. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. Has an extended section on Animal Farm about the corruption of the seven commandments of animalism and compares the themes of Animal Farm as similar to those of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Lee, Robert A. Orwell’s Fiction, 1969.

Meyers, Jeffrey. A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell. Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams, 1977. Gives a detailed account of the political allegory of Animal Farm, specifically with Russian history.

Norris, Christopher, ed. Inside the Myth: Orwell, Views from the Left, 1984.

Williams, Raymond. George Orwell. New York: Viking Press, 1971. Includes several quotes from Orwell and the criticism he received for Animal Farm. Also explains the difficulties Orwell went through in trying to find a publisher.

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Animal Farm was adapted as a film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor and released in 1955.

Animal Farm was also...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's National Book Award-winning The Uses of Enchantment (1976) examines the characteristics of the...

(The entire section is 126 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Atkings, John. George Orwell: A Literary Study. London: Calder, 1954; Reprint. A Literary and Biographical Study, New York:...

(The entire section is 196 words.)