George Orwell wrote Animal Farm over four months between November 1943 and February 1944, toward the end of World War II. It is a fable that, excepting certain liberties taken with chronology, references the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath. Though Orwell had never been to the Soviet Union, he wanted to impress upon Socialist Brits the understanding that the USSR could not offer the Socialist utopia that it had long promulgated. Though Stalin was an ally of the British during the war, the values of Stalin’s government were, in Orwell’s view, no nobler than those of Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan. Orwell, who had witnessed British imperialism in Burma (now, Myanmar) and acted as a volunteer soldier against Francisco Franco’s fascist government in Spain, understood how governments that promised social improvements in exchange for obedience inevitably sought to undermine public will and establish total rule.
Orwell got the idea for Animal Farm shortly after returning to England from Spain in 1937. He observed a boy flogging a cart-horse and wondered what would happen if abused animals realized their true strength and rebelled against humans. From here, he drew an analogy between this boy’s treatment of the cart-horse and the upper class’s treatment of the working classes. To ensure that the reading public would understand the complexities of communism, as well as wanting the novel to be translated easily into other languages, Orwell told the story as a fable. Originally, it was titled Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. The subtitle, which may have been influenced by Orwell’s fondness for fairy tales, was dropped in subsequent publications. Orwell’s choice to tell the story as though it were a children’s tale may also have helped the public read about the cruelest elements of Stalin’s regime—including pogroms and exile to gulags—with greater ease, as it’s far easier to imagine such things happening to imaginary anthropomorphic animals than it is to think about the humans who actually endured this suffering.
In the first few chapters, Manor Farm, an English farm first presided over by Mr. Jones, is overtaken by a group of livestock, led by a firebrand pig named Old Major—a porcine version of Vladimir Lenin. Old Major is the visionary who, in the first chapter, tells the animals that, if only they “get rid of Man,” they can claim ownership of their own labor. To maintain the purity of this vision, Old Major warns the pigs to be careful not to become like man—that is, they should never wear clothing, sleep in a house, or adopt man’s vices, such as drinking. This is rather ironic, as humans frequently reference pigs to discourage gluttonous, unsanitary, or greedy behavior among themselves. No person wants to be regarded as a pig, yet here, no pig wants to be regarded as human. However, the pigs have no sui generis mode of operation. The animals on this farm have no original ideology beyond wanting to avoid behaving like humans, and thus, the philosophy of Animalism remains hollow, only serving to define the animals against what they are not—humans.
After Old Major dies in his sleep, three days after his momentous speech encouraging their uprising, the pigs become the leaders of the farm, due to their being the cleverest. Here, Orwell subtly sets the reader up to see how easily hierarchies can form. Though the other animals accept that the pigs should lead, they also blindly follow them, unconcerned with becoming literate, which makes them depend completely on the pigs for information. This blind obedience, reinforced by a lack of education and the distraction of incessant work, illustrates how the Soviet proletariat was manipulated by those in power.
Two pigs—Napoleon and Snowball—come to power after Old Major’s death. Napoleon , who becomes a tyrant, is a stand-in for Joseph Stalin. Orwell names him after one of history’s best-known and most cunning tyrants, Napoleon Bonaparte, so that when...
(The entire section is 1,370 words.)