Political Themes

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

The animals are presented as illustrative of the utopian dream of socialism pitted against the vices of capitalism represented by the humans in the story. Neither political ideology is presented in a favorable light, but whereas the evils of capitalism are taken for granted, it is the futility of the socialist ideal on which the work primarily focuses. Yet the means by which it levels this criticism at Communism—that is, in terms of a relatively simple and two-dimensional beast fable—does little to illuminate either the virtues or the vices of that complex ideology.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Animal Farm Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Animal Farm perhaps works best not as a specific allegory of the Russian Revolution but rather as a fable about the basic nature of human beings, both in isolation and in groups, which militates against any utopian ideal. What Orwell has seized upon is precisely those qualities of animals that humans share which make such an ideal impossible—qualities such as sloth, stupidity, fear, and greed. The central irony of the fable is that although the animals initially rebel against the humans because of behavior which humans usually call “beastly,” the animals themselves, as the work progresses, become more and more like humans—that is, more and more base and beastly.

What is most demoniacally human about the pigs is their use of language not only to manipulate the immediate behavior of the animals through propaganda, emotive language, and meaningless doubletalk but also to manipulate history, and thus challenge the nature of actuality itself. This manipulation, however, is only one primary means of the pigs’ control; another, equally important, is the threat of brute force as manifested by Napoleon’s pack of vicious trained dogs. In the final image of the allegory, the realization is that humans prove to be no better than animals, and animals prove to be no better than humans.

The great ideal of the windmill, itself a Quixotic gesture of idealism, cannot be achieved because the animals, like humans, are basically limited by their own natures, and because nature itself is blindly indifferent to the aspirations of man. Orwell’s own pessimistic view in the work seems to be echoed by the cynical donkey, Benjamin: “Things never had been, nor ever could be much better or worse—hunger, hardship, disappointment being . . . the unalterable law of life.” The law of man is the law of the jungle after all; the truth of “power corrupts” is the same as the truth of “the fittest shall survive.”

Historical Context

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1007

Ever since Orwell wrote Animal Farm readers have enjoyed it as a simple animal story. While it is possible to read the book without being aware of the historical background in which Orwell wrote it, knowing the world's situation during the 1940s adds interest to the novel. The reader understands why the political implications of the book were so important to Orwell, and is encouraged to read the book again, looking for its less obvious political and societal references. As the date of the original publication of the work becomes more remote, the historical events that preceded it lose their immediacy, but Orwell's story remains viable. In fact, Orwell emphasized the universality and timelessness of his message by not setting the story in any particular era, and, while placing the farm in England, not making that fact important.

World War II

The target of Orwell's satire in Animal Farm was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the U.S.S.R., or the Soviet Union), which at the time the work was written was a military ally of Great Britain during World War II. The book's publication was delayed until after fighting had ended on the war's European front in May 1945. When England declared war on Germany in September 1939, it would not have seemed likely that by the war's end England and the U.S.S.R. would be allies. Just a week before, the world community had been stunned by news of a Soviet-German nonaggression pact. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalm secretly worked out the agreement, while the Soviet leader publicly pursued an alliance with Great Britain and France against Germany. The pact called for the development of German and Russian spheres of interest in Eastern Europe and the division of Poland between the two countries. The world, which had for several years watched Germany's expansionist moves, was suddenly confronted with the Soviet Union sending troops into eastern Poland and several other bordering countries. In his book, George Orwell: The Ethical Imagination, Sant Singh Bal quotes Orwell on the situation: "Suddenly the scum of the earth and the bloodstained butcher of the workers (for so they had described one another) were marching arm in arm, their friendship 'cemented in blood,' as Stalin cheerily expressed it." Orwell portrays the Hitler-Stalin pact in his novel as the agreement between Mr. Frederick and Napoleon.

When the war began, Orwell and his wife were living in a 300-year-old cottage in Wallington, a rural community in southeastern England, where they raised animals and owned a store. When it appeared that Germany was preparing to invade England, the couple moved to London. Disappointed that he was unable to fight in the war against fascism, Orwell wanted to at least be in London where he might still be called on to defend his country. The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, tried in vain to bring about England's surrender with nightly bombing raids over London that continued sporadically for nearly two years. The bombings and shortages of practically every staple made life in London particularly difficult. Orwell felt compelled to stay there. According to Peter Lewis in George Orwell: The Road to 1984, Orwell told a friend, "But you can't leave when people are being bombed to hell." The writer, like most of his countrymen, suffered the loss of a family member in the war; his wife's brother, Laurence, an Army surgeon, died during the battle of Dunkirk in 1940.

The war changed when the Soviet Union was unexpectedly invaded by the Germans in June 1941. Still stung by Stalin's betrayal just two years earlier, the Allies (France, England, and—after Pearl Harbor—the United States) were nevertheless forced to join him in order to defeat Hitler. Orwell cringed at photographs of the leaders of England and the United States—Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt, respectively—and Stalin conferring with each other at the Tehran Conference held November 28 to December 1, 1943. Orwell sat down to write his book at exactly the same moment. In the preface to the Ukrainian edition of the novel, Orwell wrote: "I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages." Orwell knew he would have trouble publishing it because Stalin had become quite popular in England as the one who saved England from an invasion. Orwell couldn't forgive the Soviet leader's complicity with Hitler, or his bloody reshaping of the Soviet Communist Party during the 1930s which resulted in the death or deportation of hundreds of thousands of Russians. Orwell included these so-called purge trials in Animal Farm when the animals confess to aiding Snowball in various ways after the pig is exiled from the farm.

Although finished in February 1944, Animal Farm wasn't published until 1945, a pivotal year in world history. The war ended, but the year also included such disparate events as the first wartime use of a nuclear bomb and the approval of the charter establishing the United Nations, an international organization promoting peaceful economic cooperation. The cost of the war was staggering: estimates set the monetary cost at one trillion dollars, while an estimated 60 million people lost their lives. Nearly sixty countries were involved in the conflict, with daily life changed dramatically for those in the war zone. The war's end meant the end of rationing, but it also meant an end to the economic machinery that had produced war materials, the return of the soldiers who glutted the suddenly slackened employment market, and a dramatic increase in births in the United States, called the "Baby Boom," that would affect American society until the end of the century. The war had allowed only the United States and the Soviet Union to survive as world powers. So the end of the war brought the beginning of a Cold War, an ideological conflict pitting the Soviet Union and its allies against the United States and its allies, that persisted with varying degrees of intensity until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Social Concerns

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

During the mid-1930s, Orwell like many of his literary contemporaries became increasingly aware of the social and political concerns of the age. Clearly a turning point for Orwell, this period would ultimately define his artistic purpose and direction as a writer and simultaneously crystallize his prophetic vision of the future. Deeply affected as a young man by the social injustice he encountered in Burma, Orwell entered the decade in direct opposition to the doctrine of imperialism which fostered aristocratic privilege at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged. By 1936, this perspective would be radically altered, transforming Orwell into one of England's most prominent political writers.

Commissioned by Victor Gollancz to write a book on the conditions of the unemployed in the industrial north of England, Orwell began what was intended as a study on poverty. The result, however, was The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937, which is best described as an expose of the English class structure and the first significant identification of Orwell with the ideology of socialism. This was followed by Orwell's investigative journey to Spain and his subsequent involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Undoubtedly, this experience had a profound impact on Orwell, confirming his inherent belief in human decency and community as well as deepening his political commitment to democratic socialism. Adversely, however, Orwell returned from Spain with a fervent disillusionment with the Communist party and convinced of the impending threat of totalitarianism to the survival of intellectual freedom.

Unquestionably a literary extension of Orwell's political development, Animal Farm is most often identified as a satire on communism, or more specifically the totalitarian state of Soviet Russia and the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Orwell early recognized the ability of emerging political regimes to replace poverty with a form of security based on social and economic servitude. Committed to the preservation of intellectual liberty, Orwell further realized the inherent danger of sacrificing this ideal to governmental control. Having observed the process firsthand in Spain, Orwell understood all too well how suppression and distortion of information could deny individual freedom and political truth. Orwell's primary concern by the close of the decade was to discover the proper medium through which to communicate his message. Integrating political and artistic purpose, the beast fable proved a radical departure from his previous work but an extremely successful literary vehicle and quite possibly Orwell's most distinguished creative achievement.

Additional Commentary

During the mid-1930s, Orwell like many of his literary contemporaries became increasingly more perceptive of the social and political concerns of the age. Clearly a turning point for Orwell, this period would ultimately define his artistic purpose and direction as a writer and simultaneously crystalize his prophetic vision of the future. Unquestionably a literary extension of Orwell's political development, Animal Farm is most often identified as a satire on totalitarian communism and the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Orwell recognized the ability of emerging political regimes to replace poverty with a form of security based on social and economic servitude. Committed to the preservation of intellectual liberty, Orwell further realized the inherent danger of sacrificing this ideal to governmental control. Orwell's primary concern by the close of the decade was to discover the proper medium through which to communicate his message.

Compare and Contrast

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190

1940s: The first half of the decade is spent dealing with the hardships and turmoil caused by World War II; the second half, adjusting to a post-war economy and the new U.S. role as a world superpower.

Today: Controversy erupts over a planned $100 million World War II memorial slated to be built on a 7.4 acre site on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

1940s: The truth of rumors of Nazi atrocities during World War II were finally confirmed in 1945 as the Allied Armies liberated the remaining occupants of the Nazi death camps.

Today: The World Jewish Congress and other organizations demand a full accounting for millions of dollars in gold and other valuables looted from Jews and others killed by the Nazis in World War II that remain in unclaimed Swiss bank accounts.

1940s: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin met at Tehran, Iran, and other locations to discuss war strategy.

Today: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, U. S. presidents regularly meet with the president of Russia to discuss European security and strategic warhead stockpiles in both countries.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Style, Form, and Literary Elements

Next

Connections and Further Reading