What does Animal Farm's protagonist learn about society's role on the individual?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We can single Napoleon out as the antagonist of Animal Farm, but the protagonists of the story are a collective: the good-hearted farm animals oppressed by the pigs and the dogs.

Despite the high hopes the animals had at the beginning of their new society, the more intelligent pigs—and the most corrupt and ruthless of them—seize power and use propaganda to take advantage of the more innocent animals, who don't fully understand how words are being twisted into lies.

The animals experience that even Boxer, the most loyal to Napoleon and hardest worker of them all, will not get his desired retirement. Instead, he is sold to the glue factory so that pigs have can a drunken party with the money. Society on the farm ends up oppressing most of the animals and robbing them of their individual freedom. They have no economic freedom and no freedom of speech or chance to have a say in how the farm is governed. The narrator states near the end:

Their life ... was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, they drank from the pool, they laboured in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies. Sometimes the older ones among them racked their dim memories and tried to determine whether in the early days of the Rebellion, when Jones's expulsion was still recent, things had been better or worse than now. They could not remember.

However, though they learn that society oppresses them, the animals do still cling to some ideals of the rebellion, even if they have been betrayed:

And yet the animals never gave up hope. More, they never lost, even for an instant, their sense of honour and privilege in being members of Animal Farm. They were still the only farm in the whole county—in all England!—owned and operated by animals.

We learn, however, that society replicates itself. The "new boss" of the pigs becomes indistinguishable from the "old boss" Farmer Jones, even to walking on two legs and carrying a whip. Thus, it is ironic that the animals think that the farm is owned and operated by animals, when the pigs have become human.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Animal Farm, what does the protagonist learn by the end of the story?

Most sources point to either/both Napoleon or Snowball as the main characters of Animal Farm, since they are instrumental in the story.

Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar... with a reputation for getting his own way. Snowball was... quicker in speech and more inventive...

At the beginning, they are equal in their leadership, since the basic purpose for the farm is to have all animals equal. However, while Snowball remains committed to the original philosophy, Napoleon quickly figures out that all work will be divided, and so he will be expected to pull his weight alongside the others. Instead of acting directly, Napoleon works to prop himself up as an infallible leader, smarter than all the other animals. Snowball does not change; his idealism becomes his undoing, and he is driven off the farm by Napoleon's dogs (who have been trained since birth for violence and unerring loyalty), and is later used as an all-purpose scapegoat. Snowball's ultimate fate is never clarified.

Napoleon, on the other hand, understands that Old Major's philosophy cannot work without every animal being fully committed, and since he and the other pigs wish to gain the benefits without the work, he sets himself up as a dictator. By controlling the population with propaganda and fear, Napoleon can prosper while the other animals work -- they all believe that their revolution has borne good fruit instead of becoming a dictatorship. Napoleon's shift from Comrade to Ruler is clearly seen in his speech at the end of the book:

They had been credited with attempting to stir up rebellion among the animals on neighbouring farms. Nothing could be further from the truth! Their sole wish, now and in the past, was to live at peace and in normal business relations with their neighbours.
(Orwell, Animal Farm, msxnet.org)

Since Old Major's original idea was to create revolution around the country, Napoleon's words directly contradict everything the other animals have come to believe. Instead, Napoleon sets himself up as a surrogate human, and since he now knows that the animals are capable of implementing revolution, he is a harsher and more brutal master than Farmer Jones had ever been. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on