What is the significance of the windmill in Animal Farm?

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The significance of the windmill in Animal Farm is that it illustrates the various ways the aristocracy manipulates and exploits the working class animals to profit from their labor. The construction of the windmill also depicts how propaganda can effectively influence the thoughts of the working class and allegorically represents Stalin's initial five-years plan to industrialize the Soviet Union. The windmill also exposes Napoleon's true intentions and underscores his tyrannical reign.

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The windmill in Orwell's celebrated novella Animal Farm allegorically represents the Soviet Union's industrialization as part of Joseph Stalin's initial five-year plan to modernize the nation. The construction of the windmill also depicts the pigs' exploitation of the working-class animals and emphasizes Napoleon's tyrannical reign. Snowball is the first to propose the idea of constructing a windmill as a way to dramatically improve the standard of living on the farm. Snowball proposes to use the windmill as a dynamo to electrically power the farm, allowing the animals to have light and heat in their stalls and giving them the opportunity to use power tools, which will shorten their workdays. Similar to Trotsky, Snowball promotes technology, while Napoleon is vehemently opposed to the idea.

After usurping power, Napoleon supports the idea of building a windmill but intends to reap the benefits of the windmill instead of generating electricity to the farm. Napoleon and Squealer manipulate the animals into constructing the massive windmill and exploit them for their labor. Boxer works tirelessly transporting heavy stones from the quarry, which negatively affects his health and well-being. Unfortunately, a strong storm knocks down the first windmill and the pigs blame its destruction on Snowball. By using Snowball as a scapegoat, Napoleon and Squealer distract the animals from their mistakes and utilize various propaganda techniques to change the narrative.

The pigs continue to exploit the animals for their labor and the animals exhaust themselves rebuilding the windmill. Eventually, the animals complete the project and name it Napoleon Mill. However, Mr. Frederick and his men blow up the windmill during an epic battle in chapter 8, which allegorically represents the Battle of Stalingrad. Towards the end of the story, the animals finally complete the windmill, which is used for milling corn to solely benefit the pigs. Milling corn makes the pigs wealthy while the other animals continue to endure the difficult conditions on the farm. In the end, the original purpose of the windmill is forgotten and its construction illustrates how the aristocracy exploits the working class.

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The windmill illustrates several aspects of life on Animal Farm. First, it shows how hard the animals work, having to adapt human equipment to their own needs and having to build the windmill on top of their other tasks. We especially see how tirelessly and cheerfully Boxer works and how dedicated he is to making the farm a success. He hopes the windmill will generate the energy needed to make the stalls more comfortable for the animals. The windmill, especially as it has to be rebuilt twice, represents the tremendous struggle and achievement of the animals.

Further, the windmill illustrates Napoleon's treachery and incompetence. He opposes the windmill at first—even though it is obviously a good idea—because it is Snowball's idea, not his own. He can't stand that another animal could have a good idea. He then treacherously runs Snowball off the farm as a traitor and adopts the idea as his own. Of course, since he has no idea what he is doing, the first windmill collapses.

The fate of the windmill shows that the most qualified and dedicated leader won't necessarily be the one who stays in power. The most ruthless of the pigs, Napoleon, wins control, not from competence or having the best interests of the farm at heart, but from being willing to be the biggest liar and strongman.

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The windmill represents technological achievement and gives the pigs a way to distract the animals with hopes of a better future.

The windmill was the future that was never meant to be.  It was easy living, and the good life.  A windmill meant electricity, and less work.  It is a fantasy and pure propaganda.

The animals had never heard of anything of this kind before, … and they listened in astonishment while Snowball conjured up pictures of fantastic machines which would do their work for them while they grazed at their ease in the fields or improved their minds with reading and conversation. (Ch. 4)

 Snowball, the idealist, had the grand idea.  He was going to make things better for the animals.  They believed it too.  He probably did as well.  The problem with ideals is that this is all they are.  Snowball’s ideals got him killed, most likely.  He is driven off the farm and used as a scapegoat thereafter.  Everything that goes wrong is blamed on Snowball. 

However, his idea of the windmill is very convenient.  Whenever the animals need a distraction, they can be building the windmill, and they won’t look too closely at what is really going on.  When the windmill gets too close to getting done, it can mysteriously be destroyed in a battle or other disaster.  This can go on indefinitely, so that the pigs are always in control, and the animals never get their freedom.  Animals resting and free would be very bad for the pigs indeed.

Notice how Napoleon was against the windmill, which Snowball painstakingly designed, when it was Snowball’s idea, until he found a way to work it to his advantage?

All of them came to look at Snowball's drawings at least once a day. Even the hens and ducks came ... Only Napoleon held aloof. He had declared himself against the windmill from the start. One day, however, he arrived unexpectedly to examine the plans. (Ch. 5)

As soon as the plans are done and Snowball presents them, Napoleon produces guard dogs to chase Snowball out.  Squealer goes into propaganda mode, telling everyone that he had never in fact been opposed to the windmill, that it had been his idea all along, and that he only pretended to be against it to get rid of Snowball.  He explains why they need the windmill, and that everyone will work hard to build it.  The dogs growl, and everyone goes along with it.

This pattern continues.  The windmill is the symbol of hope, and as long as the animals are distracted with working toward hope, they do not notice how terrible their lives actually are.  As long as they have hope to look forward to, they do not realize how hopeless their lives are.  As with many revolutions, they have simply exchanged one tyrant for another.  Animalism promised equality, but what they got was animals subjugating animals.

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Why is the windmill such an important object in the novel Animal Farm?

The windmill represents the animals' entry into the world of self-sufficiency. At first Napoleon is against it because Snowball favors it. However, once Snowball is banished, Napoleon suddenly changes his mind and is all for it. The allegory to this is Stalin's plan to modernize Russia and bring it into the 20th century. Russia was still a county using 19th century tools in a 20th century industrialized economy and in order to compete on the world markets, they had to industrialize quickly. This is why Napoleon, who represents Stalin, pushes the animals so hard in order to finish the windmill. It's also a reason the neighbors see the windmill as a threat because they don't want any more competitors in their neighborhoods.

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