Analyzing Characterization for Social Themes: When Orwell subtitled the novella “a fairy story,” he did so not because the text contains unreal creatures or magical events, but because of the flat, stereotypical characters within. The text captures the complexities of the Russian Revolution in storybook characters whose actions and motivations can be understood by readers who otherwise lack specific knowledge about that period’s history. Taking as his inspiration the simplicity and clarity of Aesop’s fables, Orwell communicates the dangers of the rise of a totalitarian dictator from the midst of a social revolution to the masses.
- For discussion: Have students compare and contrast Boxer and Napoleon as character foils. What are their different motivations, means, and ends? What does each character reveal about the role of the individual in society?
- For discussion: Extend this line of questioning to secondary characters, such as Mollie, Old Major, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick.
- For discussion: Ask students to brainstorm other historical examples that fit the characters in the book. Do the themes that they have drawn from the text apply to these other examples?
Rhetoric and the Role of Propaganda: One of Animal Farm’s frequent accolades is that it distills many years of socio-historic understanding into an easy-to-understand fable. From Old Major’s speech through Napoleon’s ascension to power, students can trace the tools modern tyrannies use to control populations. Of these tools, the most notable is the use of propaganda: biased, incorrect, or incomplete information disseminated with a specific end in mind. Through the intellectual gradient that exists among the animals, the pigs manipulate the shared history of the animal revolution for their own ends. In reading Animal Farm, students have the opportunity to study the rhetoric the pigs use to take power and the rhetoric Orwell uses to criticize the abuses of a totalitarian government.
- For discussion: As students read, have them examine the scenes in which the pigs give the other animals new information about the revolution. What rhetorical devices do Squealer, Napoleon, and the pigs use to manipulate the animals to act against their best interest? What information do they add? How does this new information affect the other animals?
- For discussion: How do the animals, other than the pigs, share information among themselves? Who do they consider credible or unreliable? Why?
- For discussion: Ask students to consider the moral complexity of Squealer’s character. To what extent is he at fault for Napoleon’s rise to power? Is he culpable for the failure of the revolution, or is he justified in acting in his own self-interest?
- For discussion: Engage students in a close reading of chapter 7, particularly the scene in which many animals confess to acting against Animal Farm and are slaughtered. Are these confessions authentic? Are they lies? Are these animals being coerced into confession? How can students tell the difference? To what extent does the truth of these confessions matter?
- For discussion: Some have argued that Animal Farm itself is an example of anti-communist propaganda. Invite students to share the extent to which they agree or disagree with this view and why.
- For discussion: What could the animals have done to have preserved the events of the revolution with greater verisimilitude? Invite students to give advice to the animals. Further, consider recording a memorable class event, challenging students to try to remember the event during the following class session accurately. Then, compare the class’ memory with the recording.
Self-Interest and Social Order: After the revolution on Manor Farm, the animals are united in organizing their farm around new principles and divide resources equally amongst themselves. As Napoleon manipulates the tenets of their new social order for his own gain, many characters exhibit a willingness to act against their own best interests: Boxer...
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