At a Glance
- Animal Farm is a political allegory inspired by the rise of Soviet communism. The farm animals create a political philosophy called Animalism. It is idyllic at first, but is twisted and abused until it becomes a force of oppression used by the ruling class (the pigs).
- One of the most important themes in Animal Farm is that of class conflict. Old Major encourages the animals (the working class) to rebel against the humans (the upper class leaders). Their initial attempts to create a utopian society are foiled by the power-hungry Napoleon, who declares that "some animals are more equal than others" and becomes indistinguishable from a human.
- Truth becomes an important theme in the novel, particularly when Napoleon relies on the eloquent pig Squealer to spread lies in the form of propaganda. Squealer's lies manipulate the animals and consolidate Napoleon's power.
Themes and Meanings
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.
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.”
Language and Meaning
In Animal Farm, his allegory of the Soviet Revolution, Orwell examines the use of language and the subversion of the meaning of words by showing how the powerful manipulate words for their own benefit. As a journalist, Orwell knew the power of words to serve whichever side the writer backed. In the novel, Snowball is a quick talker who can always explain his way out of any situation. When the birds object to the maxim, "Four legs good, two legs bad," that the pig teaches the sheep, he explains that the bird's wing...
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