Posted: June 1st, 2021
Animal Farm is an allegorical fable of the workers revolt and the rise to power of the communist party in the former Soviet Union shortly after World War I and in particular the rise to supremacy of Joseph Stalin, as told in the form of a story of the farm animals of Manor Farm who overthrow the drunken farmer Jones and seize control of the farm for themselves. In this allegory, farmer Jones represents the Russian aristocracy and the animals represent the peasants, working class, and some elements of the middle class who revolted against them.
The various animals on the farm were intended by Orwell to represent the various classes and responses of individuals to power. The pigs clearly represent the ruling class and the lust for power, the ones who will go out of their way to get what they want. They also represent the intellectual class, because of their capacity to read and write. First among the pigs is Old Major, the boar who prophesizes the revolution. He is based on the political economist Karl Marx, and, like Marx, dies before the revolution occurs, but whose teachings inspired the revolution.
After the revolution, two pigs: Snowball and Napoleon, rise to prominence in the ruling pig class. Snowball was Orwell’s portrayal of the intellectual orator Leon Trotsky, who was outmanoeuvred for the leadership of the Russian communist party after the death of Lenin by Stalin, who is represented in Animal Farm by Napoleon. Snowball, like Trotsky, comes to be portrayed by the ruling forces as an anti-revolutionary figure who they claim to be working behind the scenes to undermine what happens on the farm.
Second in the social ladder of Animal Farm are the puppies, taken from their mother at birth and indoctrinated by Napoleon. They signify the elite revolutionary guard, most loyal to the leadership but who also benefit from that loyalty. Further down the ladder is Boxer, the work-horse who is very loyal to authority. The expression “work-horse” refers to a “person or machine that dependably performs hard work over a long period of time” which corresponds perfectly with Boxer and his motto: “I will work harder”.
He symbolizes the hard working peasant class, who in communist societies were always hailed by the ruling class but who were also secretly feared by them for their strength. Lower on the ladder you find the sheep. They are the ignorant ones and symbolize the uneducated, those most easily duped and fooled by power, and from whom the ruling class gain most of their authority. Finally, there is Benjamin the donkey, who represents cynicism, those who recognize corruption but do nothing to stop it and follow the current; those who go along and try not to be noticed.
Only once does Benjamin become exited, and it happens when his friend Boxer gets carried away by the glue cart and taken to his untimely death, in the same way that mister Jones would have done. Among the humans, the main characters are Mister Frederick and Mister Pilkington. They represent Germany and England respectively. They compete both for the favour of Animal Farm but both wish to undo Animal Farm. Animal Farm is partly saved by the fact that Mr. Fredrick and Mr. Pilkington don’t get along, and their conflict represent the struggles in Europe during the years of the Second World War and those leading up to it.
Mr. Fredericks attack on Animal Farm near the end of the book is a portrayal of the treachery of a pact signed between Stalin and Hitler, which lead to the siege of Leningrad. In essence, the novella deals with the way power becomes consolidated in smaller and smaller hands, until it is essentially controlled by one animal, Napoleon. After Jones is overthrown, power is shared by every animal, intelligent or not, but quickly comes to reside only in the hooves of the ruling class, better known as the pigs, then only in Napoleon’s.
It is the story of how power corrupts everything. Animal Farm is perceived, at the beginning, as an idealistic farm where power is divided into the hands of all, and the repartition of power was voted by every animal. Therefore one can argue that Animal Farm’s political power was gained in legitimate way, which means it was accepted by all the animals. Even though Animal Farm depicted an optimistic regime, it did not take long before its state deteriorated. It is easily relatable to the power in the Soviet Union at the time.
Whilst Stalin gained power in an illegal way by duping the soviet population and making Trotsky flee, he portrayed himself as the greatest thing that ever happened to the Union, and conned his people by creating a lifestyle in which everyone had equal rights and duties. Like in the Soviet Union, once power was contained by the more authoritative, in this case the pigs, it became progressively illegitimate. Putting the control in smaller and smaller hooves, the animals on the farm slowly lost power, and therefore the power became illegitimate, because it was not accepted fully by all the animals.
Although Orwell was a socialist, his novel demonstrates how for revolutions to succeed, violent men are needed to run the revolution, but once successful, these men are going to remain violent to maintain their doctrine. It is also interesting to see how the animals represent the different psychologies of individuals coming to deal with something that they believed with every fiber of their being to be good but which turns out to be totally wrong.
On the one extreme you have the sheep types, who are far too ignorant to understand what is going on, while on the other you have the Benjamin-the-donkey types who know that it is wrong but decide to go with it because they are too cynical to believe that there is a possibility of a better world. According to my edition of the book, this novella was written between November 1943 and February 1944. The siege of Leningrad, which is depicted in the novel, only ends at the end of January 1944, just a few weeks before Orwell completed his principal draft of the novella.
Also, the novella was first published in England in August 1945, just a few months after the end of World War II. The final chapter, however, begins with the sentence: “Years passed”, and tells the history of Animal Farm in the years after the battle with Frederick. What is interesting is that the first nine chapters of the novella is a fable of the history of the Soviet Union up to the end of World War II. But because the novella was published in 1945, this final chapter is Orwell’s speculation of the future direction of the Soviet Union.
In it, he draws an Animal Farm that becomes increasingly like it was before the expulsion of Jones, except even more brutal. The relationships between the pigs and the other farmers become gradually more closer, and ultimately the name of Animal Farm returns to the name Manor Farm. Clearly, the history of the Soviet Union in the cold war period is vastly different of that depicted by Orwell in the final chapter of the book; the reality of post World War II era is that the Soviet Union did not go back to being named Russia and did not denounce Marxism.
Personally, I think that while accurately predicting a ruling class that would become more and more aristocratic and less and less concerned for the welfare of its citizens, Orwell also tries to depict a Soviet ruling class that isn’t the worst ruling class, but how is it as bad as those in other countries. This becomes clear in that final scene where the pigs and the farmers start toasting each other and the farmers praise the pigs successes. The final line of the book reads, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which. ”
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