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Orwell's Animal Farm: Summary, Characters and Themes

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  • 0:01 Touched by History
  • 1:11 Summary
  • 4:30 The Characters
  • 8:03 The Themes
  • 9:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will discuss why George Orwell wrote his novel 'Animal Farm'. We will then summarize and analyze the novel by discussing its characters and themes.

Touched by History

Take a few seconds and think about a major event in history where you felt a strong reaction. You may have felt sadness, confusion, or anger. How did you express these emotions? Did you share them with others? Not surprisingly, authors often write about historical events that have touched them. Through their novels, the authors are able to express their point of view and even shape a theme that may influence, challenge, or change our point of view to the event.

In his novel Animal Farm, George Orwell takes an event in history and interprets it to show his point of view. Animal Farm retells the story of the Russian Revolution and the rise to power of Joseph Stalin. Through his novel, Orwell hoped to show that the end result of the Revolution was a more oppressive and controlling government than the people had worked to overthrow. The characters in the novel represent the political figures of the time, and Orwell even mirrors similar actions and events.

In order to understand the characters and themes of both the Russian Revolution and the novel, we should begin by summarizing the story.

Animal Farm Summary

The novel opens by introducing us to the setting, Mr. Jones' farm, and the main characters, the animals. And, yes, the animals can talk. Old Major, an old, well-respected boar-pig calls the animals over to him to tell them about a dream that he had. He then tells the animals that they should have an uprising against Mr. Jones and the other humans. Old Major also tells the animals that they should be loyal and not drink alcohol, use money, or kill each other.

Not long after this, Old Major dies. Because they are smarter than the other animals, the pigs start to run the farm. The farmer, Mr. Jones, is again drunk, so the animals decide it is a good time to overthrow him. They successfully remove Mr. Jones, and the animals start to run the farm. This time, it is the pigs that create the rules, including no sleeping in beds, no wearing clothes, no alcohol, no killing other animals, all animals are equal, and whoever has four legs or wings is a friend.

The animals start to run the farm, controlled by the pigs. Meanwhile, the pigs are starting to use the fresh milk and eat the apples because they should be healthy to be leaders. We also start to see other animals working harder or becoming lazier. Also, the original rules start to be broken, so the animals condense their rules to one: Two legs are bad.

The other farms and farmers start to worry that their animals will also revolt. The animals decide to meet with the farmers to reassure them, but it leads to battle and some of the animals die. Following the battle, Animal Farm starts to fall apart. Some of the animals are working with other farms, while some of the animals are fighting to become the leader of the farm. Two main characters, Snowball and Napoleon, start to campaign. Snowball's speeches are strong, but Napoleon runs a better campaign. He often pulls dirty tricks to gain the support of the animals, and he is elected the leader. Once elected, he ends all meetings.

Once Napoleon is in charge, he moves into the farmhouse, makes the other animals work hard, and starts to trade with other farms. A windmill on the farm collapses, and the animals begin to starve. The animals begin to blame Snowball, although he was never elected. Napoleon starts to kill other animals that hold meetings and to steal food from others. He begins to rewrite the original farm rules and even insists that he is now called, 'Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon.' The pigs even start to dress in human clothes and drink alcohol. As the other animals continue to starve, become weaker, and even die, the pigs are living in the house and growing stronger.

In the last chapter, many years have passed. The pigs continue to run the farm, but now walk on two legs and wear clothing, making it nearly impossible to tell them apart from humans. In fact, when the animals see them in the house, playing cards with the humans, they are unable to tell the pigs and the humans apart. The animals are happy because they think they had overthrown a horrible master, but they do not recognize that the current leaders are even worse. The pigs believe all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

The Characters

Napoleon: As we learned in the summary, Napoleon comes to power after the animals decide to start a revolution. He is also very cruel and scheming. As the leader of the farm, he stops all meetings, names himself the head of all committees, and even rewrites history to make himself look better. His main motivation is power.

In regards to the Russian Revolution, Napoleon represents Joseph Stalin. Like Napoleon, Stalin often worked in secret and let others fulfill his plans. He also controlled how people saw him and often tried to rewrite history to make himself look more favorable. Finally, Stalin lived in luxury while those around him suffered and were hungry.

Snowball: In the initial rebellion, Snowball worked with Napoleon as one of the original pig leaders. However, after the first war with the other farmers, this falls apart. Snowball and Napoleon campaign against each other, and Napoleon has him chased off the farm by a pack of dogs. He then spreads rumors about Snowball, making him the enemy and blame for all problems.

Snowball is often compared to Leon Trotsky. Trotsky helped lead the Russian Revolution, just as Snowball helped the animals. Trotsky had hoped to spread Communism further, but was eventually abandoned by the Communist Party and exiled from Russia. Snowball, too, was abandoned and exiled from the farm.

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