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.
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.
Squealer: a pig that works directly with Napoleon and presents his ideas to the public. Squealer is great at taking facts and then spinning them to make the poor decision sound right. He also works well playing on the other animals' weaknesses and is responsible for helping rewrite history to make Snowball look like the guilty party. Above all else, Squealer is very ambitious to gain more power. He does this by twisting the facts and aligning himself directly with Napoleon. The critics are not really sure who Squealer represents in the Revolution but probably just the idea of media and propaganda in general.
Boxer: a horse that is very strong, hardworking, but not that bright. He is warned in the beginning of the novel that strength alone cannot keep him safe. Throughout the novel, Boxer worries that the farm is falling apart, but he is not smart enough to piece all the events together. Eventually, he works so hard that he is injured trying to save what is left of the farm. The pigs send him away to be slaughtered. Boxer represents the working class. He follows the party blindly, without question, and just continues to work to gain favor with them.
Mollie: An arrogant, pretty, and materialistic horse that often seeks ribbons and bows. After the revolution, she is a poor worker that shows up late and leaves early. Eventually, she leaves the farm to be taken care of by the humans. She is never spoken of again. Mollie more than likely represents the middle class. While they did not argue against the Revolution, they also did not want to help. When asked to give up their luxuries, many of them left Russia, much as Mollie left the farm and would not give up her ribbons.
Clover: A motherly horse that is close friends with Boxer. She does question the pigs, but she is not able to read and cannot point out the rules, which allows the pigs to manipulate her. She is also not a good speaker and has a difficult time expressing herself. When Boxer is led off to be slaughtered, she wishes she could help him but cannot. She eventually follows the pigs, simply because she does not know how to do differently.
The main theme of the novel is the desire for power. This desire is closely related to the second theme of corrupt politics. The animals in the story, particularly Napoleon, want more power. This starts with the idea of the revolution, but eventually leads the pigs to want even more power and less equality. The pigs become corrupt and change the rules, kill the other animals, and eventually become the humans that they wanted to revolt against.
The novel also explores the theme of class system. The ruling class, the pigs, take advantage of the other classes, even stealing from them. The middle class follows the pigs until they are asked to give, and then they abandon the farm. And the working class is shown as not that smart and working themselves to death for the ruling class. The class system is dangerous, particularly how naïve the working class is. Clover is unable to speak against the rulers and Boxer keeps working in hopes of impressing them. If the working and middle class do not question authority, there is a danger.
George Orwell's novel Animal Farm tells the story of farm animals that revolt against the farmer. Following the revolution, the pigs take power over the other animals and the farm begins to fall apart. The pigs grow stronger in power while the other animals suffer and work for them. At the close of the novel, the pigs have become the humans that they originally worked against.
The novel retells the story of the Russian Revolution. The animals represent the major political figures at this time, and many of the events in the novel are similar to the Russian Revolution. The novel is a warning of too much power and political corruptness. It also warns of the danger of a working class that does not question authority and how quickly this authority can become evil.
Upon finishing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Summarize the plot, characters, and themes of George Orwell's Animal Farm
- Explain how Animal Farm represents the Russian Revolution, as well as who or what each character represents