Animal Farm Summary

Animal Farm by George Orwell

     Published in 1945, Animal Farm is a satirical dystopian novella written by English author George Orwell, and is perhaps his best known work. An allegorical tale, Animal Farm tells a literal story - of the animals on the farm - that is intended to be representative of another situation - Stalin's rise in the Soviet Union.

     Animal Farm opens on Manor Farm, where animals are subservient to their human master, a farmer named Jones. One night an aged boar called Old Manor calls a meeting of his fellow animals, and puts forth the call that they should one day rise up in rebellion against the humans who enslave them. Old Manor suggests that once humans have been overthrown, no animal should act like a human by sleeping in a bed, wearing clothes, drinking alcohol, or engaging in trade. The meeting is concluded with old Major teaching the animals a song called Beasts of England, which becomes their anthem. When old Major dies, the pigs Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer take leadership roles, and develop old Major's teachings into a system called Animalism.

     The rebellion occurs one day when Jones and his men neglect to feed the animals for an entire day, prompting the cows to break into the store shed. When the men come in with whips, the animals fight back, and manage to chase all the humans away and bar the gate behind them. The newly liberated animals rename the farm Animal Farm, and paint the Seven Commandments of Animalism on the barn wall. Assuming leadership roles, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball argue and disagree on almost everything, while Squealer is used as their mouthpiece, justifying policies that provide special treatment for the pigs.

     With news of the successful rebellion reaching the outside world, animals across England are heard singing Beasts of England, and other farmers are concerned their own animals may attempt the same thing. Jones makes an attempt to recapture the farm, but the animals are led to victory by Snowball, in what becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed. Tensions between Snowball and Napoleon worsen over their disagreement in policy. Snowball wants to build a windmill to create electrical power, but Napoleon unleashes a pack of dogs he has been secretly raising, and they chase Snowball away from the farm. Following Snowball's expulsion, Napoleon uses Squealer to convince the other animals that Snowball is a criminal and a traitor, and Napoleon assumes control. Eventually revealing that the animals will indeed begin construction on the windmill, Napoleon uses his pack of enforcing dogs and Squealer's propaganda to begin disobeying the Seven Commandments. He engages in trade with men through a go-between named Whymper, and the pigs take up residence in the farmhouse, where they sleep in beds.

     When the windmill is midway through construction, a storm causes it to collapse overnight. Napoleon blames this destruction on Snowball, and circulates rumours that Snowball visits at night to cause mischief, distracting the animals from their lack of food and long hours of heavy labour. Wanting to quash any voices of dissent, Napoleon orders an assembly in which his dogs execute four pigs who have vocally opposed him in the past, and drags confessions out of other animals - all claiming to have been in league with Snowball - who are also executed.

     After the windmill is completed, neighbouring farmer Frederick invades the farm with armed men, and the animals retreat to the buildings. While hiding, the men use blasting powder to destroy the windmill, inspiring the animals to attack and eventually drive them away with heavy casualties on both sides. When construction is resumed again, the large horse Boxer takes on the majority of the work, taking a toll on his aging body. After being found collapsed one day, the pigs arrange to have him treated by a veterinarian in town, but the wagon that comes to take him reads "horse slaughterer". Reading this, Benjamin the donkey raises alarm, but the other animals are unable to save Boxer, and he is too weak to escape. Several days later Squealer announces that Boxer has died peacefully in the hospital, with Squealer there at his side. He assures the animals the horse slaughterer sign was simply because the wagon used to belong to one.

     Years pass, and Animal Farm has become profitable, but the animals continue to work very hard for minimal rations. Only the oldest among them remember the rebellion, and it seems a distant memory. The pigs begin walking on their hind legs, wearing clothes, and carrying whips. When Clover and Benjamin are confused by these developments, they go to read the Seven Commandments, and see that they now simply read: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

     In the novella's final scene, the neighbouring farmers come to tour Animal Farm and congratulate Napoleon on his treatment of the lower animals: they do more work and receive less food than on any other farm in the country. When the pigs and men sit down to play cards, an argument ensues when Napoleon and farmer Pilkington simultaneously play the ace of spades, revealing someone to be a cheater. The other animals look on through the windows, and see that the men and pigs have become so similar, they can't tell them apart.

     Being an allegorical novella, the characters and incidents in Animal Farm are meant to symbolize those of Stalin's rise to power in the Soviet Union. Old Major, who inspires the rebellion and the idea of all animals living free from human control, is representative of both Karl Marx, the father of Communism, and Lenin, key architect of the Russian Revolution. As Orwell was himself a socialist, Old Manor is written favourably, as his dreams and ideas are based on freedom and equality. Napoleon and Snowball are respectively representative of Stalin and Trotsky, both potential successors of Lenin. Trotsky was known for making impassioned speeches, while Stalin quietly made plans to drive Trotsky away and rise to power. As cruel leader ousted from power, Jones represents the rule of Russian royalty, and the other farm animals are the working classes who end up exploited in all scenarios. The windmill, a source of backbreaking labour that never ends up benefitting the working animals, is symbolic of Stalin's industrialization and collectivization policies, which had disastrous effects on the lives of the working class.

     These parallels all serve to highlight the novella's major theme, which is not anti-socialism or communism, but how these ideals become corrupted by those in power. Following the rebellion, the pigs quickly establish themselves as rulers who are given special privileges. Napoleon's violent elimination of all who voice opposition to his rule represents the tactics that Stalin used to gain total control as dictator of the Soviet Union, all while hypocritically claiming to be a communist leader.

     Animal Farm also deals with themes surrounding the tendency for class disparities to exist in societies. Both before and after the rebellion, there is a working class exploited by a ruling class. In the final chapter, neighbouring farmer Pilkington commends Napoleon on how much work he gets out of his "lower animals", and directly compares them to the "lower classes" of people. In particular, the animals represent a naive working class who are often confronted with evidence of their own exploitation, but decide to accept propagandized explanations - represented by Squealer's constant dispensing of misinformation.

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