Animal Farm is an allegorical novel (allegory = figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another) that reflects events leading up to and during Joseph Stalin's rule of Russia.
As you read the book, it is important to see the correlation between the setting and the plot, and the historical events on which it is based.
These notes should give you that understanding:
Tsar Alexander II & Tsar Alexander III:
Tsar Alexander II and his wife, Empress Maria, with their son, the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia
After fighting and losing the Crimean War (1853-1856), Tsar Alexander II realized that, compared to the rest of Europe, Russia was very backward. He implemented changes aimed at modernizing Russia: freeing the peasants, improving government, education and the army, and encouraging the development of industry.
For many people, it was too little, too late and in 1881 he was assassinated.
Alexander III succeeded him, but reversed everything that his father had done.
Tsar Nicholas II:
When Tsar Nicholas II assumed the throne in 1894, he promised to give the people more civil rights, but his promises never materialized.
A portrait of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Instead, unrest began to grow and people such as Vladimir Lenin looked to the writings of Karl Marx, the founder of communism, for ways to change Russia.
In theory, communism is a social structure in which classes are abolished and property is commonly controlled. Society is free from oppression and decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made democratically, allowing every member of society to participate in the decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres.
In Russia, the first serious rebellion broke out in 1905 after troops fired on striking workers in the capital, St Petersburg. The rebellion was soon crushed and the leaders, including Lenin, went into exile.
Prava was a daily newspaper owned by the Communist Party. It was originally founded by Leon Trotsky in 1912, and was published until 1991. Pravda was the official 'mouthpiece' of the Communist Party, and announced all official policy or policy changes.
1917 edition of Pravda
World War I:
When World War I started in 1914, life for most people in Russia went from bad to worse. The railways, which had been used to bring food, fuel and supplies for industry to the cities, were now used to take troops and weapons to the war front. The economy almost collapsed and people started to go hungry.
The February Revolution, 1917:
The government did nothing to improve the situation and in March 1917 riots broke out again. This is referred to as the February Revolution. The troops were called in, but instead of shooting at the rioters, the troops actually joined in their protests. With no army to protect him, Tsar Nicholas abdicated his throne and his advisors resigned.
Sequence of events:
February 22, 1917:
Nicholas II leaves Petrograd to visit troops
International Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd
Massive strikes and demonstrations occur throughout the capital
Nicholas II orders military to stop riots
Initially, troops fire on demonstrators, but then a mass mutiny of the army begins
Firefights break out between troops and police
More than 80,000 troops mutiny and engage in widespread looting
Nicholas II abdicates the throne
A provisional government is formed
Boris Kustodiev's 1920 painting: "Bolshevik"
The October Revolution, 1917:
A temporary government was set up, with Alexander Kerensky as Chief Minister, but unrest continued. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin who had returned from exile, began to plan a take-over of government. In November they attacked the Winter Palace in St Petersburg and seized power. This is referred to as the October Revolution.
Vladimir Lenin addresses the crowds in 1917
Sequence of events:
Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee decide to proceed with revolution
Provisional government acts to shut down all Bolshevik newspapers
Bolshevik troops begin to take over government buildings in the city
Kerensky escapes Petrograd
Bolsheviks struggle all day long to capture Winter Palace
Provisional government is arrested early in the morning
Lenin issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land
Bolsheviks become the new provisional government
Lenin was aided by Leon Trotsky, who headed the Revolutionary Military Committee which provided the military muscle for the October Revolution.
The new government, led by Lenin, moved the capital to Moscow and made peace with Germany. It broke up the landowner’s large estates and gave the land to the peasants who worked on it. The workers took control of the factories and the state took control of the banks.
Bolshevik propaganda poster
Fate of the Romanovs:
Tsar Nicholas and his family were executed on the orders of Lenin on 17 July 1918. They were lined up in a basement and shot. The Tsar's daughters, Maria, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia had sown diamonds into their clothing which acted as a type of bullet-proof vest. They survived the shootings but were stabbed to death with bayonets.
The Romanovs: (Clockwise from top) Grand Duchess Maria, Empress Alexandra, Grand Duchess Anastasia, Tsarevich Alexei, Grand Duchess Tatiana, Tsar Nicholas II and Grand Duchess Olga, 1913
Not everyone agreed with the changes in Russia, however, and in 1918 civil war broke out between the Bolshevik Red Army and the anti-communist White Russians. This ended in victory for the Bolsheviks in 1921. The following year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.
Hammer & Sickle Flag
As the new Soviet government began to strengthen, Lenin's health weakened. When Lenin suffered his first stroke in May 1922, questions arose as to who would be Lenin's successor. Trotsky seemed an obvious choice since he was a powerful Bolshevik leader and the man whom Lenin wanted as his successor. However, when Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky was politically out-manoeuvred by Joseph Stalin.
From that point on, Trotsky was pushed out of important roles in the Soviet government and eventually exiled.
Lenin's body was embalmed and permanently exhibited in the Lenin Mausoleum.
Russian Dictator Joseph Stalin
In 1928, Stalin implemented the first of his ambitious Five Year Plans to rapidly develop the Soviet Union. The first plan concentrated on building up heavy industry to lay the foundation for future industrial growth.
While the first Five Year Plan encouraged industrialization, it damaged the agriculture to such an extent that it didn't recover until after World War II, 17 years later!
In the early 1930's Stalin consolidated his power by "purging" the Communist Party. Anyone who Stalin deemed a threat or a counter-revolutionary was either exiled, imprisoned or killed. Between 20- and 60-million people died in Stalin's Great Purge.
Trotsky continued to criticize Stalin in exile. He wrote that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from that of Lenin. In response, Stalin named Trotsky as the major conspirator in a fabricated plot to remove Stalin from power. In the first of the treason trials (part of Stalin's Great Purge, 1936-1938), 16 of Stalin's rivals were charged with aiding Trotsky in this treasonous plot. All 16 were found guilty and executed. Stalin then sent out henchmen to assassinate Trotsky.
World War II:
In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty, guaranteeing that neither one would invade the other. However, in June 1941, Germany went against the treaty by invading the Soviet Union under the code name: Operation Barbarossa.
It was the biggest military offensive in history, with 4.5 million troops, 600,000 motor vehicles, and 750,000 horses.
The war had an immense impact on the Soviet Union.
A total of 20 million Soviets dies, and millions more were enslaved by the Germans in work camps.
Despite early successes by the Germans, the Red Army fought back, and, aided by the bitter Russian winters, defeated the Nazi's by 1944.
The war became known as the Great Patriotic War.
Medals awarded to Soviet soldiers were the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Orders of the Red Banner and the Red Star. Stalin also introduced the Orders of Kutuzov and Suvorov.
[Sources: World History Encyclopedia, Spark Notes, About.com, Wikipedia]
Old Major is a 12-year old prize Middle White boar (male pig) who was exhibited in shows under the name Willingdon Beauty.
He is highly regarded on the farm. He is a “majestic-looking” pig who had “lately grown rather stout” and has a “wise and benevolent appearance”.
His vision of a utopia (paradise) inspires the Rebellion but he dies three days after describing his vision and teaching the animals the song “Beasts of England”.
It is likely that Orwell based Old Major on both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
Napoleon is a young boar whom Mr Jones is breeding for sale. He is “a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way.”
Cruel and brutal
Napoleon is the villain of Animal Farm. He is a corrupt and treacherous opportunist whose interest in the Rebellion stems from his how much power he can gain for himself.
“Though always present at the early meetings of the new state, Napoleon never makes a single contribution to the revolution – not to the formulation of its ideology, not to the bloody struggle that it necessitates, not to the new society’s initial attempt to establish itself. He never shows interest in the strength of Animal Farm itself, only in the strength of his power over it.” [Spark Notes]
He believes that “the education of the young was more important than anything that could be done for those who were already grown up”. He therefore takes to training a litter of puppies. However, his reasons for educating them are not philanthropic. He educates them to become his own private army or secret police, and uses them to threaten the animals and manipulate them to his will.
After driving Snowball off the farm, Napoleon consolidates his power through the propaganda of Squealer and the violent intimidation of the dogs.
He gradually changes the Commandments to suit himself and by the end of the novel, he walks upright (“Four legs good, two legs bad!”) and adopts the methods and behaviour of Mr Jones.
Orwell modelled Napoleon on the Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin.
Snowball is a young boar whom Mr Jones is breeding for sale. He is “a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but was not considered to have the same depth of character”.
Less subtle and devious than Napoleon
He is Napoleon’s rival and the original head of the farm after Jones’ overthrow. He wins over most animals and gains their trust by leading a very successful first harvest.
“Snowball emerges as a fervent ideologue who throw himself heart and soul into the attempt to spread Animalism worldwide and to improve Animal Farm’s infrastructure. His idealism, however, leads to his downfall. Relying only on the force of his own logic and rhetorical skills to gain his influence, he proves no match for Napoleon’s show of brute force.” [Spark Notes]
Snowball is eventually chased from Animal Farm by Napoleon, who trashes his reputation by spreading false rumours about him.
It is thought that Orwell based Snowball on Leon Trotsky.
Squealer is a “small fat pig … with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive. The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.”
Loyal to Napoleon
Lacks a conscience
Orwell uses Squealer to explore how leaders use propaganda to maintain social and political control.
He operates without conscience using lies, confusion, manipulation, false information and threats.
“The silver-tongued pig abuses language to justify Napoleon’s actions and policies to the proletariat by whatever means seem necessary. By radically simplifying language – as when he teaches the sheep to bleat “Four legs good, two legs better!” – he limits the terms of debate. By complicating language unnecessarily, he confuses and intimidates the uneducated, as when he explains that “a bird’s wing … is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation.”“ [Spark Notes]
In the end, Squealer is the first pig to walk on his hind legs.
“Boxer was an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high, and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work.”
Boxer represents the working class and his incredible strength, dedication and loyalty play a key role in the early prosperity of Animal Farm and the later completion of the windmill. He is always willing to help and shows much devotion to Animal Farm’s ideals.
However, he doesn’t think things through for himself and allows the pigs to make his decisions for him.
“The most sympathetically drawn character in the novel, Boxer epitomizes all of the best qualities of the exploited working classes: dedication, loyalty, and a huge capacity for labour. He also, however, suffers from what Orwell saw as the working class’s major weaknesses: a naive trust in the good intentions of the intelligentsia and an inability to recognize even the most blatant forms of political corruption. Exploited by the pigs as much or more than he had been by Mr. Jones, Boxer represents all of the invisible labour that under-girds the political drama being carried out by the elites. Boxer’s pitiful death at a glue factory dramatically illustrates the extent of the pigs’ betrayal. It may also, however, speak to the specific significance of Boxer himself: before being carted off, he serves as the force that holds Animal Farm together.” [Spark Notes]
His two mottos are: “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right”.
Mollie is “a foolish, pretty white mare who drew Mr Jones’s trap”.
Mollie misses the human beings who groomed and pampered her. She is more interested in wearing ribbons in her mane and eating sugar cubes than contributing to the work of Animal Farm, and soon leaves for another farm.
Mollie represents the middle class who fled from Russia a few years after the Russian Revolution.
“In past years Mr Jones, although a hard master, had been a capable farmer, but of late he had fallen on evil days. He had become much disheartened after losing money in a lawsuite, and had taken to drinking more than was good for him. For whole days at a time he would lounge in his Windsor chair in the kitchen, reading the newspapers, drinking, and occasionally feeding Moses on crusts of bread soaked in beer. His men were idle and dishonest, the fields were full of weeds, the buildings wanted roofing, the hedges were neglected, and the animals were underfed.”
Mr Jones represents Tsar Nicholas II.
Moses the Raven:
Moses is a “tame raven, who slept on a perch behind the back door”. Moses is “Mr Jones’s especial pet, … a spy and a tale-bearer”. He was occasionally fed “on crusts of bread soaked in beer” by Mr Jones.
Moses is also “a clever talker”. He frustrates the leaders of Animal Farm with his talk of Sugarcandy Mountain, a paradise “to which all animals went when they died”.
“The animals hated Moses because he told tales and did not work, but some of them believed in Sugarcandy Mountain, and the pigs had to argue very hard to persuade them that there was no such place.”
In the end, the pigs allow the animals to believe in Sugarcandy Mountain so that the future hope it provides counteracts the current sufferings they are experiencing.
Mr Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, treats his animals badly. Old Major, the prize boar, convinces the animals that man's tyranny is the cause of all their problems, and that they must prepare to overthrow humankind in a new system called animalism.
And among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.
Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland / Beasts of every land and clime / Hearken to my joyful tidings / Of the golden future time
Soon after Old Major's death the animals chase Jones off the farm, which is renamed Animal Farm. The Seven Commandments, which show the equality of all animals, are written on the barn wall.
So the animals trooped down to the hayfield to begin the harvest, and when they came back in the evening it was noticed that the milk had disappeared.
The animals work willingly and the farm prospers. Two leading pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, clash. Napoleon isolates nine puppies, which he trains. The pigs reserve the milk and apples for themselves.
But everyone worked according to his capacity. Nobody stole, nobody grumbled over his rations, the quarrelling and biting and jealousy which had been normal features of life in the old days had almost disappeared.
Four legs good, two legs bad.
Initially sceptical about Animal Farm, the humans become concerned that animalism will spread. They attack the farm but are defeated in the Battle of the Cowshed.
The animals decided unanimously to create a military decoration, 'Animal Hero, First Class', which was conferred there and then upon Snowball and Boxer.
A power struggle occurs between Snowball, who wants to build a windmill, and Napoleon, who opposes it. Napoleon's dogs chase Snowball off the farm and Napoleon becomes their leader. The windmill is then constructed as though it was Napoleon's idea.
At the meetings Snowball often won over the majority by his brilliant speeches, but Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times.
The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further question.
All the animals, especially Boxer, work hard to build the windmill. When the windmill is blown over, Snowball is blamed. Napoleon trades with the humans against the spirit of animalism.
His two slogans 'I will work harder' and 'Napoleon is always right', seemed to him a sufficient answer to all him problems.
[Squealer] assured them that the resolution against engaging in trade and using money had never been passed, or even suggested.
The animals endure hardship and reduced rations while the pigs, who now occupy the farmhouse, prosper. A rebellion by the hens is crushed and the dogs kill animals who confess to committing crimes against the farm. Napoleon abolishes Sunday meetins and forbids the animals to sing 'Beasts of England'.
'That is the true spirit, comrade!' cried Squealer, but it was noticed he cast a very ugly look at Boxer with his little twinkling eyes.
[The] tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon's feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood.
Frederick cheats the animals. Napoleon isolates himself and has his portrait painted on the barn. More commandments are broken. The humans attack the farm again and destroy the windmill. The pigs discover some alcohol and get drunk.
'Then we have won back what we had before,' said Boxer. 'That is our victory,' said Squealer.
Actually the Commandment read: 'No animal shall drink alcohol to excess'.
The hardest worker and most loyal supporter of Napoleon, Boxer, collapses and the pigs sell him to the knackers. They use the money to buy more alcohol.
No one stirred in the farmhouse before noon on the following day, and the word went round that from somewhere or other the pigs had acquired the money to buy themselves another case of whisky.
Years pass and, except for the pigs, the animals' lives worsen. The pigs break the last of the commandments. The farm is renamed Manor Farm. When the humans and the pigs quarrel, the animals are unable to tell one from the other.
'If you have your lower animals to contend with ... we have our lower classes.'
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Fully answer the following questions on each chapter of the novel:
Summarize the key events of the chapter in point form. Your summary should include details of the following: a) What happens? b) To whom? c) By whom? d) Why? e) With what result?
What does the chapter reveal about the characters? Look specifically at the following factors: a) What the characters think and say about themselves? b) What the characters think and say about each other? c) What their actions and reactions reveal about themselves?
What symbols are referenced in the chapter? What do they signify?
How is our understanding of the major themes deepened? Look specifically at the following factors: a) Which themes are explored in the chapter? b) Through which actions or circumstances are these themes explored?
Once we have completed the novel, complete the following Book Report on it: