Animal Farm

By George Orwell
(Summarized by David E. McConnell)


Preliminary observations

      This book is an allegory.  This means the book is not about some talking pigs on a farm.  It’s about what they represent or "symbolize." It’s about individuals having “visions” or “ideals” that later are corrupted by followers who distort the ideals to suit their own selfish ambitions.  Such happenings have repeatedly occurred throughout history among groups of people; especially political and religious groups (e.g., the Nazis).


      This is a story that uses animals to reflect human issues and behavior.  The book compares "types" of people to certain animals.  There are sheep (mindless followers), dogs (bullies) etc.  People’s behavior is likened to an animal’s behavior.  Over time changes in basic principles are instituted, and tactics are employed to dupe simple-minded followers—the vision is distorted into its very opposite. There is ambition, rivalry, use of propaganda and intimidation to create fear in controlling others and disposal of threats to the leadership.


      Surely in the following summary of the book it will not be hard to see in the character Jones a representation of religious apostasy.  Old Major may be viewed as a likeness to Maurice Johnson and the other animals as likenesses to other individuals in “the leadership” as well as their mindless followers; one, Benjamin the donkey, even understood what was happening.  It should be easy to see in Napoleon a likeness to Robert A. Grove and in Squealer a likeness to his lieutenants.  You’ll have to read the actual book to get the full impact of the story, but perhaps the summary below will give enough for you to see and reflect upon what has taken place in the apostate camp led by Robert A. Grove and what they have done with the vision left by Maurice Johnson.


The Story

      One night, all the animals at Mr. Jones’ Manor Farm assemble in a barn to hear old Major, a pig, describe a dream he had about a world where all animals live free from the tyranny of their human masters.  Old Major dies soon after the meeting, but the animals—inspired by his philosophy (that they call Animalism) that all animals are equal—plot a rebellion against Jones.  Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, prove themselves important figures and planners of this dangerous enterprise. 


      When Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and Jones and his men are chased off the farm.  The pigs become the supervisors and directors of the animal workers.  Snowball forms a number of Animal Committees.  Though all fail, he does prove successful at bringing a degree of literacy to the animals, who learn to read according to their varied intelligences.  Snowball changes the name of Manor Farm to Animal Farm and proposes building a windmill to provide electricity to increase efficiency.  He paints Seven Commandments of Animalism on the barn wall:


1) Whatever goes up on 2 legs is the enemy.  

2) Whatever has 4 legs or wings is a friend.

3) No animals shall wear clothes. 

4) No animal shall sleep in a bed.

5) No animal shall drink alcohol.

6) No animal shall kill any other animal.

7) All animals are equal.


Napoleon, meanwhile, focus his energy on educating the youth and takes the infant pups away from their mothers, presumably for educational purposes.  He opposes the windmill and argues that it will only interfere with food production.


      Of course, the irony of the entire episode in the barn is that the animals will eventually betray the ideals set forth by Major.  He warns, for example, that the animals must never come to resemble their human oppressors—but by the end of the novel, the tyrannical pigs are indistinguishable from their human companions.

      Initially, the rebellion is a success: The animals complete the harvest and meet every Sunday to debate farm policy.  The pigs become the supervisors of the farm.  Napoleon, however, proves to be a power-hungry leader who steals the cows’ milk and a number of apples to feed himself and the other pigs.  He also enlists the services of Squealer, a pig with the ability to persuade the other animals that the pigs are always moral and correct in their decisions.

      Squealer, as his name suggests, becomes the mouthpiece of the pigs.  His habit of “skipping from side to side” while arguing “some difficult point” dramatizes, in a physical way, what the smooth-talking pig will later do in a rhetorical sense:  Every time he is faced with a question or objection, he will “skip” around the topic, using convoluted logic to prove his point.  In short, he eventually serves as Napoleon’s Minister of Propaganda.   When the animals learn that the cows’ milk and wind fallen apples are mixed every day into the pigs’ mash they object since all animals should share; all being equal.  Squealer convinces the animals that the pigs’ greed is actually a great sacrifice explaining that the pigs need the milk and apples to sustain themselves as they work for the benefit of all the other animals.  Squealer using pseudo-logic thus portrays the pigs as near-martyrs who only think of others and never themselves.

       So the very ideals that the rebels used as their rallying cry are being betrayed by the pigs.  The fact that they do not do any physical work but instead stand behind shouting commands suggests their new positions as masters—and as creatures very much like the humans they presumably wanted to overthrow.  Napoleon’s assertion that educating the young is the most important duty of the animal leaders, rather than being an instance of altruism, simply says this to excuse his seizure of the new pups that he will raise to be the vicious guard dogs he will later use to terrorize the farm to achieve his will.

       Some animals fail to see that Major’s ideals are being betrayed and continue to work ever harder.  Such animals the pigs feel confident in controlling.  When there is no thought, there can only be blind acceptance.  The sheep are content with repeating a slogan instead of engaging in any real thought.  Napoleon makes use of them when he needs to quiet any dissention.  One animal, a donkey named Benjamin, does not endorse either pig, and their slogans have no effect on him.  He is doubtful of Snowball’s scheme and wary of Napoleon’s maneuvers, and that windmill or no windmill, life will go on as it always had gone on—that is, badly.

       Later in the fall, Jones and his men return to Animal Farm and attempt to retake it.  Thanks to the tactics of Snowball, the animals defeat Jones in what thereafter becomes known as The Battle of the Cowshed.  Winter arrives, and Snowball begins drawing plans for the windmill, but Napoleon vehemently opposes such a plan on the grounds that building the windmill will allow them less time for producing food. 

       Napoleon uses a number of “tactics” to get his way.  For example, Napoleon spends time during the week training the sheep to break into their “four legs good, two legs bad” bleating during “critical moments” in Snowball’s speeches; packing the meetings with his own unwitting supporters.  His unleashing of the nine dogs later is Napoleon’s ultimate “debating technique.”

      On the Sunday that the pigs offer the windmill to the animals for a vote, Napoleon summons a pack of ferocious dogs that chase Snowball off the farm forever.  Napoleon announces that there will be no further debates; he also tells them that the windmill will be built after all and lies that it was his own idea, stolen by Snowball.  For the rest of the novel, Napoleon uses Snowball as a scapegoat on whom he blames all of the animals’ hardships.  So Napoleon and others who rise to power often revise the past in order to keep their grip on the present and future.

       Much of the next year is spent building the windmill.  Boxer, an incredibly strong horse, proves himself to be the most valuable animal in this endeavor.  Jones, meanwhile, forsakes the farm and moves to another part of the county.  Contrary to the principles of Animalism, Napoleon hires a solicitor and begins trading with neighboring farms.  When a storm topples the half-finished windmill, Napoleon predictably blames Snowball and orders the animals to begin rebuilding it. 

       Napoleon’s lust for power increases to the point where he becomes a totalitarian dictator, forcing “confessions” from innocent animals and having the dogs kill them in front of the entire farm.  He and the pigs move into Jones’ house and begin sleeping in beds (that Squealer, Napoleon’s minister of propaganda, excuses with his brand of twisted logic).  The animals receive less and less food, while the pigs grow fatter.  After the windmill is completed, Napoleon sells a pile of timber to Frederick, a neighboring farmer who pays for it with forged banknotes.  Frederick and his men attack the farm and explode the windmill, but are eventually defeated.  The language of the commandments is revised as the commandments of Animalism are broken by the pigs.  For example, after the pigs find and consume some of Jones’ liquor one night, the Commandment,

No animals shall drink alcohol.

is changed to read,

No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.

 After the pigs move into the farmhouse and begin sleeping on the farmer’s bed, the Commandment,

 No animals shall sleep in beds.

is changed to read,

No animal shall sleep in beds with sheets.

 Squealer excuses this on the grounds that the pigs need their rest after the daily strain of running the farm.  Squealer’s explanation of why the pigs sleep in beds hinges on semantics rather than common sense:  “A bed merely means a place to sleep in” and “a pile of straw is a bed, properly regarded” are examples of his manipulation of language.

       Those who actually do threaten Napoleon’s rule are dealt with in a swift and brutal fashion.  Napoleon calls a meeting of all the animals for the purpose of publicly executing dissidents in order to make the others understand what will happen to them should they refuse one of his orders.  When the four pigs who protested against Napoleon’s decision to end the Sunday meetings are called before him, they confess to have been secretly in touch with Snowball, in the hopes of receiving some clemency from Napoleon, but they don’t.  The same technique is used by the hens, who, likewise, are slaughtered. 

       The number of other animals who confess to “Snowball-inspired crimes,” however, suggests the degree to which paranoia has gripped the animals, who now feel the need to confess things as slight as stealing six ears of corn.  The scene of these confessions echoes the Salem witch trials, where seemingly rational people suddenly confessed to having comported with Satan as a way of relieving their psychological torments.  Religious groups often create guilt and then coerce public confessions as a means of establishing power over others.  Afraid that their crimes will be discovered, the animals confess them because they are unable to stand the strain of their guilt.  The sixth commandment was changed from:

No animal shall kill any other animal.

to read:

No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.           

Thus, a minor grammatical revision permits major revision of a law that legitimizes and excuses Napoleon’s tyranny.  As Napoleon grows more powerful, he is seen in public less often. 

       The terrible atmosphere of fear and death that has now come to characterize Animal Farm is discussed by Boxer and Clover.  Boxer, naturally, concludes that he must work harder to atone for “some fault in ourselves”; like the confessing animals, he wants to purge himself of nonexistent evils.  Clover, however, does gain a small amount of insight as she looks at the farm from the knoll and considers that the terrors she has seen were not in her mind when old Major spoke of his dream.  However, since she lacked “the words to express” these ideas, her possibly revolutionary thoughts are never brought out.  With Snowball gone, none of the animals are encouraged to read—for the same reasons that slaves throughout history were similarly deprived.

      Boxer again offers his strength to help build a new windmill, but when he collapses, exhausted, Napoleon sells the devoted horse to a glue-boiler.  Squealer tells the indignant animals that Boxer was actually taken to a veterinarian and died a peaceful death in a hospital—a tale the animals believe.  Now that he is in total and undisputed control of Animal Farm, Napoleon becomes a paranoid egomaniac. 

       Years pass and Animal Farm expands its boundaries after Napoleon purchases two fields from another neighboring farmer, Pilkington.  Life for all the animals (except the pigs) is harsh.  Eventually, the pigs begin walking on their hind legs and take on many other qualities of their former human oppressors.  The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single law:  “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others.” The novel ends with Pilkington sharing drinks with the pigs in Jones’ house.  Napoleon changes the name of the farm back to Manor Farm and quarrels with Pilkington during a card game.  As other animals watch the scene from outside the window, they cannot tell the pigs from the humans.


Question:  Can you tell the difference between the apostate camp that Robert A. Grove, Incorporated leads and the incorporated denominations that surround them?  There are only two that come to my mind—the denominations admit that they have denominated themselves and, with some exceptions, generally seem less ruthless in their dealings with their flock.  It seems the vision of avoiding sectarianism has become its opposite.

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