Animal Farm George Orwell
See also 1984 Criticism and George Orwell Criticism.
(Pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair) English novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm, which was published in 1945.
Animal Farm (1945) is considered one of Orwell's most popular and enduring works. Utilizing the form of the animal fable, the short novel chronicles the story of a group of barnyard animals that revolt against their human masters in an attempt to create a utopian state. On a larger scale, commentators widely view Animal Farm as an allegory for the rise and decline of socialism in the Soviet Union and the emergence of the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Critics regard the story as an insightful and relevant exploration of human nature as well as political systems and social behavior. After its translation into Russian, it was banned by Stalin's government in all Soviet-ruled areas.
Plot and Major Characters
The story opens as the barnyard animals of Manor Farm discuss a revolution against their master, the tyrannical and drunken farmer Mr. Jones. Old Major, an aging boar, gives a rousing speech in the barn urging his fellow animals to get rid of Jones and rely on their own efforts to keep the farm running and profitable. Identified as the smartest animals in the group, the pigs—led by the idealistic Snowball and the ruthless Napoleon—successfully plan and lead the revolution. After Jones and his wife are forced from the farm, the animals look forward to a society where all animals are equal and live without the threat of oppression. But soon, the pigs begin to assume more power and adjust the rules to suit their own needs. They create and implement an ideological system, complete with jingoistic songs and propaganda as well as strict rules. Once partners and friends, Napoleon and Snowball disagree on several issues regarding the governing of the farm. Snowball's attempted coup is repelled by a pack of wild dogs—controlled by Napoleon—who also enforce punishment against the other animals when they oppose or question Napoleon's rule. Before long, the pigs separate themselves from the other animals on the farm and begin to indulge in excessive drinking and other decadent behavior. Under the protection of the dogs, they consolidate their iron-fisted rule and begin eliminating any animal they consider useless or a threat to their power. Animal Farm ends with the majority of the animals in the same position as in the beginning of the story: disenfranchised and oppressed under a corrupt and brutal governing system.
Critics note that like many classical animal fables, Animal Farm is an allegory—in this case, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin's tyrannical government. It is generally accepted that Orwell constructed his story to reflect this purpose: Manor Farm represents Russia; Mr. Jones is the tsar; the pigs represent the Bolsheviks, the bureaucratic power elite; Snowball is Leon Trotsky, who lost a power struggle with Stalin; Napoleon is Stalin; and Napoleon's dogs are Stalin's secret police, known as the GPU. The corruption of absolute power is a major theme in Animal Farm. As most of the animals hope to create a utopian system based on the equality of all animals, the pigs—through greed and ruthlessness—manipulate and intimidate the other animals into subservience. Critics note that Orwell was underlining a basic tenet of human nature: some will always exist who are more ambitious, ruthless, and willing to grab power than the rest of society and some within society will be willing to give up power for security and structure. In that sense Animal Farm is regarded as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the pitfalls of revolution.
Animal Farm is regarded as a successful blend of political satire and animal fable. Completed in 1944, the book remained unpublished for more than a year because British publishing firms declined to offend the country's Soviet allies. Finally the small leftist firm of Secker & Warburg printed it, and the short novel became a critical and popular triumph. It has been translated into many languages but was banned by Soviet authorities throughout the Soviet-controlled regions of the world because of its political content. As a result of the book's resounding commercial success, Orwell was freed from financial worries for the first time in his life. A few years after its publication, it attracted critical controversy because of its popularity amongst anticommunist factions in the United States; Orwell was alarmed that these forces were using his short novel as propaganda for their political views. In the subsequent years, Animal Farm has been interpreted from feminist, Marxist, political, and psychological perspectives, and it is perceived as an important and relevant book in the post-World War II literary canon. Moreover, it is considered one of Orwell's most lasting achievements.
After the rebellion on Manor Farm and the banishment of Mr.Jones the animals set up seven guidelines in which to govern themselves by, known as the “Commandments”. All the animals on the farm help devise and inscribe them on the side of the barn to ensure their visibility to all. The pigs manipulation of these commandments to gain control over the other animals is an evidence of the power of language manipulation demonstrated in the novel. To begin, the pigs broke the commandment “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy” and through the use of powerful speech justify their actions to the other animals. “Napoleon announced that he had decided upon a new policy. From now onwards Animal Farm would engage in trade with neighbouring farms: not of course, for any commercial purpose but simply in order to obtain certain materials which were urgently necessary.” (Orwell 42). The animals were in agreement that from the expulsion of Mr. Jones that Animal Farm would never communicate with anything that had two legs, primarily human beings. In order to gain more materials for building the windmill and financial revenue for themselves, the pigs made the decision to start selling eggs to a market in Willingdon. Though this is contradictory to what the animals originally put forth in the commandments the pigs persuade them that it was essential to their very existent to make some form of communication with the world around them. The other animals were quite skeptical of this proposal but the convincing mannerism in which the pigs argue their survival based on trade with humans brought unchallenged acceptable of their decision. Second, the pigs also alter the fourth commandment “No animals shall sleep in a bed” so they could live inside of Mr. Jones’ old house and when questioned by the other animals; the pigs re-interpret the commandment’s actual meaning. “You have heard, then comrades,’ he said, ‘that we pigs now sleep in the bed of the farmhouse? And why not? You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds? A bed merely means a place to sleep in. A pile of straw in a stall is a bed, properly regarded. The rule was against sheets, which are a human invention.” (45- 46). Through the manipulation of language Squealer cleverly convinces the animals that a human bed is no different than that of an animal bed. He goes to justify his action by stating they sleep without sheets and therefore compile with the fourth commandment. Once again the animals are permissive to this because of the pigs’ careful use of words and ability to manipulate the meaning of the commandments in their favor. Finally, the power of language exploitation is demonstrated through the pigs disobeying and rewriting the sixth commandment, “No animal shall kill any other animal”. “Squealer read the commandment to the animals. It ran: “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.’ Somehow or other the last two words had slipped out of the animals’ memory, argued Squealer “The commandment had not been violated; for clearly there was a good reason for killing the traitors who has leagued themselves with Snowball” (61). Once again the pigs have abhorred to the rules and then found means to justify their action through words. Carefully “stringing a web of lies” with their words, the pigs trick the other animals into believing that “without cause” had always been a part of the sixth commandment and the animals were foolish to ever question the intelligence of a pig. Elise Durham, book critic, supports this perspective by asserting, “The horrific execution that follows are in direct contradiction of the original sixth commandment, but due to the pigs’ cunning linguistic skills the killing of other animals by pigs went unpunished.”  However not only are the pigs’ ability to manipulate the often vague meanings of each commandment attributed to their power of language, but also their ability to convince the other animals of the presence of an evil force responsible for all the problems on the farm.
After the revolt on the farm, all major decision making was turned over to the most intelligent animals on the farm, the pigs and their leaders, Napoleon and Snowball. They often disagreed on many issues concerning the farm until Napoleon expelled Snowball from the farm via guard dogs and took control of the farm and it inhabitants. However even after the disappearance of Snowball, through the use of persuasive language the pigs still find a way to blame him for any misfortune the farm may encounter. To begin, the pigs blame Snowball for destroying the windmill in which the animals labored so long to build. “Comrades,” he said quietly, ‘do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL! He suddenly roared in a voice of thunder” (47). It was clear that the terrible storm the night before could be attributed to the windmill being destroyed; however the pigs were able to persuade the animals, even in his absence that Snowball was responsible for its destruction. Christian Ballesteros, literary analyst, agrees with this agreement by stating, “A natural mishap would have been portrayed as an omen over their farm and ideology; however the idea of an evil presence working against the farm would only make the animals work more diligently and look for guidance from their all-knowing leaders, the pigs.” Next, the pigs convince the animals that their terrible crop season is because of Snowball. “The wheat crop was full of weeds, and Squealer had somehow discovered that on one of his nocturnal visits Snowball has mixed weed seeds with the seed corn.” (65). In reality the farm is suffering from disorganization and the corruption of the pigs hording profits for alcohol, which resulted in no wheat seeds being bought. Instead of explaining this otherwise selfish behavior to the other animals, the pigs convince them that their “perfect” harvest was being deliberately afflicted by Snowball. To protect their own interests in money and power, the pigs misinform the other animals with persuasive speeches to prevent them from revolting against their control and creating the illusion that the farm is still successful. Finally, after the Battle of the Cowshed, the pigs discredit Snowball of his medal, Animal Hero, First Class, for fighting bravely during the battle. “The animals now also learned that Snowball has never- as many of them believed hitherto- received the order of ‘Animal Hero, First Class’ (65). Before his expulsion the animals regarded Snowball as both a scholar and a gentleman and had grown skeptical about many terrible accusations which were insinuated him. Through the propaganda ability of Squealer and the other pigs, they were able to persuade the animals that Snowball had never received “Animal Hero, First Class” which had made him famous and admired by all. Through discrediting this award from Snowball the pigs successfully removed any association of Snowball with a hero and could therefore use him a “scape goat” for any problems without questioning from the other animals. Though the pigs’ blatant abuse on the behalf of Snowball’s name went unnoticed, an even greater manipulation of other situations by the pigs proved to only be possible due to their wit and verbal communication to create the illusion of their integrity and selflessness.
Throughout the novel, the animals are plagued with numerous problems when attempting to run their own ostracized farm. The pigs however, often find ways for themselves to benefit from the peril of the other animals but through the command of language create the illusion of altruistic and virtuous behavior on their behalf. First, the pigs convince the animals that Napoleon’s new dictatorship was not something Napoleon wanted, but was essential for the survival of the farm. “Comrades,” he said, “I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility” (37). Though Napoleon’s new position has given him all the wealth and control of the farm the pigs have disguised this with arguments of works and pressure which Napoleon must endure. Angelo Christonea, college English professor, supports this view by convincingly arguing, “Napoleon’s ascension as a dictator is clearly a selfish move to elevate the pigs’ standard of living on the farm but through the use of rhetoric made to appear as a noble act.” Second, the pigs deceived the animals about their contributions toward Boxer’s murder to appear innocent and benevolent.
“It had come to his knowledge, he said, that a foolish and wicked rumour had been circulated at the time of Boxer’s removal. Some of the animals had noticed that the van which took Boxer away was marked ‘Horse Slaughterer,…….It was almost unbelievable, said Squealers, that any animal could be so stupid. Surely, he cried indignantly, whisking his tail and skipping from side to side, surely they knew their beloved Leader, Comrade Napoleon, better than that! Squealer went on to give further graphic details of Boxer’s death- bed, the admirable care he had received and the expensive medicines for which Napoleon had paid without a thought as to the cost…..” (84).
The pigs indecent regard for their fallen comrade and shameful disposal of him would have appalled the other animals. However Squealer’s clever speech and storytelling left the animals astonished by Napoleon’s apparent heroic actions. Finally, the pigs assert their selfish hording of the extra apple and milk ratios are essential to the farm’s prosperity.
“Comrades!” he cried “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milks and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well- being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. (. 23).
The withholding of these extra ratios is a perfect example of the pigs’ selfish intentions and corruption from the very beginning. Their manipulation of language creates the appearance that the pigs only require the extra ratios to make the farm a better place for all; however this is far from the truth. They have through words convinced the other animals of their need for the apples and milk due to their “excess intelligence” as to not comprise their appearance of innocent and altruism.
In conclusion, Animal Farm, provides a very important lesson for all who read it. It shows that the true intent of some can often be shrouded with clever rhetoric and captivating speech, often leading the masses into confusion and vulnerability. Although the characters in the novel were animals and could be considered unintelligent, the novel conveys that we humans are no better when it comes to exploiting one another with the power of words, “As we starred through the window it was no question now. The animals outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which” (95).
 Durham, Elise. “The Seven Commandments of Animal Farm.” 123HelpMe. 2000. 17 Dec 2008 <http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=15455>.
 Ballesteros, Christian. “Animal Farm Essay.” Literature Network Forums. 2005. 17 Dec 2008 <http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=9049>.
 Christonea, Angelo . “Absolute Power in “Animal Farm”.” Book Rags. 12 09 2005. 16 Dec 2008 <http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/8/1/225342/5601>.