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About the Author; Overview; Setting; Themes and Characters; Literary
Technique; Historical and Social Context; Topics for Discussion;
Questions; Related Titles and Adaptations
I About the Author
Born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, Bengal, India, on June 25, 1903,
George Orwell was the son of a British civil servant and belonged to
what he considered "the lower-upper-middle class". He returned to
England with his mother in 1905 and attended preparatory school before
winning a scholarship to Eton College, where he first demonstrated an
apparent animosity towards convention and authority. Orwell decided
against continuing his studies at either Oxford or Cambridge and
instead enlisted with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, a decision
that would permanently affect his philosophical perspective, political
consciousness, and creative legacy.
Orwell returned to Britain in 1927, ostensibly on leave after serving
overseas for five years. Within a month of his arrival he had resigned
from his post, announcing to his parents his intention of becoming a
writer. Attracted to a bohemian, artistic lifestyle, he travelled to
Paris in 1928, where he lived for 18 months. He started a career in
journalism in Paris, but did not fully realize his literary potential
until after his return to Britain. His work began to appear in the
journal Adelphi, most notably with the publication in 1931 of his
enduring and masterful essay "A Hanging". His first book, Down and Out
in Paris and London, was rejected by several publishers, including T.
S. Eliot of Faber and Faber, before it was accepted by Victor Gollancz
and released under the pen name of George Orwell in January 1933. As a
result, Orwell continued to use this pen name for the remainder of his
life and literary career, although he never legally changed his given
As a work by a relatively unknown author, the book received unusually
high praise from critics, but it was commercially unsuccessful and
Orwell found the experience disheartening. Undaunted, he earned his
livelihood as a journalist while continuing to publish both fiction
and non-fiction. At this point Orwell left Britain to observe and
fight in the Spanish Civil War, where he was later seriously wounded,
necessitating his return home in 1938. That year, Orwell wrote about
the experience with horrific realism and perception in Homage to
In 1939 Orwell published Coming Up for Air, the first of his novels to
attain commercial success. This personal triumph, however, was soon
overshadowed by the outbreak of World War II. Excluded from military
service for health reasons, Orwell was nonetheless active in civil
During the war years Orwell came up with the idea for Animal Farm, a
novel that was initially rejected by British and American publishers,
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Soviet Union, then a military ally. When Animal Farm finally appeared
in May 1945, however, it met with unprecedented public attention. As a
result, Orwell achieved overnight recognition and financial
In 1947 Orwell settled on the island of Jura off the west coast of
Scotland. Here, although physically ill and increasingly pessimistic
about the state of the world, he completed Nineteen Eighty-Four, a
work of immense critical and cultural importance. The novel was
published in 1949 just months before Orwell's premature death from a
tubercular haemorrhage on January 23, 1950.
Conceived and written as a satire, Animal Farm is generally
acknowledged as presenting many of Orwell's views on humanity and
politics. The novel relates the overthrow of a farmer's tyrannical
rule by the animals in his barnyard and the animals' abortive efforts
to establish an "egalitarian" society. Clearly alluding to political
events in Russia from the Revolution to World War II, Animal Farm
primarily attacks the extremes of Stalinism, yet goes beyond to
dissect the anatomy of revolution and the lure of power. The weighty
political implications of the novel, however, are deftly interwoven
into a fantastic tale of animals that talk, walk on their hind legs,
write laws, spout propaganda, and commit crimes, all in the name of
equality. Once the animals have attained freedom and begun to organize
the farmyard themselves, it becomes obvious that the depiction of
their behaviour is a parody of human political and social hierarchies.
The novel takes place on Manor Farm, which is renamed Animal Farm
after the animals expel Mr Jones, the farmer, from its grounds. It is
a typical barnyard, except that the animals have assumed the farmer's
tasks. Their aspirations are high; they write seven commandments on
the wall of the barn, including "All animals are created equal", and
"Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy", and thus stake their claim.
They build a windmill—an object of much contention—which later has to
be rebuilt several times after being destroyed by a storm and then by
a band of farmers with dynamite. Initially, the animals pledge to
preserve the manor house as a museum, but as the power structure
becomes more unbalanced, the pigs move into the house and it becomes
their domain. The farmhouse symbolizes the new totalitarian rule of
the pigs and is indicative of the "revised" commandment: "All animals
are created equal but some animals are more equal than others." By
restricting all the action to the farmyard, Orwell creates a microcosm
IV Themes and Characters
Modelled on a relatively simple premise, the novel begins as the
animals of Manor Farm unite against farmer Jones to overthrow his
tyrannical rule. Understandably ecstatic over their sudden and rather
unexpected good fortune, the animals create a new order for the future
based on equality and equity. The paint is hardly dry on their
barnyard manifesto, however, when the hated forces and attitudes that
triggered their revolt begin to re-emerge, eventually destroying their
dream of emancipation. Orwell passes judgement on the outcome of
revolution, comparing the ideological promises made in its name with
the reality of their application.
In essence, Orwell does not condemn revolution but agonizes over the
betrayal of its ideals. Possessing superior knowledge, the pigs assume
leadership of the farm, taking a first step towards replacing the
tyranny of the past with a new and more terrifying threat for the
future. The pigs learn to control the means of communication and
literally create their own truth to dispense to the inhabitants of the
farm; this is perhaps the most pessimistic aspect of the novel. In the
end, pigs are indistinguishable from farmers and the ideals of the
revolution seem distant in the face of terror, manipulation, and
The idea of revolution appears in a dream to old Major, a pig renowned
for his wisdom and benevolence. But as the dream becomes reality,
responsibility falls on the two most "pre-eminent" pigs, Snowball and
Napoleon. Thinly disguised, the pigs represent the principal figures
behind the emergence of the Soviet Union—Major and Snowball are Lenin
and Trotsky, and Napoleon is Stalin.
Although a clear distinction is made at the beginning of the novel
between Jones, as the representative human, and the community of
animals inhabiting the farm, the focus quickly shifts to the animals
once Jones has been overthrown and specifically to the rivalry that
develops between Snowball and Napoleon.
The novel follows the ruthless Napoleon in his quest for individual
power. Driving Snowball into exile, Napoleon imposes his oppressive
authority on the animals through the manipulation of language, as
demonstrated by Squealer, the voice of the revolution who is capable
of turning "black into white", and the menacing presence of a private
army of fierce watchdogs capable of enforcing adherence to his regime.
The failure of the revolution is largely the result of self-defeatism,
cynicism, and the inability of the animals either to recognize or
resist the oppression imposed on them by Napoleon. Even the basic
goodness of the animals, as characterized by the horse Boxer, a symbol
of strength, self-sacrifice, and trust, cannot prevent the demise of
idealism into blind allegiance and delusion.
V Literary Technique
An extremely disciplined writer, Orwell consistently used language to
enhance the development of plot while providing insight into thematic
concerns. This is especially true in Animal Farm, an imaginative
examination of the interaction of language and political method.
Written in a pure, subtle, and simplistic style, among Animal Farm’s
strengths are its use of descriptive imagery and its clarity of
purpose. Although the novel begins with a relatively light tone,
throughout the course of the story the mood gradually becomes more
menacing. Coming full circle, the novel ends with a tremendous sense
of futility and loss as even the memory of the revolution fades into
quiet and passive oblivion.
Orwell conceived of Animal Farm as an allegorical beast fable, drawing
on a literary convention attributed to Aesop dating from the 7th
century BC. The beast fable was intended to satirize human folly and
provide moral instruction. Orwell was undoubtedly influenced by the
work of the 17th-century French writer La Fontaine and in his own
century by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book and Just So Stories.
Orwell was working in the tradition of the 18th-century satirists
Dryden, Swift, and Pope. Animal Farm is consistently and appropriately
compared to Swift's Gulliver's Travels as having the capacity to
entertain the reader while also pointing an accusing finger at the
limitations of human kindness and decency. In the 20th century, satire
is generally employed in fictional narrative, as it is in Animal Farm,
to criticize with the ultimate goal of improvement. In this capacity,
Orwell joins the company of Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley, as well as
the American writers Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis.
VI Historical and Social Context
During the mid-1930s Orwell, like many of his literary contemporaries,
became increasingly preoccupied with the social and political concerns
of the age. This period would ultimately define his artistic purpose
and direction as a writer and simultaneously crystallize his prophetic
vision of the future. Unquestionably a literary extension of Orwell's
political development, Animal Farm is most often seen as a satire on
totalitarian communism and the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Orwell
recognized the tendency of emerging political regimes to replace
poverty with a form of security based on social and economic
servitude. Committed to the preservation of intellectual liberty, he
further realized the inherent danger of sacrificing this ideal to
VII Topics for Discussion
Discuss the pigs' idea of "animalism". What happens to this theory as
the novel progresses?
Boxer and Clover, the two carthorses, are described as the "most
faithful disciples". What makes them such?
Why is the windmill such an important object in the novel?
Examine the novel's ending and particularly the final paragraph. Has
Napoleon compromised the integrity of the farm?
Why is the song “Beasts of England” important to the animals in the
beginning of the novel? Why is the song later abolished?
What happens to the original Seven Commandments? Why are they later
Discuss how the events of the Battle of the Cowshed are changed later
in the novel in order to present Snowball in a bad light.
Why are the sheep taken to a corner of the farm at the end of the
novel and kept there for a week?
Compare Snowball and Napoleon. Why do they disagree? Do you think the
farm could have functioned with both pigs as leaders?
Moses, the tame raven, speaks of Sugarcandy Mountain. What is its
significance? Why do the animals hate him?
Research the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its origins. What
similarities do you see between it and the events in Animal Farm? Are
the major characters in each of the revolutions alike? Why or why not?
Why does Napoleon take great efforts to downplay Snowball's
contribution to the rebellion and to denounce his memory? List the
episodes in which Squealer and Napoleon retell events in order to
discredit Snowball. Why do the other animals believe them?
Read Nineteen Eighty-Four and discuss any similarities it has to
The animals react differently to the revolution—some are trusting,
some resist. Discuss the way Orwell characterizes the different breeds
of animal. Are they symbolic of the different human classes?
How do the pigs take advantage of the other animals' lack of
intelligence? Explain some of the situations where the pigs use this
to their advantage. How is language important to the pigs and the
novel in general? Would the revolution have been more successful if
all the animals were indeed equal?
IX Related Titles and Adaptations
Similar in theme to Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four is both an
indictment of political oppression and a vigorous attack on the
corruption of language. Throughout the novel, Orwell is relentless in
his disparaging analysis of totalitarian society, demonstrating how
language can be used as a tool of government to exercise and ensure
control over its people.
An animated film version of Animal Farm aimed at adults was made in
1954, directed and produced by John Halas and Joy Batchelor.
Source: Beacham’s Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Copyright by
Gale Group, Inc. Reprinted by permission.