The story takes place on a farm somewhere in England. The story is told by an all-knowing narrator in the third person. The action of this novel starts when the oldest pig on the farm, Old Major, calls all animals to a secret meeting. He tells them about his dream of a revolution against the cruel Mr Jones. Three days later Major dies, but the speech gives the more intelligent animals a new outlook on life. The pigs, who are considered the most intelligent animals, instruct the other ones. During the period of preparation two pigs distinguish themselves, Napoleon and Snowball. Napoleon is big, and although he isn’t a good speaker, he can assert himself. Snowball is a better speaker, he has a lot of ideas and he is very vivid. Together with another pig called Squealer, who is a very good speaker, they work out the theory of "Animalism". The rebellion starts some months later, when Mr Jones comes home drunk one night and forgets to feed the animals. They break out of the barns and run to the house, where the food is stored. When Mr Jones sees this he takes out his shotgun, but it is too late for him; all the animals fall over him and drive him off the farm. The animals destroy all whips, nose rings, reins, and all other instruments that have been used to suppress them. The same day the animals celebrate their victory with an extra ration of food. The pigs make up the seven commandments, and they write them above the door of the big barn.
They run thus:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings is a friend.
- No animal shall wear clothes.
- No animal shall sleep in a bed.
- No animal shall drink alcohol.
- No animal shall kill another animal.
- All animals are equal.
The animals also agree that no animal shall ever enter the farmhouse, and that no animal shall have contact with humans. This commandments are summarised in the simple phrase: "Four legs good, two legs bad". After some time, Jones comes back with some other men from the village to recapture the farm. The animals fight bravely, and they manage to defend the farm. Snowball and Boxer receive medals of honour for defending the farm so bravely. Also Napoleon, who had not fought at all, takes a medal. This is the reason why the two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, often argue. When Snowball presents his idea to build a windmill, to produce electricity for the other animals, Napoleon calls nine strong dogs. The dogs drive Snowball from the farm, and Napoleon explains that Snowball was in fact co-operating with Mr Jones. He also explains that Snowball in reality never had a medal of honour, that Snowball was always trying to cover up that he was fighting on the side of Mr Jones. The animals then start building the windmill, and as time passes the working-time goes up, whereas the food rations decline. Although the "common" animals have not enough food, the pigs grow fatter and fatter. They tell the other animals that they need more food, for they are managing the whole farm. Some time later, the pigs explain to the other animals that they have to trade with the neighbouring farms. The common animals are very upset, because since the revolution there has been a resolution that no animal shall trade with a human. But the pigs ensure them that there never has been such a resolution, and that this was an evil lie of Snowball. Shortly after this decision the pigs move to the farmhouse. The other animals remember that there is a commandment that forbids sleeping in beds, and so they go to the big barn to look at the commandments. When they arrive there they can’t believe their eyes, the fourth commandment has been changed to: "No animal shall sleep in bed with sheets". And the other commandments have also been changed: "No animal shall kill another animal without reason", and "No animal shall drink alcohol in excess". Some months later a heavy storm destroys the windmill, which is nearly finished. Napoleon accuses Snowball of destroying the mill, and he promises a reward to the animal that gets Snowball. The rebuilding of the mill takes two years. Again Jones attacks the farm, and although the animals defend it, the windmill is once again destroyed. The pigs decide to rebuild the mill again, and they cut down the food rations to a minimum. One day Boxer breaks down. He is sold to a butcher, but Napoleon tells the pigs that Boxer has been brought to a hospital where he has died. Three years later, the mill is finally completed. During this time Napoleon deepens the relations with the neighbouring farm, and one day Napoleon even invites the owners of this farm for an inspection. They sit inside the farmhouse and celebrate the efficiency of his farm, where the animals work very hard with a minimum of food. During this celebration, all the other animals meet at the window of the farm, and when they look inside they can’t distinguish between man and animal.
The novel Animal Farm is a satire of the Russian revolution, and therefore full of symbolism. Generally, Orwell associates certain real characters with the characters of the book. Here is a list of the characters and things and their meaning:
Mr Jones: Mr Jones is one of Orwell’s major (or at least most obvious) villain in Animal Farm. Orwell says that at one time Jones was actually a decent master to his animals. At this time the farm was thriving. But in recent years the farm had fallen on harder times and the opportunity was seen to revolt. The world-wide depression began in the United States when the stock market crashed in October of 1929. The depression spread throughout the world because American exports were so dependent on Europe. The U.S. was also a major contributor to the world market economy. Germany along with the rest of Europe was especially hard hit. The parallels between crop failure of the farm and the depression in the 1930s are clear. Only the leaders and the die-hard followers ate their fill during this time period. Mr Jones symbolises (in addition to the evils of capitalism) Czar Nicholas II, the leader before Stalin (Napoleon). Jones represents the old government, the last of the Czars. Orwell suggests that Jones was losing his "edge". In fact, he and his men had taken up the habit of drinking. Old Major reveals his feelings about Jones and his administration when he says, "Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving and the rest he keeps for himself." So Jones and the old government are successfully uprooted by the animals. Little do they know history will repeat itself with Napoleon and the pigs.
Old Major: Old Major is the first major character described by Orwell in Animal Farm. This "pure-bred" of pigs is the kind, grandfatherly philosopher of change – an obvious metaphor for Karl Marx. Old Major proposes a solution to the animals’ desperate plight under the Jones "administration" when he inspires a rebellion of sorts among the animals. Of course the actual time of the revolt is untold. It could be the next day or several generations down the road. But Old Major’s philosophy is only an ideal. After his death, three days after the barn-yard speech, the socialism he professes is drastically altered when Napoleon and the other pigs begin to dominate. It’s interesting that Orwell does not mention Napoleon or Snowball at any time during the great speech of old Major. This shows how distant and out-of-touch they really were; the ideals Old Major proclaimed seemed to not even have been considered when they were establishing their new government after the successful revolt. It almost seems as though the pigs fed off old Major’s inspiration and then used it to benefit themselves (an interesting twist of capitalism) instead of following through on the old Major’s honest proposal. This could be Orwell’s attempt to dig Stalin, whom many consider to be someone who totally ignored Marx’s political and social theory. Using Old Major’s apparent naivety, Orwell concludes that no society is perfect, no pure socialist civilisation can exist, and there is no way to escaping the evil grasp of capitalism. (More on this in the Napoleon section.) Unfortunately, when Napoleon and Squealer take over, old Major becomes more and more a distant fragment of the past in the minds of the farm animals.
Napoleon: Napoleon is Orwell’s chief villain in Animal Farm. The name Napoleon is very appropriate since Napoleon, the dictator of France, was thought by many to be the Anti-Christ. Napoleon, the pig, is really the central character on the farm. Obviously a metaphor for Stalin, Comrade Napoleon represents the human frailties of any revolution. Orwell believed that although socialism is good as an ideal, it can never be successfully adopted due the to uncontrollable sins of human nature. For example, although Napoleon seems at first to be a good leader, he is eventually overcome by greed and soon becomes power-hungry. Of course, Stalin did, too, in Russia, leaving the original equality of socialism behind, giving himself all the power and living in luxury while the common peasant suffered. Thus, while his national and international status blossomed, the welfare of Russia remained unchanged. Orwell explains, "Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer–except, of course for the pigs and the dogs." The true side of Napoleon becomes evident after he slaughters so many animals for plotting against him. He even hires a pig to sample his food for him to make certain that no one is trying to poison him. Stalin, too, was a cruel dictator in Russia. After suspecting many people in his empire to be supporters of Trotsky (Orwell’s Snowball), Stalin systematically murdered many. At the end of the book, Napoleon doesn’t even pretend to lead a socialist state. After renaming it a Republic and instituting his own version of the commandments and the Beasts of England, Comrade Napoleon quickly becomes more or less a dictator who of course has never even been elected by the animals.
Squealer: Squealer is an intriguing character in Orwell’s Animal Farm. He’s first described as a manipulator and persuader. Orwell narrates, "He could turn black into white." Many critics correlate Squealer with the Pravda, the Russian newspaper of the 1930s. Propaganda was a key to many publications, and since there was no television or radio, the newspaper was the primary source of media information. So the monopoly of the Pravda was seized by Stalin and his new Bolshevik regime. In Animal Farm, Squealer, like the newspaper, is the link between Napoleon and other animals. When Squealer masks the evil intentions of the pigs, the intentions can be carried out with little resistance and without political disarray. Squealer is also thought by some to represent Goebbels, who was the minister of propaganda for Germany. This would seem inconsistent with Orwell’s satire, however, which was supposed to metaphor characters in Russia.
Snowball: Orwell describes Snowball as a pig very similar to Napoleon at least in the early stages. Both pigs wanted a leadership position in the "new" economic and political system (which is actually contradictory to the whole supposed system of equality). But as time passes, both eventually realise that one of them will have to step down. Orwell says that the two were always arguing. "Snowball and Napoleon were by far the most active in the debates. But it was noticed that these two were never in agreement: whatever suggestion either of them made, the other could be counted to oppose it." Later, Orwell makes the case stronger. "These two disagreed at every point disagreement was possible." Soon the differences, like whether or not to build a windmill, become too great to deal with, so Napoleon decides that Snowball must be eliminated. It might seem that this was a spontaneous reaction, but a careful look tells otherwise. Napoleon was setting the stage for his own domination long before he really began "dishing it out" to Snowball. For example, he took the puppies away from their mothers in an effort to establish a private police force. These dogs would later be used to eliminate Snowball, his arch-rival. Snowball represents Leo Dawidowitsch Trotsky, the arch-rival of Stalin in Russia. The parallels between Trotsky and Snowball are uncanny. Trotsky too, was exiled, not from the farm, but to Mexico, where he spoke out against Stalin. Stalin was very weary of Trotsky and feared that Trotsky supporters might try to assassinate him. The dictator of Russia tried hard to kill Trotsky, for the fear of losing leadership was very great in the crazy man’s mind. Trotsky also believed in communism, but he thought he could run Russia better than Stalin. Trotsky was murdered in Mexico by the Russian internal police, the NKVD – the precursor of the KGB. Trotsky was found with a pick axe in his head at his villa in Mexico.