I discovered that most people read Animal Farm already because it was part of the prescribed reading in school. I never read Animal Farm in high school though. We did Lord of the Flies by William Golding instead (another brilliant allegory). So I decided to fill in the gap for myself. I can’t go through life not knowing at least the highlights of the novella.
I had to do quite a bit of research on the Soviet Revolution before reading Animal Farm so that I could better understand why this novella is described as an allegory and also so that I could deduce the references made – i.e which real world people are being represented in the novella.
I’m just too wary of getting it wrong! There are people who have done extensive research on this topic and therefore have more knowledge and are better able to pick out the subtle nuances made by Orwell more easily.
I will however give my humble opinion on what stood out the most for me in the book. You’re most welcome to give me your thoughts and opinions too as well as what seemed the most important feature for you in the book.
In 1944 the manuscript was almost lost when a German V-1 flying bomb destroyed his London home. Orwell spent hours sifting through the rubble to find the pages intact.Wikipedia
The first scene I would like to explore is of course the event that started the revolution – Old Major calling the meeting in the barn to communicate the “strange dream” (Animal Farm, 9) he’d had to the other animals (a.k.a comrades). He states that as an animal their lives are miserable, laborious and short and that no animal in England is free – their lives are as slaves (Animal Farm, 11).
Old Major herein concludes that the only problem with their living conditions is human beings a.k.a Man. Because the farm is fertile and there are a great number of animals who harvest the land but they continue to be miserable because their labours are stolen by human beings.
Looking at the condition of Russia, during the period of social unrest, before there was talk or stirrings of a revolution: The allegory is already evident in the beginning of book where Old Major calls the animals “comrades”. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word comrade as a a friend or other person that you work with, especially as soldiers during a war and also a fellow socialist or communist member of a political party (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
In Russia, bad living conditions, high taxes and land hunger were rife and this caused frequent strikes and agrarian disorder (Lumen Learning). Agrarian relates to cultivated land or the cultivation of land (Oxford Languages). The backwards systems of Russia for their agricultural production influenced the point of view of the peasants and other social groups to reform against the government.
These are the same feelings expressed by Old Major with regards to the lives of the animals – forever toiling the land and producing an abundant supply but yet they continue to live in miserable conditions because the produce of their labour is stolen from them by human beings. This realization ignites an attitude of rebellion on the farm. Old Major begins talking of a rebellion that must happen but that he doesn’t foresee it happening in his lifetime (Animal Farm, 13).
When Russia participated in World War I, it uncovered weaknesses that existed in the Tsars government. The war resulted in more strain upon Russia, causing high food prices and fuel shortages and this in turn caused more cities to strike (Lumen Learning).
It is at this meeting that Old Major instills the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad” which later changes to “Four legs good, two legs better”. Also, this is where all the animals are taught the old song, Beasts of England, which goes as follows:
After the death of Old Major, chapter 2 introduces the pigs more distinctly – in particular Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer. As the pigs were recognized as being the cleverest animals, the work of teaching, organizing and leadership roles fell on them (Animal Farm, 17). The prime pigs being Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer. These three developed Old Major’s teachings further into a complete system of thought, calling it Animalism.
The rebellion actively begins when the animals run Mr. Jones and his men off the farm land and Mrs. Jones, seeing what’s happening, slips out of the farm. The pigs, who have learnt to read and write, set about writing the seven commandments of Animalism onto the barn wall.
After taking over the farm successfully, the pigs take on more of an authoritative role with Napoleon and Snowball adopting the roles of leaders amongst the animals. With their style of leadership and the focus of issues concerning the farm differing, hostilities between the two pigs quickly arise and the rest of the animals are split in either camp based on loyalty and ideas.
Snowball announces his plans to modernize the farm by building a windmill but Napoleon opposes this idea. Their dispute culminates in Napoleon’s dogs chasing Snowball away and Napoleon declaring himself supreme commander (Wikipedia).
In Orwell’s novella, Napoleon is an allegory of Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. The Stalin era was characterized by forced collectivization of agriculture and the rapid development of heavy industrialization. The collectivization of agriculture meant that multiple farmers ran their holdings as a joint enterprise and engaged in farming activities as a collective. The farm land was owned and directly run by a centralized government.
Stalin reasoned that collectivization would boost agricultural production through the organization of land and labor into large-scale collective farms and he argued that collectivization would free poor peasants from economic servitude under the farmland owners. In order to implement the plan, the Soviet government resorted to the execution and mass deportation of defiant farmland owners to Siberia (Wikipedia).
Many historians believe that this forced collectivization was one of the causes of major famines occurring during 1932 and 1933 (Wikipedia). The Soviet government expected that the replacement of individual peasant farms by collective ones would immediately increase the food supply for the urban population (Wikipedia). The agricultural distribution issue became more of a problem with the increase of industrialization. The production of food could not keep up with the high urban demand.
According to historians, more famines occurred during the period of the Soviet collectivization mainly due to a lack of modern technology in the USSR.
To me, what seemed like an obvious correlation between the book and real life events to be made was that of the collectivization of agriculture. In the USSR there were high government production quotas to be met and as a rule peasants received less for their labour than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work. This refusal was met with retaliation by the government in deportation, exiling rebels and execution.
In the novella, the hens decide to rebel against Napoleons regime because of the high number of their eggs being taken to sell to the humans. Their rebellion is brutally crushed and the hens are executed (Spark Notes).
According to SparkNotes, Napoleon’s character does not only represent Joseph Stalin but also a host of dictators and political schemers in world history. Even those who came after the publication of Animal Farm are included in this allegory. The same behavioral tactics of lying and bullying are seen in these totalitarian leaders.
Snowball’s life has been paralleled to a combination of Vladimir Lenin’s and Leon Trotsky’s. (SparkNotes).
Lenin was a Russian revolutionist and Marxist. He developed Leninism, which was a variant of the Marxist ideology. Lenin believed that his Marxist beliefs of communism in Russia could only be successful if the society first entered a period of socialism. He defined socialism as “an order of civilized co-operators in which the means of production are socially owned” (Wikipedia). In order to achieve this, he concerned himself with bringing the Russian economy under state control and all citizens becoming “hired employees of the state”. He had confidence that all citizens would voluntarily unite to allow for the economic and political centralization of the state (Wikipedia).
After the death of Lenin, Stalin became the leader of the ruling Communist Party and of the Soviet Union. The Leninist ideology was adopted by Stalin’s administration and known as Marxism–Leninism approach.
Trotsky was a Russian communist who developed a variant of Marxism which become known as Trotskyism (Wikipedia). In chapter 4 of Animal Farm, the pigeons are sent to neighbouring farms to tell them about the Rebellion and to teach the other farm animals the tune of Beasts of England (Animal Farm, 32). This relates to the attempts by Leon Trotsky to establish communism as an international movement (SparkNotes).
Trotsky self-identified as an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik–Leninist, the Bolshevists were a radical, far-left, and revolutionary Marxist faction which Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov founded (Wikipedia). He (Trotsky) knew Lenin quite well personally and had a close ideological view.
On 12 November 1927, Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party, which was under Stalin’s leadership by then. Just before his expulsion Trotsky, along with others, formed an alliance party against Stalin called the United Opposition. The party was subsequently expelled from Congress after it was declared that it’s views were incompatible with Communist Party membership.
While Trotsky was expelled and exiled from the Soviet Union, he remained firm in his opposition to Stalin (Wikipedia). In August 1940, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico on Stalin’s orders (Wikipedia).
One could argue that the manner in which Snowball was treated and run off the farm is a reflection of how Stalin expelled and exiled Trotsky. And who’s to say that Napoleon didn’t actually have Snowball killed in the same way as Stalin had Trotsky assassinated 🤷🏽♀️🤷🏽♀️🕵🏽♀️.
There are so many other thoughts I have about the book and also a whole lot more that I learnt about the Russian Revolution and those involved. I would love to share it all but I know those ideas could probably fill a book! and that’s not the aim of a quick review about my experience reading the book 😄. I would recommend this novella to anyone who likes learning about history. It’s really interesting even though history can be considered to some as a boring topic/subject, it’s just really fascinating and a real eye opener as to what people suffered through. After doing some research about the Revolution, I found myself wondering what I would do faced with the same peril. What side would you be standing on?
The story itself is easy to read but then one gets to the allegory part and that’s when it becomes a bit heavy! It’s a great way to learn about history though instead of having to read and study boring textbooks.
Works Cited List
|Orwell, George. Animal Farm. 2020 ed, Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2020.|
|“Definition of comrade noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary”. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, Oxford University Press. 07 April 2021, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/comrade. |
|“Rising Discontent in Russia”. History of Western Civilization II, LUMEN LEARNING. 08 April 2021, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory2/chapter/rising-discontent-in-russia/.|
|“Animal Farm”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 07 April 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm|
|“Collective farming”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12 April 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_farming#Soviet_Union|
|SparkNotes Editors. “Animal Farm”. SparkNotes.com, SparkNotes LLC, 2005, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/animalfarm/plot-analysis/|
|SparkNotes Editors. “Characters. Napoleon”. SparkNotes.com, SparkNotes LLC, 2005, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/animalfarm/character/napoleon/|
|SparkNotes Editors. “Characters.Snowball”. SparkNotes.com, SparkNotes LLC, 2005, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/animalfarm/character/snowball/|
|“Leon Trotsky”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 11 April 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Trotsky#:~:text=Lev%20Davidovich%20Bronstein%20(7%20November,has%20become%20known%20as%20Trotskyism.|
|“Vladimir Lenin”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12 April 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin|
|“Trotskyism”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 April 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotskyism|
|“Rise of Joseph Stalin”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 29 March 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_Joseph_Stalin#:~:text=Lenin%20died%20on%2021%20January,of%20the%20Soviet%20Union%20itself.|