'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others'
This famous quotation comes from this popular novella. The combination of the genres fable, satire and allegory make it a powerful text filled with lessons to do with revolutions, the naivety of the working-class, societies inclination towards having a hierarchal class system, and corruption through the misuse of power. It is popular amongst high schools and universities to teach how stories can have a major influence over how a person feels or thinks, particularly in regards to historical events. It is also used as an example of political or social commentary, being a text referenced by many people in speeches or essays to persuade and educate their audience. However, take away the layers of literary techniques that forge the allusions to historical events and people and the story is quite a simple one about a group of animals that bear the consequences of revolution in search of a better life on their farm.
Basically, the animals are ruled over by a tough farmer who doesn't care for them. They come together for a meeting where the old pig, Old Major, tells them that they would need to rise up and take control. He tells them that they would need to treat each other equally, from the hard-working horses to the smallest mice. Afterwards, he passes away. Soon after, the animals rise up against their owner and force him to leave. They are given the opportunity to work together to make the farm a better place and to also be treated equally amongst each other. The pigs are seen as the smartest of the animals and two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, become leaders and come up with a list of commandments for 'animalism'. However, it turns out that Napoleon does not like sharing the leadership role and he trains young puppies to become his bloodthirsty followers who chase Snowball out from the farm (although it can be assumed that they kill him). This starts the appearance of a hierarchal system, where Napoleon is on the top, the pigs are underneath him, and then the rest of the animals are spread out after them. It doesn't go unnoticed by some of the animals, and as the story progresses it becomes apparent to them that something is wrong, particularly with Boxer, the hardest worker of them all, carted off to be killed after he became injured and was unable to work. It concludes with Napoleon and the other pigs walking around on their hind-legs, like their previous owner, and the chilling quote above is plastered on the barn wall where the other commandments were.
So altogether, it's a story that teaches a lesson about the dangers of power and the cyclical qualities of revolutions (although that comes with the name. Revolution = full circle). When you to start focus on the literary techniques, the other themes start to pop up. Looking at the three main genres (fable, allegory and satire) the meaning behind the text starts to form. Fable and allegory are similar genres where the reader can interpret the story to mean something else, either important moral lessons or historical events. However, fable focuses more on animalistic characters, which makes it seem like an innocent children's story that teaches a lesson, whereas allegory alludes to significant people or events to underline morals or political messages. With satire in the mix, which is used to make a mockery of social and political decisions, Animal Farm suddenly has a very strong political message, paying particular attention to the Russian Revolution.
For a closer connection to the Russian revolution, and through the use of allegory, the main characters are depictions of significant people during that time. Old Major represents Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, which can be determined through the Marxist and Leninist values he seems to have. Snowball, who is portrayed to be the good leader, represents Leon Trotsky and Napoleon, highlighted as the unfair and dictator-like leader, represents Joseph Stalin. The events that occur throughout the story also parallel to events that occurred during the revolution.
There are also the other themes that I mentioned before, which start to arise through the actions and reactions of the other animals in light of what Napoleon and the pigs are doing. This can be seen a lot in the horse Boxer, who repeats his mottos of 'I will work harder' and 'Napoleon is always right' continuously during times of struggle caused by Napoleon and his comrades making it very clear that he is not always right and emphasises the naivety of the working-class during revolutionary times. Societies dependence for hierarchy also appears in a similar light with it being highlighted before the revolution begins with a scene where the animals treat the rodents unfairly during Old Major's speech about equality amongst all animals, and then later on with the animals showing a need for leadership.
Overall, it is a story with a lot of political layers and teaches a lot about human nature. There are many other important symbols, themes and motifs within the text, like the windmill that the animals build, the songs that the animals sing, and the setting itself. It would take a long time delve into all of them, but as long as you have a clear understanding on what is written above, the rest of the symbology becomes quite easy to spot and identify. If you're not interested in the political part of it, you can still enjoy it as a basic fable.
What I thought
This book is one that you will probably come across or hear about while in high school or university and probably stands in the top 10 books your teachers will make you read because it is influential and will teach you something about human nature, revolutions and corruption, other books included on this list being 1984 by George Orwell, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I first came across it in high school and then later this year for an English Literature assignment, so yes, it was forced upon me to read. However, I am glad I was because it definitely taught me something, so the teachers were not lying!
For me, without focussing on all the literary techniques at first, it took a short time to read. It is definitely interesting, with or without any knowledge on the politics that occurred during the Russian Revolution, since it does highlight the issues that occur during such movements and only alludes to the historical events it represents. I enjoyed the way it was written to be a fable because it gave it a child-like quality, making it seem like an innocent concept and a simple lesson in human nature. It also added something to the power of the text, a sort of strength, as if to say 'even a child can understand the concept of this'.
While I read this novella, there were moments where I became frustrated at the animals ignorance to what was happening. Understandably, that is what is meant to occur to produce the meaning behind the text and also to put emphasis on the fable. However, it did take a lot to push through and finish it. Once I had learned more about the text and understood the themes surrounding the working-class people, I found myself quite fond of the way it was depicted but also quite chilling since it did seem possible for people to be like that in the real world and that it might not be an exaggeration. After more research to do with the alluded historical events and the significant people involved, I found myself quite shocked at what had occurred and also quite astounded by Orwell's technique to produce this powerful piece of work. In saying this, if I had not done the research, I probably would not have found much interest in the story as a whole, so I think taking the time to do that is important to get the full enjoyment and meaning out of the text.
I would recommend this novella to pretty much anyone, and I would also agree with most teachers in saying that the book does teach you something about human nature, revolutions and corruption. If you're someone interested in history and the general conclusions to revolutions or you're a fan of corruption or learning about human nature, then Animal Farm will probably be a satisfying read for you. If you're someone who doesn't want to take the time in researching certain events to understand certain meanings of a book, I would still recommend giving it a go because it is a short book with a lot of power behind it, and it definitely taught me a few things so hopefully it does for you to.
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.