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Animal Farm

Term Definition
Animal Farm

As an allegory, Animal Farm was intended primarily as a criticism against the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin. The plot of the novella consists of animals on a farm staging a revolution against the farmer and then engaging in politicking that strongly parallels the politicking that went on within Soviet Russia. More generally, it is an allegory about how revolutionaries almost always become oppressors in their turn.  

Introduction to Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a novella written by George Orwell, the English dystopian author who also penned the classic novel 1984. The novella is meant to be an satirical allegory to the rise and fall of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. Orwell was a democratic socialist and believed Stalin to be a dictator; Animal Farm was his first attempt to merge fiction with political commentary. In the novel, the main characters are animals. Mr. Jones is the drunken farmer who owns the farm, and he is driven from it during an animal revolt. The animals proceed to teach each other to read and write, all while learning the principles of Animalism, a political regime based very closely on socialism. A fight for leadership of the farm ensues, and various coups occur. In the meantime, the animals begin to gradually resemble humans, and they realize they cannot tell the difference anymore.

Plot Setting

The main theme of Animal Farm lies in its resemblance to events happening in the Soviet Union at the time Orwell was writing. The October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution is parodied, as is the 1921 Kronstadt revolt against the Bolsheviks; in general, the novel is a critique and satire of the corruption of socialist ideals at the time.

Animal Farm is also centered about the regime of Joseph Stalin, to which Orwell was very strongly opposed due to his experiences in the Spanish War. The hypocrisy of the ruling animals in the novella is Orwell’s commentary on the hypocrisy of the Soviet rulers whose original ideologies were equality and liberation.

Orwell sought to alert the working class to the societal tendency toward classism in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and to inform them of the insidious use of language to control the powerless. Additionally, the songs, poems, and slogans used mirror Soviet propaganda and social control.

Animal Farm and its Historical Context

A background of Soviet history under the Communist Party is helpful in order to understand the nuances of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated in 1917 and Alexander Kerensky (a socialist) became Premier. Lenin became Chief Commisar following Kerensky’s deposition, and finally Joseph Stalin won out against Leon Trotsky to become the ruler of the Soviet Union. Stalin had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

George Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair, and his writing criticized political oppression in its many forms. Orwell was born in India and educated at Eton, and elite English school. Social elitism in England and imperialist attitudes in India led to his extreme dislike for class systems. Orwell became a socialist and fought against excessive government actions during the Spanish Civil War. Although Stalinist politics were popular at the time of Animal Farm, Orwell decried totalitarianism, communism, and capitalism in favor of socialism. The animals in Animal Farm are directly taken from the leadership of the Communist Party; Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky are represented by the pigs named Napoleon and Snowball. Orwell finished 1984 in 1949, and died the following year.

Orwell’s 1984 was the first literary portrayal of a “big brother” type political system in which people were denied basic freedoms by a totalitarian government. If Animal Farm was Orwell’s vision of what the Soviet Union was under Stalin, 1984 was Orwell’s fear of what the future could bring if the Stalins of the world were allowed to remain in power. However, the cold war ended up going in a much different direction than the author predicted.

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