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Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Year: 1946

Famous for: Fighting pigs,"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.", and an anthem you won’t be able to get out of your head.

Main character: There really isn't a main character, but Animal Farm's plot  turns on the schemes of a power-hungry pig, Napoleon.

The scoop:

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George Orwell called Animal Farm a “fairy story,” but talking animals aside, what this book really is, is an allegory. That’s right. George Orwell was seriously concerned about the abuses of power he was seeing in the world—and the way citizens weren’t questioning these corrupt politicians. So he wrote a book criticizing those politicians—and the people who allowed them to remain in power. That book, of course, is Animal Farm.

If this is all sounding a little dense and boring, don’t worry. Animal Farm is actually a pretty fun read. There are pig politicians and a religion-spouting raven and the most hard-working cart-horse you’ll ever meet. Throw in a little political treachery and a surprise twist at the end, and you’ve got a book that makes for entertaining—not to mention thought-provoking—reading.

How to Write an A+ Essay by Jenny Sawyer

Animal Farm : Study Guide Resources

George Orwell in 1939, after the Spanish Civil War and before "Animal Farm."

George Orwell in 1939.

Tell people you want to write a story about talking barnyard animals, and they might think you’re eccentric.

Tell them that your story about talking barnyard animals will be an allegory about life in Soviet Russia, and they might think you’re nuts.

But if you want to write a novel, you’re supposed to “write what you know.” Here’s what George Orwell knew:

1) Life under Stalin.

2) Life on a farm. 

Here’s what he wrote: Animal Farm.

George Orwell: The Road to Animal Farm

George Orwell, author of "Animal Farm," with his wife Eileen

George Orwell in Barcelona, 1937, standing, sixth from the right. His wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, is seated just in front of him.

Orwell’s experience in the Spanish Civil War left him a changed man.

He’d arrived in Barcelona in 1936, just after Christmas. Orwell was an idealistic leftist identifying himself as “Eric Blair, grocer,” ready to defend the Spanish Republic from Nazi-backed fascists. So he joined a Marxist militia supported by Stalin’s Soviet Union, then fought bravely on the Aragon front.

But Orwell soon found Stalin’s Soviet agents to be lying, murderous thugs. Within six months, Orwell was ready to go home. He’d been shot in the throat by a fascist sniper. And he’d lost his illusions about 20th-century Communism.

There was, however, a silver lining: The flicker of idea for the book that would, improbably enough, transform him into one the most influential writers of his time.

Here’s how Orwell explained it, in a letter to postwar-refugees from Stalin’s reign of terror in the Ukraine. “On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages. However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”

That letter became the preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm—its first foreign language translation.

Animal Farm : The Instant (Ukrainian) Classic

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Ukrainian edition, 1947

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Ukrainian edition, 1947

Why Ukrainian, of all languages?

Animal Farm finally went on sale in August, 1945, four months after the Nazi surrender that ended the war in Europe and nearly two years after Orwell finished writing it. At least four publishers in Britain had rejected his manuscript outright: Stalin’s Soviet Union was an ally in the war against Nazi Germany, after all. So the British government didn’t want to alienate a partner like Stalin and British publishers didn’t want to alienate the British government.

Among the demurring editors was poet T.S. Eliot, who rejected the manuscript on behalf of publisher Faber & Faber: Eliot though Orwell showed too much sympathy for Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s murdered rival from Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. Publishers in the United States, meanwhile, had their own reasons for saying “no.” Dial Press, for example, rejected Animal Farm with the assertion that it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”

At last, a small London publisher known to sympathize with the anti-Stalinist left, agreed to print 4,500 copies. Buyers scooped up the entire first edition print run in a few days, prompting the publisher to run another 10,000 copies off its presses. And this wasn’t enough. Within weeks, bootleg versions circulated through war-ravaged Europe, where Animal Farm would soon find its most dedicated readers: refugees from Ukraine and other regions of the Soviet Union huddled in “displaced person camps” throughout France and Germany.

One of those refugees, a Ukrainian scholar named Ihor Shevchenko, wrote Orwell asking for permission to translate the novel. Orwell eagerly agreed, waived his royalties and allowed his response to Shevchenko to be used as the Ukrainian edition’s preface.

You can read it here: It’s the most complete account Orwell offered of the thinking behind Animal Farm.

Animal Farm : History Disguised

Orwell structured his allegory around real events that took place in Russia between the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and World War II. Check out these story beats from Animal Farm and the real-life events that inspired them.

Humans ousted from Manor Farm after they forget to feed the animals.

Tsar Abdicates, in a moment from the Ruddian Revolution adapted by George Orwell in "Animal Farm"The Russian Revolution of 1917. The Tsar is forced to abdicate in the wake of social rebellion triggered by famine and poverty.

Humans refuse to acknowledge Manor Farm by its new name, Animal Farm.

The refusal of the Tsar’s allies, at home and abroad, to recognize the legitimacy of the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The United States, for example, did not establish diplomatic relations with the USSR until 1933.

Mr. Jones tries to recapture the farm in the Battle of the Cowshed.

The Russian Civil War of 1917 to 1922. Remnants of the Tsar’s Imperial Army battled the Soviet Union’s Bolshevik Red Army for control of Russia.

Trotsky and Stalin carry Lenin's coffin. More grist for George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, pallbearers at the funeral of a fellow Bolshevik revolutionary, Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Napoleon wants to sell timber to humans.

Snowball wants to help animals on other farms to rebel. Joseph Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” versus Leon Trotsky’s theory of “Permanent Revolution.” In Stalin’s view, the defeat of communist revolutions throughout Europe meant that the Soviet Union should focus its efforts on developing its own economy. His nationalistic philosophy clashed with traditional Marxism, advocated by Trotsky, which held that Communism must be established throughout the world.

Napoleon replaces the farm anthem, “Beasts of England!” with, “Comrade Napoleon.”

Stalin replaced “The Internationale” with the “Hymn of the Soviet Union” as the USSR’s anthem. “The Internationale” is a communist hymn glorifying worldwide revolution and “the people,” in keeping with traditional Marxist doctrine and Trotsky’s ideal of “permanent revolution.” Stalin replaced it with the nationalistic “Hymn of the Soviet Union” in 1943, three years after his agents had murdered Trotsky. The new anthem glorified Stalin, so much so that its lyrics had to be rewritten after his death in 1953.

Lenin presents his April Theses to a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet

Lenin presents his April Theses to the Petrograd Soviet.

The Seven Commandments of Animalism.

A series of directives issued by Bolshevik Leader Vladimir Lenin as the Russian Revolution gathered strength, The April Theses directed workers’ councils, called “Soviets,” to take power, and set out the organizing principles of the new communist state.

Squealer condenses the commandments to a slogan: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

Stalin simplified The April Theses, ostensibly to make them easier to understand, while altering their meaning to support his propaganda objectives.

Old Major’s skull is displayed on a tree trunk.

A large bust of Karl Marx, the father of communist theory, sits atop his tomb in London. (The embalmed body of USSR founder Vladimir Lenin was put on display in an ornate tomb in Moscow’s Red Square, which you can still visit. Some readers draw a parallel between Old Major and Lenin.)

Napoleon claims Snowball’s windmill idea as his own.

The tomb of Karl Marx. Evoked in the burial of Old Major in "Animal Farm" by George Orwell

The tomb of Karl Marx. Highgate Cemetary, London.

Stalin adopted the Soviet Five-Year Plan, a state-directed strategy for guiding the Soviet economy over a five-year period. The concept was developed and championed by Trotsky, only to be appropriated by Stalin, who then claimed it as his idea.

Napoleon ousts Snowball.

Stalin ousted rival Trotsky from power in 1927.

Napoleon sentences Snowball to death after high winds destroy the windmill.

Stalin was an expert at shifting the blame to scapegoats, who would then be executed for their “crime.” Here’s one mass-scale example: Stalin’s persecution of Russian farmers after the Soviet economy failed to meet his unrealistic expectations for growth. Between 1929 and 1932, more than two million of these so-called “kulaks” were executed or sent to prison camps in Siberia, where many died under harsh conditions.

Moses the Raven reappears to boost morale with promises of a glorious afterlife.

Stalin tried to extinguish the Russian Orthodox Church by executing its clergy, or sending them to labor camps, along with many adherents. Once Nazi Germany attacked Russia in 1941, however, Stalin revived the church to boost patriotic fervor in support of the war effort.

“Napoleon is always right.”

Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, was hailed with the chant, “Mussolini is always right.”

Showtime: Stalin used the Moscow Trials of 1936-1938 to destroy his opponents and consolidate his grip on power.

The hens smash their eggs.

In the early years of Stalin’s “collectivization” of Soviet agriculture, Ukrainian peasants burned their crops rather than turn them over to the state.

Napoleon executes ringleaders of the rebellion.

The Moscow Trials of 1936-1938. Three show trials, orchestrated by Stalin, to purge the Soviet leadership of rivals. The four pigs Napoleon executes may represent Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Ivan Smirnov, and Nikolai Bukharin.

Napoleon executes other animals.

The Great Purge of 1934 to 1940: Stalin’s campaign to eliminate opponents and rivals, actual or imagined. Perhaps as many as one million Soviet citizens were accused of being “saboteurs,” and “enemies of the people,” and sentenced to hard labor or death.

Napoleon’s alliance with Mr. Frederick.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939. A notorious non-aggression treaty Stalin’s foreign minister negotiated with Hitler’s foreign minister.

Mr. Frederick and his men destroy the rebuilt windmill.

The German invasion of Russia, 1941. As many as 20 million Soviet citizens died in the ensuing conflict.

Napoleon adopts the name, “Manor Farm.”

Stalin’s embrace of Russian nationalism in the face of the Nazi onslaught. For example, he began to refer to the Soviet Union as the “Motherland,” using a phrase that had been forbidden since Lenin’s time.


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