Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Study Guide for Animal Farm, Full Summary and Analysis

 My random thought for the days is that it's very off putting ( ) ( ) isn't a palindrome, yet ( ) ) ( is a palindrome.  
The video version of this post is available here: https://youtu.be/e3kHYqVhJhE 

Alright, let's  get down to business- 


Eric Blum. Nom de plum, George Orwell

First things first, George Orwell's real name was not George Orwell, it was Eric Blum.  Little Eric Blum was born in 1903 in British India. At the age of 5 he returned to England with his mom and his sisters, while his dad remained in India. He didn't really know his dad that well or see him very much.
Eric was a bit lax in his studies at school and at the age of 18 his parents sent Eric to Burma to work in the Imperial Police.  He didn't like this much, and after a few years he returned to England and became a teacher and really started writing in earnest.  His first few novels were published, but in terms of stories that stand the test of time they were rather unremarkable. He wrote a book entitled Burmese Days which was highly critical of British Colonization in Burma and India.
In 1936 Orwell voluntarily left Britain to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

There were two warring parties, the Republican Party which was backed by the USSR and was mostly Communists and Anarchists, and the Nationalist party which was backed by Nazi Germany.  Orwell was very opposed to fascism and he fought on the side backed by the USSR.  But during his time in the war he became very disenchanted with Soviet Communism, and with revolution in general. He ended up getting shot in the throat.  He lived, but he was down for the count and he and his wife returned to England. He then got to work with writing Animal Farm.  
Probably the most famous book written by George Orwell is the last book he ever wrote, which is 1984, a book written against totalitarianism and fascism. Animal Farm, a book written against totalitarianism and Soviet-style Communism.

Type of Book - Allegory -

Animal Farm is a short little book. It's a novella under 100 pages, and it's an allegory.  The characters in it are animals that meant to symbolize real-life individuals and groups of people.

Animal Farm symbolizes the historical events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Josef Stalin and the USSR following the revolution. And the fate of the animals in the farm are meant to convey the fate of certain groups of people in real life under Stalinist rule.

Allegories have been used for centuries as a way to criticize those in positions of power without doing so outright. They're very popular in regions where there's censorship and overtly critical works of those in power can't get published.

Historical Context

Orwell wrote this book in the early 1940's during WWII and he was really causing quite a a stir by doing so.  Today, in a post-cold war world, we're quite used thinking about the UK, the US, all of NATO having an antagonistic view of the USSR and modern-day Russia, but during WWII, when Animal Farm was written, that was not the case at all. 

During George Orwell's time, Nazi fascism was *THE* great threat to world order as far as the UK was concerned.  Politics was seen as a spectrum from far right governance (with the Nazis on the far right) to far left governance (with the USSR over here), The Soviet Union was seen as the polar opposite of Nazi Germany, sort of a anchor balancing the world away from fascism, or at least, that's how the USSR pitched themselves to the West, and a lot of people bought. And in the UK, the USSR was their ally in war against the fascist Axis powers, it was considered a bit taboo to be critical of the USSR, especially in the circles Orwell was connected with, which tended to be the political left. 
So, Orwell couldn't get this book published for quite some time.  He went to the major, left-leaning publishers he had connections with and they refused the book outright. With some reluctance, Orwell went to the premiere right-leaning publisher at the time which was run by the famous poet TS Eliot, but Eliot wouldn't publish the book either. With his tail between his legs, Orwell went to a small rinky-dink publisher who was known to be pro-Trotsky.  We'll discuss Trotsky a bit later, so table that thought. But Orwell very much did not want the pro-Trotsky publisher because he was concerned his book would be dismissed as Trotsky propaganda. Anyway, the pro-Trotsky publisher accepted the book, but even this little publisher did not publish Animal Farm until after WWII ended.

Several years later, the large left-leaning publisher in the UK published Animal Farm, and the book enjoyed quite a bit of immediate success. With the rise of the Cold War, Animal Farm continued to be quite popular in the West for decades because of it's anti-Soviet message. 

So what is this book about?
Full Plot Synopsis 

There's an English farm called "Manor Farm" run by British man named Mr Jones.  Mr. Jones is a drunk who's depressed because he lost a lot of money in a lawsuit. He pays workers to run the farm, and he's out of touch with the reality of how lazy the paid workers are and how harsh they are with the animals. One night, the oldest and largest pig on the farm, a prize winning board named Old Major, calls all the animals in the barn to tell them about the prophetic dream he had about a Utopian world. Old Major dreamed that the animals would rise up, shake off the mastery that the humans hold over them, and the animals would run the farm, enjoying all the fruits of their labor for themselves. He then teaches all the animals an anthem calls Beasts of England.  All the animals love this anthem and sign it heartily. Three days later Old Major dies and while not much happens for awhile, the pigs start to develop a system of thought known as Animalism which the pigs determined to have 7 principles:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal. 
7. All animals are equal. 

For many of the simpler animals, especially the sheep, who have trouble understanding the nuances of it all, Animalism is reduced to the simple maxim "Four legs good, two legs bad."

Old Major's prophesied rebellion comes about completely unplanned and much sooner than expected.  One day Farmer Jones is too drunk to remember to feed the animals, the next morning the workers are lazy and neglect to feed the animals again. By the time evening rolls around the animals are starving.  They break out of their pens and tear into the food. Jones and his men come at them with whips to get them back in their pens and the animals go berserk on them and chase them off the farm. The animals are overflowing with joy and a sense of accomplishment because the farm now belongs to them and they are not under the mastery of humans. The animals rename Manor Farm, Animal Farm.

The pigs are the smartest of the animals so leadership of Animal Farm naturally falls on them.  Three pigs in particular fulfill the largest leadership roles: Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer.  The first morning after the revolution, the cows have to be milked, and the pigs unanimously decide it's best to take all the milk for themselves despite everyone's longing gazes at the milk. The milk issue aside, Animal farm is actually quite successful for awhile.  With the benefit of not having to support five humans, there's quite a bit more for everyone to eat. Snowball, one of the lead pigs, tries to form committees that improve everyone's lives on the farm (the whiter wool committee, the clean tails committee, etc, etc.).  These committees are largely unsuccessful.  He also sends flocks of pigeons out to neighboring farms to try to spread the message of rebellion and Animalism. Napoleon says it's best to focus efforts on the young, and he takes a litter of new puppies up to the loft in the barn so he can educate them.

Awhile later, Mr. Jones returns to the farm with several men to try to reclaim it. However, Snowball had been planning a militaristic response to just such an attack for quite some time, and the animals work together most successfully fight back the humans. The battle becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed and Snowball is awarded the title of Animal Hero First Class.

As time passes Napoleon and Snowball increasingly quibble over the future of the farm, and they begin to struggle with each other for power and influence among the other animals. Snowball concocts a scheme to build an electricity-generating windmill, but Napoleon solidly opposes the plan. A meeting is held among all the animals to vote on whether to take up the project or not.  Snowball gives a passionate speech. Although Napoleon gives only a brief retort, he then makes a strange noise, and nine ferocious attack dogs—the puppies that Napoleon had confiscated and raised in secrecy in order to “educate”—burst into the barn and chase Snowball off the farm. Napoleon assumes leadership of Animal Farm and declares that there will be no more meetings. From that point on, he asserts, the pigs alone will make all of the decisions—for the good of every animal.

Even though Napoleon vehemently opposed the windmill idea when it was Snowballs idea, now that Snowball's gone Napoleon suddenly decides it's a great idea.  It's really difficult work for the animals to make the windmill because they don't have thumbs, but they really devote themselves to completing it, especially the super strong horse names Boxer.  Boxer's personal motto's are "I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right."

One day, after a really strong storm, the animals find the windmill toppled over. The human farmers in the area declare smugly that the animals made the walls too thin, but Napoleon claims that Snowball returned to the farm to sabotage the windmill. He stages a great purge, during which various animals who have allegedly participated in Snowball’s great conspiracy—meaning any animal who opposes Napoleon’s uncontested leadership—meet instant death at the teeth of the attack dogs.  Napoleon then rewrites history to make Snowball a villain who was colluding with Farmer Jones against Animal Farm.  He does this by sending Squealer around to tell everyone that Snowball is ready to creep in and destroy them at any moment.  The animals become terrified of Snowball and view him as a constant existential threat.

Napoleon and the other pigs also begins to act more and more like a human beings.  They take up residence in the old farm house.  They sleep in a beds, drink whisky, and engage in trade with neighboring farmers. The original Animalist principles strictly forbade such activities, but Squealer, Napoleon’s propagandist, justifies every action to the other animals, convincing them that Napoleon is a great leader and is making things better for everyone—despite the fact that the common animals are cold, hungry, and overworked. The animals go back to look at the principles of animalsm written on the side of the barn, because they thought they remembered things the pigs are doing were against the law, but the principles say "no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets" and "no animal shall drink alcohol to excess".  The animals decide they must have mis-remembered the original rules.

Mr. Frederick, a neighboring farmer, cheats Napoleon in the purchase of some timber and then attacks the farm and dynamites the windmill, which had been rebuilt at great expense. After the demolition of the windmill, battle ensues, during which Boxer's hoof is severely wounded. The animals drive out the human farmers, but Boxer’s injuries weaken him. When he later falls while working on the windmill, he senses that his time has nearly come. The animals had originally been promised a retirement where they could graze peacefully in the field once they were too old to work. Rather than letting Boxer, the harest working and most loyal animal on the farm, retire, the pigs sell him for slaughter to a glue manufacturer.  Squaler is sent around to tell everyone that the carriage that took Boxer away was really taking him to a hospital and Squaler espouses all sorts of details about how peacefully Boxer died in the hospital.

Years pass on Animal Farm, and the pigs become more and more like human beings—walking upright, carrying whips, and wearing clothes.  The seven principles of Animalism that were written on the barn are reduced to a single maxim reading “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Napoleon and the pigs entertain the human farmer Mr. Pilkington at a dinner, and Napoleon declares his intent to befriend human farmers against the laboring classes of both the human and animal communities. He also changes the name of Animal Farm back to the Manor Farm, claiming that this title is the “correct” one. Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington are playing cards and they then both lay the Ace of Spades at the same time and get into a huge fight about it, each accusing the other of cheating. The animals are outside looking in the window, the common animals can no longer tell which are the pigs and which are the human beings.

Real Life Parallels to Events and People


Mr. Jones was the original owner of Manor Farm.  He was a drunk and he was out of touch in terms of how poorly the workers treated the animals. Jones represents  Czar Nicholas II, the last leader of Imperial Russia. The Czar was very out of touch with the Russian people and his poor leadership led the people to revolution. 


Napoleon represents Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the USSR from 1941-1953. Napoleon and Stalin displayed paranoid behavior, hiding behind a police state and killing anyone he thought was plotting against him.  In Animal Farm, Napoleon's purge of the pigs who disagreed with him and the forced confessions from animals stating they were in cahoots with Snowball represents the  "Great Purge", a massive campaign in the USSR of repression in which millions of so-called "enemies of the working class" were imprisoned, exiled, or executed, often without any sort of due process.

Moses the Crow

There's a tame crow who lives on the farm named Moses who represents the Church.  He spreads stories among the animals about a place called SugarCandy Mountain where animals go after they die.  When the pigs are first spreading Animalism among the animals, they have trouble stamping out the animal's belief in SugarCandy Mountain. Shortly after the rebellion, Moses flies away after Mrs. Jones and leaves the farm.  He returns shortly after the pigs start walking on two legs.
Moses represents religion, which gives people hope of a better life in heaven. The pigs dislike Moses’s stories of Sugarcandy Mountain, just as the Soviet government opposed religion, not wanting its people to subscribe to a system of belief outside of communism. 


Snowball, who represents Soviet politician Leon Trotsky. Snowball is a progressive pig who aims to improve Animal Farm with a windmill and other technological advances, but Napoleon expels him before he can do so. In his absence, Napoleon distorts Snowball's legacy to represent an abstract idea of evil. Napoleon has Animal Farm blame literally all their misfortunes on Snowball, including the windmill’s destruction, and entertain the idea that he is lurking on one of the neighboring farms, plotting revenge.
Leon Trotsky was an early Bolshevik leader who helped transfer power to the Soviet party after the Russian Revolution, like Snowball, Trotsky was a key player who got in on the ground floor. Similar to how Snowball led the animals at the Battle of the Cowshed, Trotsky was the commander of the Red Army, and led the military successfully until he was exiled by Stalin and there was a famous show trial held where  Trosky's sympathizers in the government were executed under absurd, trumped-up charges.  
Although, it is worth noting that Snowball was, to a lesser degree, also corrupt from the beginning, as he was happy to take all the milk for the pigs. 

The Dogs 

The dogs Napoleon took and educated and brainwashed represent the NKVD and the KGB, police agencies Joseph Stalin fostered and used to terrorize and commit atrocities upon the Soviet Union’s people.


Boxer's the strongest and most loyal animal on the farm.  He represents the working class, a faction of humanity with a great combined strength--enough to overthrow a manipulative government--but which is uneducated enough to take propaganda to heart and believe in the government’s corrupt cause.

Benjamin, the Donkey

So, I actually think George Orwell wrote himself into Animal Farm in the character of Benjamin the Donkey.  Benjamin works on the farm with the same utter lack of enthusiasm both before and after the revolution, and he expresses no opinion ever about the revolution or Napoleon or Animalism.  He just responds with vague non-answers like "Donkey's live a long time." He is, however, incredibly dedicated to Boxer and he becomes even more bitter after Boxer is sold to the glue factory. Benjamin represents thee stereotypically Russian tendency towards apathy; he holds fast to the idea that life is inherently hard and that efforts for change are futile. Over the course of his career, Orwell became more and more politically pessimistic and predicted the overtake of the West by totalitarian governments.


Mollie is a horse who was never really into the rebellion on Animal Farm.  She wants to know if there will be ribbons and sugar lumps after the rebellion and she's most disappointed when she realizes there isn't.  She ends up leaving Animal Farm to be a cart horse that gets to be decorated in ribbons and fed sugar lumps.  Mollie represents the nobility and the merchant class who did not want to conform to Soviet Communism and fled the country following the revolution.  

Farmer Frederick Pinchfield

Pinchfield owns a small farm adjacent to Manor Farm. Mr. Pinchfield cheats the animals out of their timber by paying for it with fake banknotes. Frederick Pinchfield represents Adolf Hitler. Rumors of the exotic and cruel animal tortures Frederick enacts on his farm are meant to echo the horror stories emerging from Nazi Germany. Frederick’s agreement to buy the timber represents the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression treaty, and his subsequent betrayal of the pact and invasion of Animal Farm represents the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The only man Stalin ever trusted was Adolf Hilter, and Adolf Hilter betrayed him.    


Mr Pilkington owns the other farm adjacent to Animal Farm.  Pilkington represents the Allied Powers during WWII.  The Allied powers actually repeatedly warned Moscow that there was a German army amassed at the Russian border and Moscow told the Allies to bug off and accused them of being their real enemies.  So the carrier pigeon message Pilkington sends to Napoleon in the heat of battle when the Animals' windmill is being destroyed that says "serves you right,"  that was kind of the Allied sentiment towards the German invasion of the USSR. But I digress. Napoleon and Pilkington’s poker game at the end of the book, where they both lay the Ace of Spades at the same time, suggests the beginnings of a power struggle that would later become the Cold War.

Language as Power in Animal Farm 


The pig who makes the illegitimate legitimate. Every tyrant has his sycophants, and Napoleon has one in Squealer. Every time an act of Napoleon's is questioned by the other animals — regardless of how selfish or severe it may seem — Squealer is able to convince the animals that Napoleon is only acting in their best interests and that Napoleon himself has made great sacrifices for Animal Farm. For example, after Squealer is questioned about Napoleon's stealing the milk and windfallen apples, he explains that Napoleon and his fellow pigs must take the milk and apples because they "contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig." He further explains that many pigs "actually dislike milk and apples" and tells the questioning animals, "It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples." Squaler's eloquence carries the other animals away  and after providing an explanation he follows it up by playing off of their fears of Farmer Jones returning: "Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?"

I wanted to end by mentioning that while this story is about the rise of Joseph Stalin and the birth of the USSR, Animal Farm is also about the nature of totalitarianism, the nature of how power can corrupt ideals, and the danger of having a vacuum of power after a revolution, that even if the reader knows absolutely nothing about the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm is still a powerful little story that can be applied to a wide range of time periods. And Napoleon, the name of the worst pig, is also the name of the leader of France following the French Revolution and betrayed the democratic principles on which he rode to power. I actually picked this book to review because it's the book that Orwell put together after being wholly disillusioned with revolutions in general after fighting in the Spanish Revolution.  I think a similar sentiment can be felt today after the Arab Spring, that while there was so much hope for a better future, but in 2017 life is far from being better in Libya, Yemen and Syria. 

If you've read Animal Farm please leave your thoughts down below.  If you're studying this book for class I certainly hope it helped.  


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