By George Orwell (1903-1950)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010..©
Type of Work
Animal Farm is a novel that mocks Stalinist Communism and other despotic systems of government. The book contains characteristics of the following genres:Satire, which ridicules injustice, stupidity, tyranny, depravity, and/or
other human flaws.
Beast tale, which casts animals in human roles.
Allegory, which ascribes secondary or symbolic meanings to characters, events, objects, and
The London firm of Secker & Warburg published the novel as Animal Farm: a Fairy Story on August 17, 1945. The New York firm of Harcourt, Brace and Company published the first American edition of the novel (but without the subtitle, a Fairy Story) on August 26, 1946.
The action takes place on an English farm on
the outskirts of the fictional town of Willingdon. At the beginning of the novel, the farm resembles an oppressed human society. The animals then rebel against its owner and form their own communal society. However, a power-hungry pig, Napoleon, seizes control and operates the farm like a Communist police state.
Old Major: Dying pig who inspires animals on a farm to plot a rebellion against the cruel owner of the farm.
Mr. Jones: The owner of the farm. The animals overthrow him and take over the farm.
Mrs. Jones: Wife of Mr. Jones.
Napoleon: Ruthless, power-hungry pig. After the animals overthrow Jones and establish their own society and their own form of government,
called animalism, Napoleon eventually seizes control of the farm and abolishes the animals' idealistic rules of government.
Snowball: Intelligent pig who helps establish animalism and becomes Napoleon's rival for power. Napoleon's attack dogs drive him out of Animal
Squealer: Napoleon’s clever propagandist. He becomes so fat living off the plenty produced by the hard-working animals that he can hardly see out of his eyes.
Minimus: Poet pig who writes propagandistic poems and songs for Napoleon. He composes two versions of national anthems for Animal Farm after the pigs reject a rallying song written by Old Major.
Mr. Frederick, Mr.
Pilkington: Owners of the neighboring farms. They worry that the rebellion at Animal Farm will inspire animals on their farms to rebel. The narrator says they had "given out that the animals [at Animal Farm] practised cannibalism, tortured one another with red-hot horseshoes, and had their females in common. This was what came of rebelling against the laws of Nature." Frederick attacks
Animal farm with armed men but is repulsed. Pilkington later becomes friendly with Napoleon and the other pigs.
Boxer: Hard-working cart horse of advanced age who becomes ill with a lung ailment.
Clover: Mare who looks after Boxer, as well as other animals.
Benjamin: Smart old donkey who is a cynic. He is a survivor who believes life will go on no matter who controls the farm. Benjamin comforts Boxer during his
Pigeons: Messengers sent out to inform animals at other farms of the rebellion at Animal Farm.
Blackbirds: Birds that whistle the tune of "Beasts
of England," the rallying song of Animal Farm, on other farms.
Mollie: Self-seeking mare who enjoyed the attentions of human beings and leaves the farm. She became a cart horse for a man whom the pigeons saw "stroking her nose and feeding her with
Muriel: Intelligent old goat capable of reading. When she learns that the pigs are changing the rules of government, she informs Clover.
Pinkeye: Pig who tastes food prepared for Napoleon. If Pinkeye becomes ill or dies, Napoleon
will know that an enemy has poisoned the food.
Moses: Raven (crow) that visits Animal Farm and tells its inhabitants about a place called Sugarcandy Mountain, where animals that have led a good and productive life will go after they die.
Mr. Whymper: Broker whom Napoleon hires to maintain relations with humans and to obtain products the farm needs. Whymper also provides alcoholic beverages for Napoleon and other pigs.
Bluebell, Jessie: Dogs that together give birth to nine puppies. Napoleon takes the puppies from them, saying he intends to educate them.
Pincher: Another dog. He is the father of the puppies.
Attack Dogs: Large, fierce dogs that act as Napoleon's private bodyguard and police force. They were the puppies of Bluebell and Jessie. Napoleon had reared them in secret, training them to do his bidding.
Gander: Goose that the pig government forces to commit suicide by eating nightshade berries.
Sheep: Animals easily manipulated by Napoleon to support his policies.
Cat: Animal that always disappears when there is work to be done but reappears at mealtime.
Hens: Napoleon orders them to lay eggs and give them up. The hens
resist. But after Napoleon denies them corn rations, they yield. Napoleon sells the eggs through Mr. Whymper for the means to purchase grain and meal.
Cockerels: Young roosters that awaken hard-working Boxer in the morning. In effect, they act as alarm clocks. Napoleon uses a
cockerel to march in front of him and act "as a kind of trumpeter" to alert the animals that Napoleon is about to speak.
Four Farmhands: Employees of Mr. Jones.
Armed Men: More than a dozen men, half of whom have guns, who attack Animal Farm with Mr. Frederick.
Alfred Simmonds: Horse slaughterer and glue boiler to whom Napoleon sells Boxer.
Van Horses: Two horses that pull the van carrying Boxer to the glue factory.
Cows, Ducks, Rats, Rabbits, Birds
Introduction to the Story
Animal Farm can be read on three different levels. On its first level, it is an entertaining story about farm animals ruled first by cruel human overseers and later by ruthless animal overseers. Very young children can understand and enjoy the story at this level. On its second level, it is an allegory representing the Communist takeover of
Russia in 1917 and the subsequent perversion of the idealistic goals of the revolutionaries. On its third level, Animal Farm is a satire ridiculing any movement—and the persons in that movement—that goes awry because of the corrupting lure of power. On the second and third levels, the novel develops the thesis of British historian
and philosopher Lord John Emerich Acton (1834-1902), who observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...©
At Manor Farm in England, Farmer Jones swills whiskey and abuses his animals—including pigs, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, horses, and dogs. One evening, Old Major, a wise pig who is
dying, sows the seeds of revolution. He tells his barnyard comrades that they can enjoy peace and prosperity, every animal sharing equally in the benefits of the farm, if they overthrow Jones and run the farm themselves. The old pig even teaches them a rallying song:
England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone.
Days later, after Old Major dies, the animals plot the rebellion, led
by the most intelligent among them, the pigs—in particular, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer. The government system they design is called “animalism.” While the planning continues, Farmer Jones goes on a drunken binge and neglects to feed the animals. On the second day of his drinking bout, they break into the feed stores and attack and drive off Jones, his wife, and
his workers. At the entrance of the farm, they put up a new sign. In bold letters, it says "Animal Farm."
The revolution has succeeded. A new day has dawned. Napoleon and Snowball then present the seven commandments that make up their
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill another animal.
All animals are created equal.
All goes well. Only Benjamin, a donkey, and Mollie, a mare, seem dissatisfied. Benjamin, an old cynic, believes nothing will really change. Mollie, a mare who pulled Mr. Jones’s buggy, yearns for the attention—and the sugar cubes—she received from human beings. One day, she
leaves Animal Farm to work for a man who feeds her sugar to pull his cart. The rest of the animals enthusiastically embrace the new order. Boxer, a cart horse, adopts a slogan: “I will work harder.” Special committees—including The Egg Production Committee for Chickens and The Clean Tails League for Cows—form to improve the animals’ way of life. The animals also design and raise their own flag
and take the time to explain and simplify the rules for animals with low intelligence, such as the sheep. Animals at other farms hear about Animal Farm and are heartened.
After a time, the pigs reserve the apple crop and
the cows’ milk for themselves, claiming they need the provisions to replenish the enormous energy they expend in setting policy and managing the day-to-day operation of the farm.
When Farmer Jones attempts to reclaim the
farm with the help of men from neighboring farms, the animals drive him off in the Battle of the Cowshed. Boxer and Snowball earn medals of valor.
Just when the animals think nothing can go wrong, Napoleon and Snowball
quarrel over policy, including Snowball’s proposal to construct a windmill to provide energy.
Napoleon then unleashes on Snowball a pack of nine vicious dogs—the offspring of two other dogs, Bluebell and Jessie—which he
trained from puppyhood. They chase Snowball off the farm, leaving Napoleon in control, with Squealer as his fawning propagandist. A pig named Minimus composes propagandistic rallying songs and poems. Thereafter, Napoleon keeps the attack dogs at his side to intimidate malcontents and keep order. Napoleon then dissolves the animal committees, saying the pigs will do all the thinking. Surprisingly,
he decides to go ahead with the windmill project that Snowball had proposed. He also engages a human, Mr. Whymper, to obtain nails and other human-made products that the animals need to carry out projects and maintain the farm.
When a storm topples the windmill, Napoleon blames Snowball, saying he had sneaked back onto the farm and sabotaged it. He sets a bounty for his capture and executes animals accused of conspiring with Snowball.
Under Napoleon, hours are long and hard and work becomes drudgery. The pigs move into Jones’s house, altering the fourth commandment of the constitution to say that “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.” They drink beer and whiskey and conduct trade with humans. Squealer justifies these and other forbidden activities by amending the constitution again and
again. A poem extolling Napoleon appears on the side of the barn.
While the pigs live in luxury, the other animals work their paws and hoofs to the bone as they till the fields and rebuild the windmill, all the
while barely getting enough to eat. To raise capital, Napoleon sells timber to the operator of the neighboring Pinchfield Farm, Mr. Frederick, who pays with counterfeit bank notes. When Napoleon realizes he has been duped, he pronounces a death sentence on Frederick. Frederick then attacks the farm, blowing up the second windmill, but the animals repel his forces in a fierce battle in which Boxer
suffers debilitating injuries.
After his health declines and he falls on the job, Boxer disappears from the farm. Squealer says he died in peace in a hospital, a true and loyal animalist to the end. In truth,
Napoleon sold Boxer to a glue factory for money to buy whiskey.
In time, the pigs become more and more like the humans they overthrew, walking upright on two legs, wearing clothes, and even entertaining humans at
dinners. Eventually, the seven commandment—“All animals are created equal”—becomes “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal.”
Napoleon declares that Manor Farm should be the proper name for
the business enterprise after all, then replaces the Animal Farm sign with a Manor Farm sign. Life goes on, with the “human” pigs in full control.
Symbols: Characters, Places, and Things
In Alphabetical Order
Animal Farm: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union. Conflict
Attack Dogs: Napoleon's private bodyguard and police force represent the secret police of totalitarian societies, such as the Soviet Union's Komitet
Gosudarstvennoj Bezopasnosti (Committee of State Security, known by the abbreviation KGB) and Nazi Germany's Geheime Staats Polizei (Secret State Police, known by the acronym Gestapo).
Benjamin: Old donkey who appears to represent realists aware that the
Russian Revolution will not change anything.
Boxer: Hard-working cart horse who represents the common people oppressed and manipulated by Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) and his Communist henchmen.
Manor Farm: Czarist Russia (Russia before the 1917 revolution).
Mr. Frederick: The operator of Pinchfield farm, who attacks Animal Farm but is repulsed, appears to represent Adolf Hitler, whose forces attacked the Soviet Union in World
War II but were defeated.
Mr. Jones: A cruel and neglectful farmer, Jones represents Nicholas II (1868-1918), the czar who ruled Russia before the 1917 revolution. His autocratic rule was in part responsible for provoking the revolution.
Mr. Whymper: Capitalist who profits from trade with Communists.
Mollie: Mollie, a mare who enjoys the attentions of human beings, appears to represent the manipulated
masses that are easily satisfied with small rewards that keep them satisfied. She also may represent Russians who opposed the revolution, preferring czarist rule.
Napoleon: Ruthless, power-hungry pig who represents the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Stalin succeeded Lenin and
ruled with an iron fist. Napoleon also represents any tyrant of any age, such as Nero (Roman emperor), Napoleon Bonaparte (French emperor), Adolf Hitler (German dictator), Idi Amin (Ugandan dictator), or Pol Pot (Cambodian dictator).
Old Major: Dying pig who represents
Vladimir Ilich Lenin. Lenin founded the Russian Communist Party and led the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Snowball: Intelligent pig who represents Leon Trotsky, the Communist theorist who helped bring about the 1917 Russian Revolution but was later expelled by Stalin.
Squealer: Napoleon’s clever propagandist. He represents anyone who distorts the truth or tells outright lies to promote a cause. Paul Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), director of propaganda under Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, was a real-life counterpart of Squealer.
Sugarcandy Mountain: Heaven, the afterlife. Karl Marx (1818-1883), who co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) as a founding document of Communism, believed that religion was the "opium of the people." Napoleon does not discourage the animals' belief in
Sugarcandy Mountain, for it keeps their minds occupied.
Timber Agreement: Napoleon's agreement to sell timber to Pilkington represents the nonagression treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany. Germany later violated the agreement.
Windmill: Stalin's failed projects to improve life in the Soviet Union.
The conflict first centers on the struggle between the farm animals and their human oppressor, Mr. Jones. After the animals overthrow Jones, the conflict centers on the struggle between the rank-and-file animals and the power-hungry animals that control the government and become the new oppressors. Climax
Communism under Joseph Stalin betrayed the ideals of the 1917 Russian revolutionaries who overthrew the old government. Napoleon the pig, the Stalin figure in the novel, abandons the ideals that the oppressed animals worked for and becomes a ruthless dictator, as
Stalin did. Stalin (1879-1953) was secretary-general of the Soviet Communist Party between 1922 and 1953 and premier of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1953. Stalin was a ruthless dictator who used secret police (symbolized by the attack dogs in Animal Farm) and control of the press through propaganda (symbolized by the activities of Squealer in the novel) to maintain an ironclad hold on
Lord Acton's thesis: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Orwell is
warning his readers that any political enterprise—no matter how worthy—is doomed to failure if its leaders sniff too often from the bouquet of power.
Lies can be dressed up in the clothing of truth. Napoleon's propagandist, Squealer, amends the seven commandments of animalism again and again—turning them into lies that benefit the pigs but making them look like other versions of the truth.
Unquestioning allegiance to authority invites abuse of power. After overthrowing Mr. Jones and establishing their new government, the animals blindly follow Napoleon, failing
to question his revisionist policies. Their submissiveness serves only to invite further abuses of power.
The climax of a narrative work can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Animal Farm occurs, according to the first definition, when Napoleon seizes control of the farm. According to the second definition,
the climax occurs when the ruling pigs begin imitating human behavior and the government reverts to its pre-revolutionary status.
Animal Farm is a straightforward and easy-to-understand novel with an engrossing, fast-moving plot and interjections of wit. As a satire, it uses hyperbole and irony often, and as an allegory it frequently employs symbolism and allusion. For example, Napoleon the pig symbolizes the Communist dictator Joseph Stalin; his name is an allusion to the French
general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Snobbish college professors sometimes criticize Orwell's style for its simplicity, but that is the very quality that makes Animal Farm a great work.
George Orwell (1903-1950) was the pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair. Orwell, a British citizen, was born in Motihari, India, in 1903, and attended school in England. Between 1922 and 1927, he served the British government in Burma as an officer of the Indian Imperial
Police. After becoming disenchanted with British treatment of the native Burmese, he left the police service, traveled in Europe, and in 1934 published his first novel, Burmese Days, which impugned British imperialism. He also wrote several fine short stories, including "Shooting an Elephant," which are based on his experiences in Burma. His most famous works, both of which warn of the dangers of
totalitarianism, are his novels Animal Farm and 1984.Study Questions and Essay Topics
- If Farmer Jones had treated the animals well, would they have revolted?
- What events in George's Orwell's life helped inspire him to write Animal Farm?
- How do you feel about laboratory experiments on animals to test the efficacy of medicine that may benefit humans?
- Napoleon the pig apparently represents the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). Research the life of Stalin, then write an essay detailing the atrocities he committed.
- Squealer is a propagandist. What is a propagandist? What techniques does a propagandist use? Identify examples of propaganda in American commercial and political advertising.
- Which world leaders today most closely resemble the pig Napoleon?
- Which is the most admirable animal character in the novel?
- Which is the smartest animal character?
The attack dogs represent the police force. What were the names of the secret police in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany? What powers did they have? .
More To Explore