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Old Major has called the meeting to discuss a strange dream he had the previous night. He is waiting for his fellow animals in the big barn.
The first animals to arrive are the three dogs, Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher, followed by the pigs. Hens, pigeons, sheep, and cows arrive, as well as the horses, Boxer and Clover. Muriel, the white goat, and the donkey Benjamin follow. A group of motherless ducklings wanders in and Clover, being the motherly type, forms a safe place for them to sit with her leg. Mollie, the young mare, arrives just before the cat, who settles in between Boxer and Clover. The only animal missing is Moses, the raven, who is sleeping on his perch behind the barn door.
Old Major addresses the animals, calling them, “Comrades.” He explains that, because he is getting old and may die soon, he wishes to impart his wisdom. Over his lifetime, he has come to the conclusions that “No animal in England is free” and “The life of an animal is misery and slavery” (28).
Old Major states that animals’ domination by Man is the sole reason they cannot be free, happy, and fulfilled. Man is “the only creature that consumes without producing.” His only job is to be “lord of all the animals,” which makes him “the only real enemy” animals have. Man overworks animals only to rob them of the fruits of their labor, and treats them only well enough to survive and provide more labor. When Man is done with an animal, he slaughters it cruelly.
According to Old Major, Rebellion is the path to freedom. Overthrowing the human race would make animals “rich and free” almost instantly. Old Major begs the other animals to devote the rest of their lives to the cause of Rebellion and to reject the idea that they have co-dependence with Man. Furthermore, the animals must be united in order to overthrow man: “All men are enemies. All animals are comrades” (31). Despite this saying, he is not sure whether wild animals count.
Old Major holds a vote to decide whether domesticated animals should unite with wild animals. Only the dogs and the cat vote no, although the cat is not paying attention and votes twice. After the vote, Old Major crystallizes his point, stating: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.” He adds the additional point that, once they have achieved victory, animals must not emulate Man. They must not wear clothing, live in houses, or copy any of Man’s other “evil” habits.
Finally, Old Major relates his dream to the animals. His dream was about the state of happiness that will exist once Man is eliminated. In the dream, a tune his mother and the other sows sang to him in his childhood returned to him, and new words accompanied the tune. Old Major is sure that he has, in his dream life, uncovered an old animal anthem that has lain dormant for generations. It is called “Beasts of England,” and he sings it to the other animals. Orwell describes the song as “a stirring tune, something between Clementine and La Cucaracha” (32). The song glorifies the freedom and joy that will follow “Tyrant Man’s” overthrow, and he urges all animals to “toil for freedom’s sake,” even if they die before the cause is won.