Animal Farm Summary and Analysis
Old Major dies three nights after the meeting that united the animals. Over the next three months, the more intelligent animals begin to approach life differently. They now anticipate the Rebellion, for which they assume the task of preparing. The pigs take on the task of organizing and teaching the other animals because they are “generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals” (35).
Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer have taken charge especially, and they have expanded Old Major’s concept into a “complete system of thought” called Animalism. They hold frequent meetings in the big barn to espouse the views of Animalism to the other farm animals. At first, the animals are not convinced that they should follow Animalism. Some feel loyalty to Mr. Jones, some worry that they cannot be self-sufficient, and others, such as Mollie, worry about losing treats such as sugar and ribbons. Snowball contradicts Mollie, saying that the ribbons are “the badge of slavery” and that “liberty is worth more than ribbons” (37).
Moses causes trouble for the pigs by inventing an animal heaven called Sugarcandy Mountain., a utopia for another time. In contrast, Clover and Boxer are some of the pigs’ strongest collaborators. Not being very intelligent themselves, Clover and Boxer memorize simple pro-Animalism arguments that they pass on to the others.
Monetary troubles plague Mr. Jones, leading him to drink excessively. The farmhands are lazy and fail to tend the farm well, yet hard times for Mr. Jones mean a leg up for the animals. In fact, Mr. Jones’s misfortune makes the Rebellion come earlier than expected. On Midsummer’s Eve in June, Mr. Jones gets so drunk that he passes out and neglects to feed the animals. Having gone unfed for hours, the animals break into the store-shed and eat. Mr. Jones and the farmhands rush in and begin whipping the animals indiscriminately, and the animals respond by attacking them in unison. The men are frightened and forced to flee the farm.
After a disbelieving calm, the animals barge into the harness-room and drown or burn all the implements of their former bondage. Snowball makes sure to burn the ribbons, which he calls tantamount to clothing, and states, “All animals should go naked” (40). The animals then help themselves to double servings of food and sleep better than they ever have. When they awake the next morning, they survey the farm with new eyes, absorbing the fact that it is now their own. Finally, they tour the farmhouse, seeing in disbelief the “unbelievable luxury” in which the Joneses had lived. Then the animals agree to leave the farmhouse intact as a museum. They confiscate a few hams for burial and leave.
The pigs reveal that they have taught themselves to read and write from an old children’s book, which they burned in the bonfire of human belongings. Snowball uses paint to replace the title “Manor Farm” with “Animal Farm” on the farm gate. Back in the big barn, they reveal that they have reduced Animalism to Seven Commandments. The animals must live by these commandments “for ever after.” The commandments, which Snowball writes on the wall with some typographical errors, are:
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.
After reading the Seven Commandments out loud, Snowball declares that the animals must begin the hay harvest. Three cows interrupt his thought by lowing in pain, since their udders are full to bursting. Some pigs milk the cows, producing “five buckets of frothing creamy milk” (44). The animals wonder what to do with the milk, but Napoleon puts off that decision for a later time. The animals begin the harvest in the fields, and when they return the milk is gone.
Old Major’s death represents Lenin’s death in 1924, which left Stalin (Napoleon) and Trotsky (Snowball) to vie for the leadership position. Major’s meeting changes the animals’ outlook on life, but Orwell is careful to mention that not all the animals quite grasp Major’s idea of a utopian society. All the animals can learn "Beasts of England," but only those smart enough can truly assume the revolutionary spirit and the task of preparing for the Rebellion. The pigs become the organizers very quickly. It is important to note two things about their rise to power. First, the pigs have not always been in charge of the other animals, though later in the book when the pigs are so thoroughly demonized, Orwell makes it hard for the animals—and the reader—to remember that. But they are superior by nature—or at least by tradition—when it comes to intelligence. Second, the pigs’ intentions are not necessarily bad at first. They take on the task of organization because of their reputed superiority rather than a desire to take control for themselves. Just as Boxer is best suited for hard manual labor, the pigs take their place for organizational work in the animals’ division of labor.
Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer organize Major’s ideas into the theory of Animalism, which can stand for any “complete system of thought” but is meant to evoke Soviet Communism. If Snowball and Napoleon represent the organizers of Communism, then the other pigs represent those of the Russian intelligentsia who became involved in the revolutionary cause. The Seven Commandments represent Communism in its theoretical, idealized form. In writing, the Seven Commandments look fair and hold true to Major’s stipulation that the animals not emulate humans. Though the animals intend to live by the Seven Commandments “for ever after,” we will learn quickly that the tenets of Animalism do not translate perfectly into reality, especially not with the seeds of elitism already planted among the pigs.
Like any new theory, Animalism is met with doubt and opposition. The most notable objection comes from Mollie, the fickle mare that represents Russia’s elite. Although the common animals also doubt Animalism, Mollie is spoiled by the special treatment she received under Jones’s rule (mirroring the czar’s rule). She also, despite being superficial and fickle, has the intelligence and the resources to get herself out of Animal Farm, which the “peasant” animals lack. Historically, many of the Russian elite were unwilling to give up their privileges, just as Mollie is loath to give up ribbons, sugar, or being petted. Like Mollie, they became expatriates in capitalist societies where they could retain their advantages (this was a particularly wise move, considering what had happened to the nobility during the French Revolution). Moses also presents a challenge to Animalism, just as religion presented a challenge to Communism. Historically, Stalin used intimidation and force to crush religion and promote atheism in the Soviet Union. However, despite their efforts to promote their ideas over those of Moses, the leadership of Animal Farm allows Moses to come and go as he pleases. The struggles and inconsistencies of Animalism as practiced can be made softer by belief in an animal heaven to be enjoyed later.
Mr. Jones’s monetary troubles mirror the Russian throne’s ineffectiveness and dwindling power on the eve of the Revolution. The air is ripe for revolution, and the animals seize the opportunity to run Jones off his own land. The animals are kinder to Jones than the revolutionaries were to Czar Nicholas II, who was executed on Lenin’s orders along with his family.
With Jones gone, the animals begin to realize Major’s vision of a utopian, animal-run society that operates under its own ideology. The Rebellion could represent the February Revolution (though it happens on Midsummer's Eve) or the Russian Revolution as a whole. The February Revolution did result in Czar Nicholas II's abdication, which Jones's expulsion mirrors neatly. The story, however, does not need a one-to-one correspondence with history, and Orwell can make his points more crisply by adapting the history to his carefully crafted allegory.
Although the animals live happily for a while, it is important to note that the pigs have begun their clandestine and elitist activities already. For example, they order that all artifacts of the animals’ oppression be burned. The pigs thus burn a children’s book they used to teach themselves to read and write, but the resource is no longer available after the book-burning. Throughout the novel, Orwell emphasizes the other animals’ lack of intelligence, but we can never be sure that the animals’ ignorance and illiteracy is due to lack of intelligence rather than an oppressive environment, generation after generation, that has made their lower status and ability seem natural. When the pigs take the milk for themselves, the reader knows that this is the beginning of a new round of subjugation and oppression by an elite.
Animal Farm Essays and Related Content
- Animal Farm: Major Themes
- Animal Farm: Essays
- Animal Farm: Lesson Plan
- Animal Farm: Questions
- Animal Farm: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- George Orwell: Biography
- Animal Farm Summary
- About Animal Farm
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter I
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter II
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter III
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter IV
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter V
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter VI
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter VII
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter VIII
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter IX
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter X
- A Brief History of the Soviet Union, 1917-1944
- Related Links on Animal Farm
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 5
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources