Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, stumbles drunkenly up to bed as the farm animals wait in still silence. The moment he is out of sight, they begin to bustle around, preparing themselves for the big meeting that is to take place that night. 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.
The song rouses the animals, even the dullest of whom learn it in minutes. In fact, the animals are so taken with the song that they sing it five times in unison. The ruckus awakes Mr. Jones, who fires several bullets from his shotgun into the barn wall. The animals rush to their sleeping places, and the farm is silent once again.
Chapter I introduces us to the idealism upon which Animal Farm and Animalism will later be built. In explicating Animal Farm, some critics stress Orwell’s broad focus on totalitarianism over his specific criticism of Stalinism. After all, Orwell saw the threat of totalitarianism (and elitism) manifested not only in Soviet Russia but also in places such as Spain and colonial Britain. However, despite Animal Farm’s far political reach, Orwell did write it as a cautionary tale about Stalinism specifically and, as we shall see, matched its plot quite closely with Russian history. We can read the novel as both a specific and a general allegory.
Old Major assumes the role of philosopher, creating a detailed model for a utopian society. His role is also that of visionary or prophet because, smart as he is, part of Major’s vision of the future came to him in a dream. In his roles of philosopher and visionary, Major represents the political theorist Karl Marx. Old Major is older and wiser than the other animals, a fact that mirrors history. Marx and his theories predated (and therefore influenced) the ideas of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. All three men were still children at the time of Marx’s death.
Major’s vision of mankind’s problems and his plan for a utopian society closely match the tenets of Marxism as expressed in The Communist Manifesto. Major’s ideas of the animal and Man correspond with Marx’s views of the common man and the elite. We should bear this symbolism in mind as we examine Major’s speech. First, Old Major focuses on the exploitation of the animal by Man, who is concerned only with making a profit. Although the animal does all the work, it gets no stake in what it produces because man controls not only the means of production but also the means of distribution. Marxism argues that the common man becomes confused by the elite’s self-serving ideology and becomes separated from its true nature. In the same way, Major says that Man keeps animals in submission only because he is the one creating the ideology and the rules. In order to claim their destiny of being “rich and free,” the animals must overthrow Man.
Major also represents Vladimir Lenin, the foremost author of the Russian Revolution and of the formation of the Soviet Union. If historically Marx played the role of grandfather theorist, then Lenin played that of young interpreter and motivator. Old Major not only bestows his theory upon the animals, he awakens them from the dreamtime of Man’s ideology and rouses them to action. He does so with the help of “Beasts of England,” a revolutionary song that helps the animals envision the “golden future time” when they will live free of man’s (literal and metaphorical) yoke. Orwell also connects Major to Lenin by his use of the word “comrade,” which is associated with communism.
If Major represents Marx and Lenin, two revolutionary forces, then Jones represents the existing totalitarian regime. He symbolizes imperial Russia and the ineffective Czar Nicholas II. Jones stands for an ideology and methodology that have been in practice for a very long time. In all the history of Manor Farm, the animals have never risen up against him nor thought of doing so. Though they are superior in numbers and strength, they cannot match his intellectual capabilities (or at least think they cannot). We should also note that Moses the raven is Jones’s “especial pet.” Moses represents the religion that, in the Russian Empire, was connected closely with the throne. Jones feeds Moses bread soaked in beer to keep him tame, just as the Russian throne cooperated with the Church but kept it on a tight leash. Under Marxism-Leninism, religion is one of the things that appeases the common man and makes him easier to subjugate; as Marx famously stated, “religion is the opiate of the masses.” It has no value in a truly utopian society, such theorists believe, because people are satisfied in reality and no longer feel the need to rely on faith or the promise of heaven. It follows that Moses is conspicuously absent from Major’s big meeting.