Animal Farm (1945) is a novella by George Orwell. Originally sub-titled A Fairy Story, it is a commentary on the development of Russian communism under Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) delivered in allegorical form. The thoroughgoing allegory compares the inequalities of brutal, socially unequal pre-Revolutionary Russia with a cruelly run farm on which the humans represent the capitalists and aristocrats, and the animals represent the people. The Old Major – a prize boar who dies relatively early in the action – represents the Marxist-Leninist principles behind the Revolution through which the animals take power. In the short term, conditions are improved, but gradually corruption creeps in, and Napoleon – another boar, who represents Stalin – betrays the principles of the Revolution. Notably, he deceitfully sends the horse Boxer, who has been a noble, hardworking servant of the original principles of the Revolution, to the knacker’s yard to fund the increasingly human-like luxuries indulged in by the pigs who have assumed control of the farm.
The final perversion of the original principles of the revolution is expressed in the line ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’, a phrase which has passed into the public consciousness.
Like Nineteen Eighty-Four after it, the book was misread as being critical of all forms of socialism, rather than specifically Stalinist communism, and the American Central Intelligence Agency funded a cartoon version in 1955. Because of its illegality, many in Soviet-controlled territory first read it in pirated, ‘samizdat’ form.
In the essay ‘Why I Write’ (1946), Orwell described Animal Farm as ‘the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’. In the clarity of its story and structure, it reflects Orwell’s commitment – in that essay and elsewhere – to expressing political ideas in what is now celebrated as a ‘plain style’, in particular contrast to what he saw as the worst jargonistic excesses of Marxist philosophy.
- Article by:
- Dr Mercedes Aguirre
- Literature 1900–1950, Power and conflict
Mercedes Aguirre explores how George Orwell rewrote the beast fable for the 20th century in Animal Farm.
- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- Power and conflict, Literature 1900–1950
George Orwell’s Animal Farm combines animal fable with political satire targeting Stalinist Russia. John Sutherland describes the novel’s genesis, its struggle to find a publisher, and its eventual success.