Animal Farm By George Orwell. Key Themes. Key Themes. Greed Leaders and followers Betrayal Propaganda and communication Appearance and reality. A theme can be developed in a number of ways, for example through character, irony and events. Greed.
A theme can be developed in a number of ways, for example through character, irony and events.
The theme of ‘Greed’ can be seen from the start of the novel.
Greed is one of the biblical seven deadly sins and can manifest itself in several different ways.
Mr Jones drinks to excess, as a result he loses his grip on the farm and enables the animals to take charge.
“Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.”
Chapter 1, page 1.
Old Major’s speech berates the human farmers for being greedy.
He points out that humans only take from the animals, they do not actually produce anything themselves.
"Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself."
Chapter 1, page 4.
The characters of the pigs automatically have the connotation of greed – ‘greedy pig’.
This is shown to be true as the story progresses; we see the pigs take a larger and larger share of the available food.
“ ‘Never mind the milk, comrades,’ cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets. ‘That will be attended to…I shall follow in a few minutes. Forward, comrades! The hay is waiting.’
…when they came back in the evening it was noticed that the milk had disappeared.”
Chapter 2, page 16.
As the animals become more deprived of food, the pigs live in more and more luxury.
They not only drink the milk that is produced, but also start to drink alcohol.
It is telling that their desire for alcohol leads them to explore methods of brewing and that the money raised by selling Boxer for glue is spent on alcohol.
“The word went round that from somewhere or other the pigs had acquired the money to buy themselves another case of whisky.”
Chapter 9, page 78.
Old Major’s principles are thrown aside as Napoleon’s desire for money and physical goods grows.
Orwell shows that the pigs, and Napoleon in particular, have taken the place of Mr Jones.
As their power over the other animals increases so does their greed until there is no discernable difference between the pigs and the humans.
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Chapter 10, page 88.
This is an important theme in ‘Animal Farm’ as it is closely linked to Orwell’s reasons for writing the novel.
Orwell wanted to draw people’s attention to the fact that the Communist leaders had taken the ideas of Karl Marx and exploited them for their own means.
“I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily translated into other languages.”
Introduction, page xv.
At the start of the novel, Mr Jones is in charge of the animals. The animals respect Old Major, but he is not really their leader.
The animals who vie for the leadership, Napoleon and Snowball, are not introduced until Chapter 2.
This distances them from the ideals stated in Old Major’s speech. They take charge as they are more intelligent than the others.
“The work of teaching and organizing the others fell naturally upon the pigs, who were generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals.”
Chapter 2, page 9.
The cracks in the shared leadership start to show before long.
“Snowball and Napoleon were by far the most active in the debates. But it was noticed that these two were never in agreement: whatever suggestion either of them made, the other could be counted on to oppose it.”
Chapter3, page 19.
The tension begins to build up from this point, as it is obvious that the two pigs will not be able to share power for long.
Snowball’s plans for the windmill becomes an issue which divides the animals:
“The animals formed themselves into two factions under the slogans, ‘Vote for Snowball and the three-day week’ and ‘Vote for Napoleon and the full manger’.”
Chapter 5, page 31.
We know that this situation can not last; it has become a popularity contest for leadership.
Napoleon takes charge of the battle for leadership, and as is so often the case, it is this pre-emptive strike that takes Snowball by surprise.
“But just at this moment Napoleon stood up and…uttered a high-pitched whimper of a kind no one had ever heard him utter before.
At this there was a terrible baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the barn. They dashed straight for Snowball.”
Chapter 5, page 33.
Napoleon becomes the undisputed leader.
The followers are a very varied group. The sheep are never looked at as individuals. The sheep chant the maxims they have learnt:
“often as they lay in the field they would all start bleating ‘Four legs good, two legs bad!’”
Chapter 3, page 21.
At the end of the book this habit of the sheep is used by Squealer:
“He was, he said, teaching them to sing a new song, for which privacy was needed.”
Chapter 10, page 82.
The sheep’s mindless acceptance, and repetition of phrases is used to sinister effect:
“Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything – in spite of the terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticizing, no matter what happened – they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of –
‘Four legs good, two legs better!’”
Chapter 10, page 83.
The two horses, Boxer and Clover are also unquestioning followers. Neither of them have enough intelligence to see through the lies Squealer spreads.
Boxer has two maxims, and this is almost all he says in the book:
“Napoleon is always right”
“I will work harder.”
This blind obedience leads Boxer to work himself almost to death; the pigs then sell him to the knacker.
This is a relatively simple theme. It can be traced from the beginning of the story all the way through to the end.
Old Major’s ideas, as stated in Chapter 1 page 3-6, are betrayed from the start:
“or sleep in a bed,”
“No animal must ever live in a house,”
“or drink alcohol,”
“No argument must lead you astray.”
“or touch money,”
“And, above all, no animal must ever tyrannize over his own kind.”
Some more examples of betrayal are:
Communication is vital to help the pigs maintain their leadership.
The media is represented by Squealer; the name of this pig suggests treachery, so we may feel it is not wise to believe all he says.
History is rewritten by the pigs, perhaps criticising the unreliable nature of nostalgia.
Squealer’s speeches to the animals are all propaganda. He often uses ‘facts’ and figures to back up his points. He knows that the majority of the animals are unable to read and therefore have no option but to believe what he says.
“Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig.”
Chapter 3, page 22.
“Squealer…would read out to them lists of figures proving that the production of every class of foodstuff had increased by 200%, 300%, or 500%, as the case may be.”
Chapter 8, page 56.
This is a common theme in literature; Shakespeare often uses it in his plays. This theme is explored on many levels throughout the novel.
The novel was originally titled ‘Animal Farm – A Fairy Tale’, and on the surface that is what it is. However, when you look beneath the surface you can see that it is an allegory, with the animals representing historical characters and types of people. So it is possible to say that the book itself is not what it appears to be.
An example of how to examine the theme of appearance and reality can be seen by looking at the beginning of the novel.
Mr Jones appears to be in control of the farm, but the meeting held in the barn shows that he is not.
Old Major is a well respected character and his speech seems very impressive, however he makes the comment that:
“Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?” Page 5.
This is shown to be untrue, so Major is actually very naïve, not the wise expert he claims to be.
Old Major’s death at the start of Chapter 2 can be seen as something inevitable, as he is old. However, as Old Major saw the rebellion in a dream, the death of the dreamer can be seen as the death of his ideals.
The rebellion appears to be fulfilling Old Major’s dream, however, in reality it is merely a reaction to hunger. The rebels are in fact animals behaving according to their natural urges.
The following characters can be linked to these historical figures, however they can also refer to types of people. Things are not always as simple as they appear to be.
Napoleon the Pig
Themes are everywhere! You need to know at least some of them for the exam.