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Animal Farm. Background Information. Overview.

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animal farm

Animal Farm

Background Information

  • George Orwell’s 1945 novella, Animal Farm, is the story of an animal revolution. The animal residents of Manor Farm, spurred on by the dream of the pig, Old Major, decide they will change their “miserable, laborious, and short” lives. They overthrow Mr. Jones, their master, and take over the management of the farm. Rather than living under the heel of their human master, the animals of Manor Farm decide that they will take control of the products of their labor, working for the good of the farm and other animals, rather than for the good of humans.

The representation of ideas or moral principles through the use of symbolic characters, events, or objects. It is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

animal farm and allegory
Animal Farm and Allegory

Many of the events at Manor Farm are closely linked to political events in Russia during the first half of the twentieth century. The rebellion by the working animals of the farm against the oppressive human farmer who lives off the fruits of their labor is directly analogous to the Russian Revolution of 1917 in which workers and peasants revolted against a feudal system in which feudal lords lived luxuriously from the toil of the peasants who farmed on their lands.

what s in a name parallels between historical figures and orwell s characters
What’s in a Name? Parallels between historical figures and Orwell’s characters
  • Karl Marx = Old Major - Old Major is the originator of the idea that becomes the basis of the animal rebellion- however, like Marx, the ideals behind it are soon forgotten.
  • Czar Nicolas II = Mr. Jones - Old Major describes Mr. Jones, and humans he represents as the only animals who consumes without producing. The Czar who fell to the communists and the aristocracy he represents collected rent from the peasants who tilled their fields without actually laboring himself.
  • Josef Stalin = Napoleon - Exemplary of the tyranny that overtakes all humans when they accumulate too much power. His greed for more power and wealth overtakes any ideals he may have initially had- much as it did with Stalin, who ultimately can be connected to the deaths of millions of his own fellow citizens. Note Orwell’s choice of names. In pre-WWII Europe, Napoleon was considered the arch-villain.
more parallels
More Parallels
  • Leon Trotsky = Snowball - Leon Trotsky escaped from the Soviet Union after losing a power struggle with Stalin. Trotsky went into exile in Mexico, where he was later murdered by Stalin’s agents.
  • The “Proletariat” (the laboring or working class) = BoxerBoxer is symbolic of the working class who does not have enough information or education to understand the ramifications and implications of decisions made by their bosses or leaders. Boxer believes Napoleon, and his refusal to question what doesn’t seem right ultimately costs him his life. Orwell saw this as parallel to the fate of much of the working class. Note that the use of a ‘workhorse’ parallel the Soviet Union’s workers, and the name which references the Boxer Rebellion of China- which marked the beginning of the process that eventually led to China’s turn to communism.
and still more parallels
and still more parallels . . .
  • Pravda (the newspaper that worked as the propaganda organ of the Party) = Squealer - Pravda was the propaganda arm of the Communist Party prior to the entrance of radio and television. Information was both highly controlled and highly managed, or ‘spun’. It was also the public face of Party policy.
  • The KGB, or secret police = Dogs - The KGB was the enforcer of the Communist Party, and was deeply feared for their ability to carry out orders, no matter how odious.