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Animal Farm Themes

Analysis of some important themes and essays on them to help you generate ideas.

Use of Allegory

An allegory is a story which operates on different levels. This means that Animal Farm can be read by people of various ages, in a range of cultures. Regardless of this, the essence of the story is what George Orwell wanted to say about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, and he was writing at a particular moment in history. Most of the characters have precise real-life equivalents: old Major is Karl Marx crossed with Lenin; Jones is the Russian Tsar; Napoleon is Stalin; Snowball is Trotsky; Frederick is Hitler; Squealer is Molotov (with a bit of Nazi Germany’s Goebbels thrown in). Boxer represents the hard-pressed, suffering, always willing Russian people; while Benjamin is the sceptic – perhaps Orwell himself – who sees through what’s happening. The device of allegory enables Orwell to make the story entertaining, but still capable of dealing with complex ideas. The Show Trials of the 1930s, for instance, are depicted by “a sheep [who] confessed to have urinated in the drinking pool...and two other sheep confessed to having murdered an old ram.” In reality, very famous Russian Bolsheviks confessed to having been spies for Germany, Britain or Japan. All these “confessions” were later proven to be lies, as history turned against Stalinism.


Stalin rose to the top in the Soviet Union and stayed there for 30 years. He maintained power by destroying enemies and friends alike. In Animal Farm, Napoleon gets rid of Snowball, just as Stalin got rid of Trotsky (later having him murdered). There’s only room for one leader, and later Napoleon becomes just like Jones in the same way that Stalin became a kind of Tsar – only much more powerful. In the story, whenever the animals might question Napoleon’s actions, he uses Squealer to silence objections, and the savage dogs are the secret police – universally feared. Meanwhile, Napoleon and his favoured clique drink and eat all they want while the bulk of the animals suffer rationing and hardship. The token democracy of meetings and votes is soon replaced by absolute rule.

History and Propaganda

History – what the animals think happened – is altered in the story. Snowball’s heroic actions in the Battle of the Cowshed become, through the words of Squealer, re-written to the extent that the animals are told that Snowball “had been openly fighting on Jones’s side.” Some of the animals remember these events differently but they are soon persuaded that, “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”- The past is changed to fit the present, similar to the way that pictures of Stalin with Trotsky were airbrushed so that Trotsky’s role in Russian history would be forgotten. The Seven Commandments are gradually amended whenever it suits Napoleon, for example, when the pigs are drunk the animals see that the commandment now says: “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” Gradually it becomes impossible to remember the truth. Without an accurate sense of the past, how can we judge the present?