Satire, Political satire
17 August 1945
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
Print (hardback & paperback)
112 (UK paperback edition)
Napoleon, Snowball, Old Major, Squealer, Mr. Jones
Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, Retro Hugo Award for Best Novella
George Orwell books, Communism books, Dystopian books
Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin ("un conte satirique contre Staline"), and in his essay "Why I Write" (1946), wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole".
- Animal farm by george orwell book summary and review minute book report
- Plot summary
- Horses and donkeys
- Other animals
- Efforts to find a publisher
- Critical response
- Significance and allegory
- Radio dramatizations
- Stage productions
The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story; U.S. publishers dropped the subtitle when it was published in 1946, and only one of the translations during Orwell's lifetime kept it. Other titular variations include subtitles like "A Satire" and "A Contemporary Satire". Orwell suggested the title Union des républiques socialistes animales for the French translation, which abbreviates to URSA, the Latin word for "bear", a symbol of Russia. It also played on the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques.
Orwell wrote the book between November 1943 and February 1944, when the UK was in its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union and the British people and intelligentsia held Stalin in high esteem, a phenomenon Orwell hated. The manuscript was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers, including one of Orwell's own, Victor Gollancz, which delayed its publication. It became a great commercial success when it did appear partly because international relations were transformed as the wartime alliance gave way to the Cold War.
Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and is also included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.
Animal farm by george orwell book summary and review minute book report
Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm, summons the animals on the farm together for a meeting, during which he refers to humans as "enemies" and teaches the animals a revolutionary song called "Beasts of England". When Major dies, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and consider it a duty to prepare for the Rebellion. The animals revolt and drive the drunken and irresponsible farmer Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it "Animal Farm". They adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, "All animals are equal."
Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on the principles of Animalism. Food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items, ostensibly for their personal health.
Some time later, several men attack Animal Farm. Jones and his men are making an attempt to recapture the farm, aided by several other farmers who are terrified of similar animal revolts. Snowball, who has been studying the battles of Julius Caesar in anticipation of such a fight, orders the animals to retreat, then attacks the men and beats them back. Snowball's popularity soars, and this event is proclaimed "The Battle of the Cowshed". It is celebrated annually with the firing of a gun, on the anniversary of the Revolution.
Napoleon and Snowball struggle for pre-eminence. When Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill, Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away and declares himself leader of Animal Farm.
Napoleon enacts changes to the governance structure of the farm, replacing meetings with a committee of pigs who will run the farm. Through a young pig named Squealer, Napoleon claims credit for the windmill idea. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. When the animals find the windmill collapsed after a violent storm, Napoleon and Squealer convince the animals that Snowball is trying to sabotage their project. Once Snowball becomes a scapegoat, Napoleon begins to purge the farm with his dogs, killing animals he accuses of consorting with his old rival. When some animals recall the Battle of the Cowshed, Napoleon (who was nowhere to be found during the battle) frequently smears Snowball as a collaborator of Jones', while falsely representing himself as the hero of the battle. "Beasts of England" is replaced with an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals remain convinced that they are better off than they were under Mr. Jones.
Mr Frederick, one of the neighbouring farmers, attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill. Though the animals win the battle, they do so at great cost, as many, including Boxer the workhorse, are wounded. Despite his injuries, Boxer continues working harder and harder, until he collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer to the veterinary surgeon, explaining that better care can be given there. Benjamin, the cynical donkey who "could read as well as any pig", notices that the van belongs to a knacker and attempts a futile rescue. Squealer quickly assures the animals that the van had been purchased from the knacker by an animal hospital, and the previous owner's signboard had not been repainted. In a subsequent report, Squealer reports sadly to the animals that Boxer died peacefully at the animal hospital; the pigs hold a festival one day after Boxer's death to further praise the glories of Animal Farm and have the animals work harder by taking on Boxer's ways. However, the truth was that Napoleon had engineered the sale of Boxer to the knacker, allowing him and his inner circle to acquire money to buy whisky for themselves. (In 1940s England, one way for farms to make money was to sell large animals to a knacker, who would kill the animal and boil its remains into animal glue.)
Years pass, and the windmill is rebuilt along with construction of another windmill, which makes the farm a good amount of income. However, the concepts which Snowball discussed, of animal stalls with running water and lighting, are forgotten, with Napoleon advocating that the happiest animals live simple lives. In addition to Boxer, many of the animals who participated in the Revolution are dead, as is Farmer Jones, who died in another part of England. The pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others". Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name "The Manor Farm". As the animals look from pigs to humans, they realise they can no longer distinguish between the two.
Horses and donkeys
George Orwell wrote the manuscript in 1943 and 1944 subsequent to his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, which he described in Homage to Catalonia (1938). In the preface of a 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, he explained how escaping the communist purges in Spain taught him "how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries". This motivated Orwell to expose and strongly condemn what he saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals.
Immediately prior to writing the book, Orwell had quit the BBC. He was also upset about a booklet for propagandists the Ministry of Information had put out. The booklet included instructions on how to quell ideological fears of the Soviet Union, such as directions to claim that the Red Terror was a figment of Nazi imagination.
In the preface, Orwell also described the source of the idea of setting the book on a farm:
...I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
Efforts to find a publisher
Orwell initially encountered difficulty getting the manuscript published, largely due to fears that the book might upset the alliance between Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Four publishers refused; one had initially accepted the work but declined it after consulting the Ministry of Information. Eventually, Secker and Warburg published the first edition in 1945.
During the Second World War, it became clear to Orwell that anti-Soviet literature was not something which most major publishing houses would touch — including his regular publisher Gollancz. He also submitted the manuscript to Faber and Faber, where the poet T. S. Eliot (who was a director of the firm) rejected it; Eliot wrote back to Orwell praising the book's "good writing" and "fundamental integrity", but declared that they would only accept it for publication if they had some sympathy for the viewpoint "which I take to be generally Trotskyite". Eliot said he found the view "not convincing", and contended that the pigs were made out to be the best to run the farm; he posited that someone might argue "what was needed... was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs". Orwell let André Deutsch, who was working for Nicholson & Watson in 1944, read the typescript, and Deutsch was convinced that Nicholson & Watson would want to publish it; however, they did not, and "lectured Orwell on what they perceived to be errors in Animal Farm." In his London Letter on 17 April 1944 for Partisan Review, Orwell wrote that it was "now next door to impossible to get anything overtly anti-Russian printed. Anti-Russian books do appear, but mostly from Catholic publishing firms and always from a religious or frankly reactionary angle."
The publisher Jonathan Cape, who had initially accepted Animal Farm, subsequently rejected the book after an official at the British Ministry of Information warned him off — although the civil servant who it is assumed gave the order was later found to be a Soviet spy. Writing to Leonard Moore, a partner in the literary agency of Christy & Moore, publisher Jonathan Cape explained that the decision had been taken on the advice of a senior official in the Ministry of Information. Such flagrant anti-Soviet bias was unacceptable, and the choice of pigs as the dominant class was thought to be especially offensive. It may reasonably be assumed that the 'important official' was a man named Peter Smollett, who was later unmasked as a Soviet agent. Orwell was suspicious of Smollett/Smolka, and he would be one of the names Orwell included in his list of Crypto-Communists and Fellow-Travellers sent to the Information Research Department in 1949. Born Hans Peter Smolka in Vienna in 1912, he came to Britain in 1933 as an NKVD agent with the codename 'Abo', became a naturalised British subject in 1938, changed his name, and after the outbreak of World War II joined the Ministry of Information where he organised pro-Soviet propaganda, working with Kim Philby in 1943–45. Smollett's family have rejected the accusation that he was a spy. The publisher wrote to Orwell, saying:
If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships.
Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.
Frederic Warburg also faced pressures against publication, even from people in his own office and from his wife Pamela, who felt that it was not the moment for ingratitude towards Stalin and the heroic Red Army, which had played a major part in defeating Hitler. A Russian translation was printed in the paper Posev, and in giving permission for a Russian translation of Animal Farm, Orwell refused in advance all royalties. A translation in Ukrainian, which was produced in Germany, was confiscated in large part by the American wartime authorities and handed over to the Soviet repatriation commission.
In October 1945, Orwell wrote to Frederic Warburg expressing interest in pursuing the possibility that the political cartoonist David Low might illustrate Animal Farm. Low had written a letter saying that he had had "a good time with ANIMAL FARM – an excellent bit of satire – it would illustrate perfectly." Nothing came of this, and a trial issue produced by Secker & Warburg in 1956 illustrated by John Driver was abandoned, but the Folio Society published an edition in 1984 illustrated by Quentin Blake and an edition illustrated by the cartoonist Ralph Steadman was published by Secker & Warburg in 1995 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first edition of Animal Farm.
Orwell originally wrote a preface complaining about British self-censorship and how the British people were suppressing criticism of the USSR, their World War II ally:
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.... Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact.
Although the first edition allowed space for the preface, it was not included, and as of June 2009 most editions of the book have not included it.
Secker and Warburg published the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945 without an introduction. However, the publisher had provided space for a preface in the author's proof composited from the manuscript. For reasons unknown, no preface was supplied, and the page numbers had to be renumbered at the last minute.
In 1972, Ian Angus found the original typescript titled "The Freedom of the Press", and Bernard Crick published it, together with his own introduction, in The Times Literary Supplement on 15 September 1972 as "How the essay came to be written". Orwell's essay criticised British self-censorship by the press, specifically the suppression of unflattering descriptions of Stalin and the Soviet government. The same essay also appeared in the Italian 1976 edition of Animal Farm with another introduction by Crick, claiming to be the first edition with the preface. Other publishers were still declining to publish it.
Contemporary reviews of the work were not universally positive. Writing in the American New Republic magazine, George Soule expressed his disappointment in the book, writing that it "puzzled and saddened me. It seemed on the whole dull. The allegory turned out to be a creaking machine for saying in a clumsy way things that have been said better directly." Soule believed that the animals were not consistent enough with their real world inspirations, and said, "It seems to me that the failure of this book (commercially it is already assured of tremendous success) arises from the fact that the satire deals not with something the author has experienced, but rather with stereotyped ideas about a country which he probably does not know very well".
The Guardian on 24 August 1945 called Animal Farm "a delightfully humorous and caustic satire on the rule of the many by the few". Tosco Fyvel, writing in Tribune on the same day, called the book "a gentle satire on a certain State and on the illusions of an age which may already be behind us." Julian Symons responded, on 7 September, "Should we not expect, in Tribune at least, acknowledgement of the fact that it is a satire not at all gentle upon a particular State – Soviet Russia? It seems to me that a reviewer should have the courage to identify Napoleon with Stalin, and Snowball with Trotsky, and express an opinion favourable or unfavourable to the author, upon a political ground. In a hundred years time perhaps, Animal Farm may be simply a fairy story, today it is a political satire with a good deal of point."
Animal Farm has been subject to much comment in the decades since these early remarks.
The pigs Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer adapt Old Major's ideas into "a complete system of thought", which they formally name Animalism, an allegoric reference to Communism. Soon after, Napoleon and Squealer partake in activities associated with the humans (drinking alcohol, sleeping in beds, trading), which were explicitly prohibited by the Seven Commandments. Squealer is employed to alter the Seven Commandments to account for this humanisation, an allusion to the Soviet government's revising of history in order to exercise control of the people's beliefs about themselves and their society.
The original commandments are:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
- No animal shall wear clothes.
- No animal shall sleep in a bed.
- No animal shall drink alcohol.
- No animal shall kill any other animal.
- All animals are equal.
These commandments are also distilled into the maxim "Four legs good, two legs bad!" which is primarily used by the sheep on the farm, often to disrupt discussions and disagreements between animals on the nature of Animalism.
Later, Napoleon and his pigs secretly revise some commandments to clear themselves of accusations of law-breaking. The changed commandments are as follows, with the changes bolded:
- No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
- No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
- No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
Eventually, these are replaced with the maxims, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others", and "Four legs good, two legs better!" as the pigs become more human. This is an ironic twist to the original purpose of the Seven Commandments, which were supposed to keep order within Animal Farm by uniting the animals together against the humans and preventing animals from following the humans' evil habits. Through the revision of the commandments, Orwell demonstrates how simply political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda.
Significance and allegory
In the Eastern Bloc, both Animal Farm and later Nineteen Eighty-Four were on the list of forbidden books until the end of communist rule in 1989, and were only available via clandestine Samizdat networks.
Orwell biographer Jeffrey Meyers has written, "virtually every detail has political significance in this allegory." Orwell himself wrote in 1946, "Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution..[and] that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters [-] revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert." In a preface for a 1947 Ukrainian edition, he stated, "... for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement. On my return from Spain [in 1937] I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages."
The revolt of the animals against Farmer Jones is Orwell's analogy with the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Battle of the Cowshed has been said to represent the allied invasion of Soviet Russia in 1918, and the defeat of the White Russians in the Russian Civil War. The pigs' rise to pre-eminence mirrors the rise of a Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, just as Napoleon's emergence as the farm's sole leader reflects Stalin's emergence. The pigs' appropriation of milk and apples for their own use, "the turning point of the story" as Orwell termed it in a letter to Dwight Macdonald, stands as an analogy for the crushing of the left-wing 1921 Kronstadt revolt against the Bolsheviks, and the difficult efforts of the animals to build the windmill suggest the various Five Year Plans. The puppies controlled by Napoleon parallel the nurture of the secret police in the Stalinist structure, and the pigs' treatment of the other animals on the farm recalls the internal terror faced by the populace in the 1930s. In chapter seven, when the animals confess their nonexistent crimes and are killed, Orwell directly alludes to the purges, confessions and show trials of the late 1930s. These contributed to Orwell's conviction that the Bolshevik revolution had been corrupted and the Soviet system become rotten.
Peter Edgerly Firchow and Peter Davison consider that the Battle of the Windmill represents the Great Patriotic War (World War II), especially the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Moscow. During the battle, Orwell first wrote, "All the animals, including Napoleon" took cover. Orwell had the publisher alter this to "All the animals except Napoleon" in recognition of Stalin's decision to remain in Moscow during the German advance. Orwell requested the change after he met Joseph Czapski in Paris in March 1945. Czapski, a survivor of the Katyn Massacre and an opponent of the Soviet regime, told Orwell, as Orwell wrote to Arthur Koestler, that it had been "the character [and] greatness of Stalin" that saved Russia from the German invasion.
Other connections that writers have suggested illustrate Orwell's telescoping of Russian history from 1917 to 1943 include the wave of rebelliousness that ran through the countryside after the Rebellion, which stands for the abortive revolutions in Hungary and in Germany (Ch IV); the conflict between Napoleon and Snowball (Ch V), paralleling "the two rival and quasi-Messianic beliefs that seemed pitted against one another: Trotskyism, with its faith in the revolutionary vocation of the proletariat of the West; and Stalinism with its glorification of Russia's socialist destiny"; Napoleon's dealings with Whymper and the Willingdon markets (Ch VI), paralleling the Treaty of Rapallo; and Frederick's forged bank notes, paralleling the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact of August 1939, after which Frederick attacks Animal Farm without warning and destroys the windmill.
The book's close, with the pigs and men in a kind of rapprochement, reflected Orwell's view of the 1943 Teheran Conference that seemed to display the establishment of "the best possible relations between the USSR and the West"—but in reality were destined, as Orwell presciently predicted, to continue to unravel. The disagreement between the allies and the start of the Cold War is suggested when Napoleon and Pilkington, both suspicious, "played an ace of spades simultaneously".
Similarly, the music in the novel, starting with Beasts of England and the later anthems, parallels The Internationale and its adoption and repudiation by the Soviet authorities as the Anthem of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s.
Animal Farm has been adapted to film twice. Both differ from the novel and have been accused of taking significant liberties, including sanitising some aspects.
In 2012, a HFR-3D version of Animal Farm, potentially directed by Andy Serkis was announced.
A BBC radio version, produced by Rayner Heppenstall, was broadcast in January 1947. Orwell listened to the production at his home in Canonbury Square, London, with Hugh Gordon Porteous, amongst others. Orwell later wrote to Heppenstall that Porteous, "who had not read the book, grasped what was happening after a few minutes."
A further radio production, again using Orwell's own dramatisation of the book, was broadcast in January 2013 on BBC Radio 4. Tamsin Greig narrated, and the cast included Nicky Henson as Napoleon, Toby Jones as the propagandist Squealer, and Ralph Ineson as Boxer.
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On 17 July 2009, Amazon.com withdrew certain Amazon Kindle titles, including Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, from sale, refunded buyers, and remotely deleted items from purchasers' devices after discovering that the publisher lacked rights to publish the titles in question. Notes and annotations for the books made by users on their devices were also deleted. After the move prompted outcry and comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four itself, Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener stated that the company is "[c]hanging our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances."