The allegorical novella Animal Farm by George Orwell was first published on 17 August 1945. It may have been inspired by events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and subsequent life under the totalitarian rule of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union which he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. The novel addresses corruption, wickedness, ignorance, greed, myopia and indifference. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, especially after his experiences with the NKVD and the Spanish Civil War.
Animal Farm starts when, an old boar on the Manor Farm, convinces the other animals that humans are “enemies”. When He dies, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and prepare for a Rebellion. The animals revolt, driving the drunken, irresponsible farmer Mr. Jones, as well as Mrs. Jones and the other human caretakers and employees, off 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.
Jones and his men attempt to recapture the farm, aided by several other farmers who are terrified of similar animal revolts. Snowball and the animals, who are hiding in ambush, defeat the men by launching a surprise attack as soon as they enter the farmyard. 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 vie for pre-eminence. When Snowball announces his plans to modernize the farm by building a windmill, Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away and declares himself leader.
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. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. However the windmill collapses after a violent storm, and Napoleon and Squealer convince the animals that Snowball sabotaged it.
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 Farmer 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, a neighbouring farmer, attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill. Although the animals win the battle, 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 purportedly take Boxer to a 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.) The windmill is rebuilt along with construction of another windmill, which makes the farm a good amount of income. However, the ideals which Snowball discussed, including stalls with electric lighting, heating and running water 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. 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” and the pigs start to behave more like humans.
Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel “contre Stalin” and in his essay of 1946, Why I Write, he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”. Orwell originally suggested the title Union des républiques socialistes animales for the French translation, which recalled the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques, and which abbreviates to URSA, the Latin for “bear”, a symbol of Russia. It was written Between November 1943-February 1944, when the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was at its height and Stalin was held in highest esteem in Britain both among the people and intelligentsia, a fact that Orwell hated.
It was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers, including one of Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz. Although Its publication was delayed it became a great commercial success when it appeared— partly because the Cold War so quickly followed WW2. Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also places 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. There is also an animated version of Animal Farm