Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell’s timeless and timely allegorical novel—a scathing satire on a downtrodden society’s blind march towards totalitarianism.

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned—a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible. 

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Animal Farm Summary

Some farm animals revolt against their human owners and establish a “free” society that turns into a dictatorship

Chapters 1–2 

When drunken Farmer Jones staggers off to bed, Old Major, a prize pig, calls the farm animals together and tells them of his dream. He thinks animal life is miserable slavery and that humans are their bitter enemy.

Major urges the animals to rebel and teaches them the Rebellion song, “Beasts of England.” When Major dies, other pigs—notably Snowball and Napoleon, aided by Squealer—assemble Major’s ideas into a system called “Animalism.”

The tame raven, Moses, seductively preaches to the animals about Sugarcandy Mountain in the sky, where after death they will enjoy all the things they want.

On Midsummer’s Day, June 24, the unfed animals break into the farm’s food stores, then drive away Jones and his farmhands. They destroy the tools that symbolize Jones’s ownership, change the name of “Manor Farm” to “Animal Farm,” and draw up a list of Seven Commandments, the laws by which they will govern themselves.

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Chapters 3–4 

The animals harvest a superb crop, with the pigs acting as supervisors. Boxer, the enormous cart horse, coins the slogan “I will work harder!” in order to advance the animals’ Rebellion. Only Benjamin, the old donkey, remains unconvinced that the animals will succeed. Most of the animals learn to read and count. 

Snowball and Napoleon, who share the leadership at first, begin to clash because they have different opinions about the purpose of the revolt. Snowball teaches the sheep the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad” so that they will believe in the superiority of animals (four legs) over humans (two legs). 

On the other hand, Napoleon takes on nine newborn puppies to raise so that he can use them later for his own selfish purposes as guard dogs. The pigs take the milk and the apples for themselves. Squealer, Napoleon’s spokesman, obtains the animals’ cooperation by warning them that they must obey, or see Jones come back to take charge. 

News of the successful Rebellion spreads, alarming Mr. Pikington, who owns nearby Foxwood Farm, and Mr. Frederick of Pinchfield Farm. The two spread malicious lies about the cannibalistic practices and immoral behavior at Animal Farm. 

Jones and his men invade the farm, but Snowball, who had studied Caesar’s campaigns, leads a successful counterattack at the “Battle of the Cowshed.” Snowball is awarded the medal, “Animal Hero, First Class.”

Chapters 5–6 

A foolish young mare, Mollie, deserts the farm. Snowball and Napoleon are increasingly at odds about how the fields should be planted, whether to build a windmill that will create electrical power (Snowball thinks they should), and how to defend the farm against future attacks. At a Sunday meeting, Napoleon summons the dogs he had taken to raise. They are now large, ferocious beasts. 

They drive Snowball from the farm, thereby ensuring Napoleon’s total control. He forbids further debates about policy, and commands that the windmill be built, claiming its construction as his own idea, although it had been Snowball’s. Boxer coins another slogan, “Napoleon is always right,” as the animals submit, with some bewilderment, to Napoleon’s orders.

Almost a year of hard work and various shortages has passed since the takeover of the farm. The animals are still pleased by what they consider to be their free state, and they even accept Napoleon’s order of extra work on Sunday.

Boxer sets an example by his enormous efforts to construct the windmill. Napoleon announces that Animal Farm will begin to trade with humans for necessary goods, but the animals are uneasy about this, for they want no dealings with people. The pigs move into Jones’s house, and Napoleon takes the title of “Leader.” 

A November storm destroys the windmill, and Napoleon blames it on Snowball, whom he now falsely calls a traitor. Nonetheless, the windmill will be rebuilt and made stronger.

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Chapters 7–8 

The winter is bitter and food is short. To counteract unfavourable rumours among the humans about conditions at Animal Farm, Napoleon deceives Mr. Whymper, a lawyer who is their go-between with the town, by making Whymper think that all is well on the farm. 

Napoleon’s order that the hens must deliver 400 eggs a week for trade causes the hens to rebel, but unsuccessfully. False accusations against Snowball are spread by Squealer.

Napoleon’s guard dogs attack four young pigs in order to stifle opposition. Even Boxer, suspected of questioning Napoleon’s actions, must fend off an attack by the dogs. Many other animals panic and confess to acts of treason (overthrow of the government) which they have not even committed. 

Soon, a mound of corpses lies at Napoleon’s feet. Boxer concludes that the fault for such confessions and bloodshed must lie with the animals, not with Napoleon. Others, among them the noble old mare Clover, uneasily realize that this is not what they had hoped and worked for. Napoleon abolishes the Rebellion song “Beasts of England,” arguing that the song is no longer necessary now that the Rebellion is over. He substitutes one written by one of his followers.

The animals work hard all year. The Sixth Commandment (“No animal shall kill any other animal”) is changed in order to suit Napoleon’s purposes. The new Sixth Commandment is, “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.”

He assumes lofty titles, and his portrait is prominently displayed. The completed windmill is named “Napoleon Hill.” He sells a stack of timber to Frederick, who pays with forged money and then launches an attack on Animal Farm. The windmill is blown up, but the animals win the “Battle of the Windmill” by driving off the humans. 

The pigs discover a case of whiskey and get drunk, then decide to plant barley to produce their own alcohol. Only the skeptical Benjamin realizes that Squealer has been secretly altering the Seven Commandments at Napoleon’s orders.

Chapters 9–10 

All but the pigs and dogs suffer from reduced rations in the winter, but the animals convince themselves that what matters is that they are free of human control. The pigs plan a school for their young and enjoy privileges that the other animals do not have. 

Napoleon orders weekly “Spontaneous Demonstrations” and is elected president of the Animal Republic. The pigs tolerate Moses’ preaching because he soothes the animals with promises of better things to come. When the pigs sell Boxer, old and ill, to the slaughterhouse, only Benjamin realizes what Boxer’s terrible fate is. 

The pigs get drunk at a banquet supposedly held in honor of the late Boxer. Years pass. The farm has prospered, but only the pigs and dogs have a better life than before. The others take comfort in knowing that they are free of human control. 

But Squealer stuns them by walking on his hind legs, like a human. He is followed by the other pigs, and finally, by Napoleon, who carries a whip—the thing animals dread most. The sheep chant a new slogan, “Four legs good, two legs better.” 

Now there is only one Commandment, which stresses that some animals are “more equal” than others. The pigs install telephones, subscribe to newspapers, and begin to smoke tobacco and wear clothes. 

Humans arrive for a tour and remain for a banquet with the pigs in the farmhouse. Napoleon assures his guests that the term “Comrade,” which was used equally by animals in the community, is now abolished. He also announces that the term “Animal Farm” no longer exists; instead, the property will now be known as “Manor Farm.” 

The other animals, excluded from the festivities, look through the farmhouse windows and are appalled to realize that they can no longer distinguish the pigs from the humans.

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Animal Farm Characters

Old Major: Prize pig who plants seeds of Rebellion against human control. Urges animals to cooperate, stressing that they are all equal. Tells of the “golden future time” and teaches animals to sing “Beasts of England,” a song of unity. His skull later becomes an object of veneration (dignity, respect, worship). 

Political symbolism: Orwell compares Old Major to Karl Marx (1818–83), a major force behind socialism (in this context, communism), who had a dream of a better society, where justice, equality, and service to the common good would prevail.

Napoleon: Greedy, a determined pig who always gets his own way. Causes Snowball to be driven from Animal Farm; seizes power for himself. His rule is based on ruthlessness, propaganda. Assumes title of “Leader,” destroys opposition through bloody acts. In the end, takes on features of humans: walks on two legs, smokes, wears the clothing. But most of all carries whip—a sign of authority and lordship that animals dread. 

Political symbolism: represents Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), leader of the Communist Party. Orwell was critical of Communists for ruining the original socialist goals and for setting up a government in which a small group of dictators held power over the community. The character’s name also recalls Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), dictatorial emperor of France after the French Revolution.

Snowball: Pig who shares power with Napoleon in the beginning. Forced to flee into exile. Organizes committees, constantly plans to ensure efficient operation of farm. Has visions of self-sufficient society in which, for example, windmill can harness natural power to serve animals. Snowball’s greatest error: failure to recognize Napoleon’s ruthlessness. His name acquires evil reputation in later years because of Squealer’s malicious propaganda. 

Political symbolism: represents Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), whose practical ideas served as the driving force behind the Russian Revolution and who turned dreams and visions into realities. Like Trotsky, Snowball is a brilliant speaker with great persuasive powers.

Boxer: Cart horse of great size and strength; limited intelligence. Never masters more than the first four letters of the alphabet, but works hard, sets example for others. When he is old and ill, pigs show no appreciation for his mighty efforts. 

Political symbolism: exploited member of the working class whose labor provides happiness for others, not for himself. Orwell’s idea is that individuals like Boxer stand to benefit most from a true socialist system in which everyone in the community contributes to the common gain.

Squealer: Pig who knows how to speak effectively; becomes Napoleon’s representative in bullying animals and persuading them that Napoleon is always right in whatever he does. Constantly alarms the others by warning that if they do not follow Napoleon’s orders, Jones will return to the farm and dominate them again. 

Symbolism: he “squeals” on other animals.

Benjamin: Donkey; oldest animal on farm. Skeptical about Rebellion, but keeps thoughts to himself. His only comment—and it puzzles everyone—is that donkeys live a long time (and may see the rise and fall of many politicians and social systems). His only close friend is Boxer, whom he is unable to save from death at the slaughterhouse.

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Animal Farm Analysis

1. Betrayal of Political Idealism

“All animals are equal,” says Old Major; these words encourage animals to free themselves from human control. With strong sense of comradeship, they vote to include even barn rats in their group. 

After Rebellion has taken place, Snowball and Napoleon summarize its principles in Seven Commandments: (1) Whatever goes upon two legs (i.e., a human) is an enemy. (2) Whatever goes upon four legs, or two wings, is a friend. (3) No animal shall wear clothes. (4) No animal shall sleep in a bed. (5) No animal shall drink alcohol. (6) No animal shall kill any other animal. (7) All animals are equal. 

The passage of time, along with Napoleon’s maneuvers to seize power, bring about drastic changes in the wording of the Commandments. Changes reflect movement toward human status. 

Example: Commandment 5 becomes “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” As memory of older generation begins to fade and the young grow up with no firsthand knowledge of Animal Farm’s history, the Seven Commandments are abolished by Napoleon in favor of only one: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

This statement represents a betrayal of Old Major’s idealism; it describes how Napoleon and those like him view the other animals.

2. Lust For Power 

Several animals have qualities of leadership, but in different ways. Old Major’s encouragement leads animals to rebel, but he has no personal interest beyond the defeat of the human race. Boxer, by his great labors, leads others in making every effort for the animal cause, but has no capacity for any other kind of leadership and submits willingly to the plans of more intelligent pigs. Snowball is a leader with vision; his strength lies in organizing the animals into committees that will work to achieve the goals of revolution.

But he becomes so involved in theory and planning that he is caught off-guard by Napoleon’s maneuvers and is forced into exile. Napoleon, who has a reputation for always getting his own way, is a leader who moves unswervingly and ruthlessly toward his goal. Although he adopts the tide of “Leader,” his only interest is in seizing power for himself. He brushes aside theory and idealism.

Napoleon’s emergence as a dictator shows that the goals of the Rebellion have become corrupted; this demonstrates how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

3. Propaganda As Weapon

Propaganda means “deliberate spreading of ideas to further one’s cause or damage an opposing cause.” Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer condense Old Major’s ideas into the system of Animalism, expressed in the Seven Commandments that become widely known, spreading the word of the Rebellion to other farms. 

Used as favorable propaganda for animals everywhere, the system promotes the idea of a just (fair) revolution.

But Napoleon uses propaganda in a negative way. Through Squealer, he convinces the animals that all misfortunes, failures, and shortcomings at Animal Farm are the evil work of the exiled Snowball; he uses lies and propaganda to create a scapegoat who can be blamed for whatever goes wrong. 

Propaganda becomes a powerful weapon that makes Snowball seem criminal, but at the same time, he praises Napoleon’s supposedly unselfish labors as a leader who sacrifices his own comfort and ease for others.

4. Effectiveness of Terrorism 

Napoleon strengthens his power by using as bodyguards a group of ferocious dogs he had raised from puppies. The dogs obey only him; at his command they attack Snowball, who is barely able to flee the farm; the dogs even attack Boxer, whom Squealer suspects of doubting Napoleon’s leadership qualities. 

The bodyguards’ most terrifying act is the slaying of many animals who falsely “accuse” themselves of treason because they have been forced to do so. This ghastly deed—the first shedding of blood since Jones was driven away—horrifies the animals, who, now more than ever, are at the mercy of Napoleon and his brutal police force. The animals are totally helpless, have no way to resist terror, so they submit to Napoleon’s rule.

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Animal Farm Symbols

1. The Farmhouse

Represents the main target of the animals’ fear and hatred of humans; it is here that plans are devised to ensure continuing human control. It is also the scene of drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, which the animals consider unhealthy. Napoleon and the pigs eventually inhabit the farmhouse, an act that symbolizes their transformation into humanlike creatures.

2. Whips

Most feared, hated symbol of human domination. One of the first things the victorious animals do is to burn the humans’ whips and dance for joy. At the end of the novel, Napoleon appears like a Gestapo agent, carrying a whip just as Jones had done.

3. Dogs 

Napoleon secretly raises nine puppies until they grow into large, ferocious beasts. He trains them to respond to his commands, to serve as a ruthless police force in a dictator state, to kill as he wishes. He unleashes them against Snowball and against any animals who question his authority.

4. Windmill 

It is Snowball’s idea that they build the windmill to create electrical power, but Napoleon later claims it as his own. When the windmill is destroyed by humans, it is rebuilt and provides benefits for the Animal Republic.

It is a symbol of their defeat of humans (Battle of the Windmill) and of their ability to survive independently when they use common sense and reason, not tyranny.

5. “Beasts of England” 

Song taught by Old Major; symbol of hope. Refers to some vague “golden future time” when human tyranny will be overthrown. Becomes the anthem of the Rebellion, although it fails to tell how the golden age will be created. Napoleon bans the song in favor of another that praises him, yet it remains an ideal in the minds of many animals.

6. Flag 

Green tablecloth decorated by Snowball with white hoof and horn that symbolize animals’ sovereignty. Napoleon later orders Snowball’s additions removed. The flag continues to serve as the focal point for ceremonies.

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Animal Farm Review

The political message of Animal Farm is inspired by the events of the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution (1917–21), when Russian peasants overthrew the monarchy in favor of socialism, a political system in which land, business, property, and capital are owned by the community as a whole. In Animal Farm, Orwell (a Socialist) shows the animals’ efforts to overthrow human dictatorship and to establish a socialist community in which everyone contributes to the common gain. 

During the course of the novel, Napoleon takes control, moves socialism in the direction of communism (Stalinism), a political system in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a “totalitarian” state (dictatorship) dominated by a single political group or party that keeps itself in power. 

Orwell’s intent in writing this fable was to destroy the Soviet (communist) myth of the perfect society and to restore genuine socialist principles. He wanted to show how the original intentions of revolution have all too often been corrupted and perverted by one person or group who, for selfish reasons, seizes power, exploits people, and eliminates all opposition.

About The Author

George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair, 1903–50), Englishman, was born in Bengal, India. Novelist, political essayist, satirist. Educated in England (Eton); worked for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma (1922–27). Returned to Europe; lived in poverty in London and Paris. Socialist; served with Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, where he saw abuses of communism. 

Later, though still a leftist, he was violently opposed to communism and any form of totalitarianism (dictatorship). Distrusted all political parties. Among numerous works: Down and Out in Paris and London (1933, autobiography); Burmese Days (1934, novel); Homage to Catalonia (1938, autobiography); 1984 (1949, anti-utopian novel); Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (1950).

Buy The Book: Animal Farm

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