Animal Farm Themes

Niamh Ryan
Note by Niamh Ryan, updated more than 1 year ago
Niamh Ryan
Created by Niamh Ryan about 3 years ago


Explore the key themes in Orwell's classic. This note explains the major themes on Animal Farm - propaganda, power, class and lies. All laid out with clear examples of the writers use of these.

Resource summary

Page 1


The theme of power and control is prevalent throughout the novel. Old Major's inspiring words are the first time that the animals see that they are slaves but do not have to be. The chapter in which Snowball explains to the other animals that the pigs need the milk and apples because they are the "brainworkers" of the farm is a turning point in the novel. We see that even Snowball, who is portrayed to be good at heart, cannot resist the seductive nature of power. It marks the beginning of a regime that will maintain power by any means necessary. This insatiable lust for power comes back to bite Snowball when he is banished from the farm by Napoleon. Orwell makes an important point about the rise to power of a totalitarian leader - the inaction of others is what allows it to happen.   Orwell wishes to criticise many groups in this novel - those who are apolitical such as Mollie, those who are blindly devoted, such as Boxer, and those who cynically dismiss the facts, like Benjamin does. In essence, the other animals let the pigs seize power by not speaking up and in doing so choose comfort over freedom. The pigs come up with a number of ways to manipulate and exploit the animals: When the pigs begin to change the Commandments, we see that they can use their power to legitimise their transgressions. They control the supply of information on the farm so that the animals cannot properly evaluate their situation. Although they dislike Moses, they allow him to stay on the farm because his stories keep the other animals docile. They use the "Spontaneous Demonstrations" to manipulate the animals' feelings. They honour their citizens' sacrifices after the Battle of the Windmill because they know that it will increase the power of the state. By the end of the novel, we see that the animals have moved from the control of one power hungry leader to another. The pigs rule just as Mr Jones did, controlling language and thought on the farm "Still, the animals can't remember any other way of life, and even those that do are proud to be free" Napoleon's whip is a symbol of his oppression. Those who epouse the most virtuous ideas have become the worst enemies of the people whose lives they are claiming to improve. Orwell's underlying point is that the stated goals of totalitarianism don't matter because all totalitarian regimes are fundamentally the same. Every type of totalitarianism, whether communist, fascist, or capitalist, is founded on oppression of the individual and the lower class. Those who hold power in totalitarian regimes care only about one thing: maintaining their power by any means necessary "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which"

Page 2

Class Stratification

One of the main tenets of Animalism is that all animals are equal.  However, class differences quickly arise. When the pigs declare that they alone should receive the cows' milk they begin to define themselves as a separate class deserving of special privileges. They use their role as "brainworkers" to justify this to the other animals.  Employing fear tactics and confusing language to manipulate the other animals, they easily establish themselves as superior At first, education for all seems to be a valued principle on the farm. However, it is not long until education turns from a tool of enlightenment to an implement of oppression. The pigs control the lower classes by controlling their supply of information. Squealer reads the figures relating to the farm's progress every week. To the reader, these are clearly exaggerations but the uneducated animals have no other reality which they can trust. When Napoleon establishes himself as leader, quite clearly regarding himself as better than the other animals, there is little objection. Few animals have the intelligence to muster counter-arguments to his dominance Mollie stands for the middle class ( or the Bourgeoisie) and their selfish materialism around the time of the Russian revolution. They longed for the good food and the nice clothes that they had before the revolution took place, and fled Russia in search of 'greener pastures'.  The special schooling of the piglets makes the class distinction official. They are not allowed to mix with the other animals, as Napoleon clearly sees them as highly superior to the other animals. The idea of some animals being "More equal" than others is mathematically improbable and a nonsensical manipulation of language, but it enshrines the class differences when it replaces the Seven Commandments.

Page 3

Socialism in the Soviet Union

Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satire of totalitarian regimes in general but there is an indubitable resemblance between the socialism of the Soviet Union and the allegorical farm he describes in the novel Mr Jones' drunkeness represents the Tsar's decadence and his brash treatment of the animals mirrors the lack of compassion and empathy of the Russian monarchy for the lowest classes in society. The choice of pigs as the ruling caste is an offensive characterisation of the Bolsheviks, who executed the Emperor after their revolution forced him to abdicate The raven, Moses, stands for the Russian Orthodox Church.   The pigs were frustrated by his tales because they feared that belief in the afterlife would make the animals less revolutionary. Similar to the way in which the animals sent pigeons all over the county to teach the song "The Beasts of England" to other farms, Stalin believed that for the revolution to be considered a success, then Communism would need to be made global. In 1918, Anti-Communist forces (Mr Jones) helped by Western forces (Frederick and Pilkington) attacked Russian Communists (the animals) - this is mirrored in the Battle of the Cowsheds Stalin defeated Trotsky in a power struggled and exiled him, just like Napoleon defeats Snowball.  Afterwards, Stalin used many of Trotsky's ideas, similar to the way in which Napoleon adopts Snowball's plan for the mill. Moreover, Stalin demonised the exiled Trotsky, just as Napoleon shifts the blame for all the ills of the farm onto Snowball. "Comrades, do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!" The windmill represents the massive infrastructure constructions projects and modernization initiatives that Soviet leaders instituted immediately after the Russian Revolution. Stalin purged the Soviet government by torturing enemies until they admitted to crimes that they hadn't committed.  This is mirrored by Napoleon's show trial and brutal murder of the sheep that questioned Snowball's banishment. Orwell uses the cyclic structure of the novel to emphasis the predictability of totalitarianism.   Jones has been completely replaced by Napoleon in both his decadent lifestyle and heartless control of the animals. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”  When we see Napoleon fighting with the farmers over the card game, we realise that, in their petty greed,  the animal and capitalist leaders are indistinguishable

Page 4

Lies and Deceit

Animal Farm shows how the minority in power uses lies and deceit to control the thoughts and beliefs of the majority in the lower classes. Squealer is the government's propaganda machine Eloquent to a fault, he can make the animals believe anything He often manipulates language in citing secret documents and using fear tactics Tricky language effectively deceives a poorly educated, frightened and idealistic population "He would be only happy to let you make decisions for yourselves" - To the reader this sentence seems deeply patronising and offensive to the animals' intelligence.  However, the pigs have used their charisma and intelligence to con the animals into thinking they truly care for the well-being of the animals. "Comrades, do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!" Napoleon demonizes Snowball, using Snowball to justify his rule. Snowball is an easy scapegoat, because he can never defend himself against the lies that Napoleon tells about him. This means he can blame anything and everything on Snowball, with no fear of repercussions. The pigs' deception works and the animals begin to believe they are free - even though they are not free at all. The pigs manipulate language to increase their power and luxury. "Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples "  Small changes to the Commandments, such as changing "No pig shall sleep in a bed" to "No pig shall sleep in a bed with sheets" allow them to exploit the lack of education of their counterparts. It is extremely easy to deceive the other animals because they are illiterate. They trick the animals into believing that Animalism is the same as Animal Farm, and so everything that Animal Farm does must be good and right.  This means the animals no longer question their actions, allowing them to be further deceived and manipulated. The reader is continually shocked by the ease with which the pigs can deceive the animals. Boxer believes Napoleon's statement about Snowball's behaviour in the Battle of the Cowshed over his own memories of the event. The idea of some animals being "More equal" than others is mathematically improbable and a nonsensical manipulation of language.

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