“You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs (Duranty).” These words, quoted by many, state quite calmly that you cannot have success without some loss along the way. Or to put it in communistic morphed socialist terms, “you can’t have progress without destroying the lives of many people, mostly our own.” It is a horrific fact, and disturbingly, one that was hidden for many years. An idea that was painted with good intentions and equality for all was revealed, after the deaths of millions, to be a legal way to control the lives of a country’s citizens. Many since the time of holocaust, Holodomor, and other evils of communism have written on the subject. People such as Ayn Rand, Ray Bradbury, and other contemporary novelists have attempted to educate the masses on the evils of a totalitarian government. Yet I believe that George Orwell through his allegorical novella Animal Farm best shows the downfall and, what could be considered the unintended consequences, of Socialism. And it was a terrible consequence, but one that was paved by good intentions and fine words. This is an allegory of an all too real time in history shortened into a few short chapters. Reading it can pull us away from reality into the distant world of animals and fiction until the truth stares us in the face at the end. Yet its true meaning is deeply hidden in symbolism and the reader’s knowledge of history. Thus, it is best to read this story with the understanding of its great use and purpose as an allegorical narrative as well as having the knowledge of the evils done by the USSR; both of these points will be argued for in this paper. Hopefully by the end of this essay the power of storytelling will be shown for the great tool that it is in addition to the necessity for knowing history, especially that which surrounds this story.
In order to begin to understand how to read this narrative, the reader must know what type of story it is. This is an allegorical novella. An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning (Allegory). Typically this will be a moral or political one, this narrative is both. A novella is a short novel or a long short story (Novella). So in short, Animal Farm is a brief allegory that teaches a great lesson to its readers. The lesson that Animal Farm teaches to its readers is that ignorance of socialism logical is what led to the deaths of millions. An ignorance that was comparable to that of animals that willingly let themselves be led to the slaughter. Orwell uses animals as characters to portray specific people and groups of people in history. He changes the names to put some distance in the reader’s mind in order to pull them into the story and then pull back the curtain on the last page. Many readers may ask why Orwell did not simply write an essay on the horrors of Socialiam, or why he did not write a novel like Ayn Rand’s We the Living which gave a first hand, albeit fictional, account of Soviet Russia. But Orwell knew that the allegory, a relative to the parable, was the best way to connect to and educate his readers who had become enthused with the romanticized Soviet Russia and were unfamiliar with what Socialism really tasted like. In his Why I Write, Orwell states that in Animal Farm he tried for the first time to “fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”, an accomplishment he executed beautifully (Lee). I prefer to think of an allegory in the following picture. The allegory displays a nasty truth on a platter decorated with flowers and seasoned with sugar, and, only once it has been fully ingested, does the bitter taste come through with the reality of what you have just eaten. In the same way, Orwell paints a distant and fictional world of animals and simple farm life in order to describe in understandable terms the complexity and horrors of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Now it must be understood that for some time, Orwell supported the ideas of socialism (Norton). The idea of ending the reign of a perceived unjust tsar or king would sound great to most anyone. Everyone getting equal pay and equal food sounded appealing, especially due to the brutal treatment displayed by many factory owners of his time. The reader also should not think that he was unfamiliar with oppression or privilege. Orwell grew up in British controlled India and supported British socialism (Norton). Because of his political background, many readers and commentators have drastically different opinions as to how to interpret this narrative. Some say that he wrote Animal Farm in favor of socialism, others are adamant that is was in opposition. Yet the events Orwell’s life and the nature of the allegory itself argue for the latter interpretation. In fighting soviet troops who made their way into Spain, he ended up on the Trotsky side of socialism and got a clear view of the evils that Stalin was committing (Baker). Orwell realized his error in sympathizing with and his lack understanding of the nature of socialism. It was because of this that led him to write Animal Farm. Yet he did not publish it without challenges, for the West held a highly idealized view of what Soviet Russia had become and people did not want to read a critical essay on their perceived utopia (Baker). It was through Orwell genius of allegorical storytelling that tore off the blinders the West donned in ignorance.
The basic plot of Animal Farm is a condensed version of Stalin’s rise to power up to the end of World War II. In order to understand the relationship between the allegory and actual history, I will compare the narrative’s symbolism in light of the facts they represent. Without that revelation, the importance of this narrative will be lost on every reader (Lee). Thus, the Narrative begins with an introduction to Mr. Jones of Manor farm, representing Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. In the barn outside, the animals, or citizens, gather around Old Major, representative of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. He tells the animals of his dream, or vision, of life without humans. A life where the animals ruled themselves, all animals would be equal. There would be no whips, or starving, or hard work, but instead, freedom, self-rule, and food in abundance. This all relates socialism where there was no aristocracy or social classes. The people would rule themselves as a unit, and there would be no privileged rich or starving poor. Instead, all would have equal rights, property, food, and freedom. The reader is then introduced to some major characters. First we have the dogs, who will become important later. Then the pigs are next; most notably, Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. These three represent Stalin, Trotsky, and the Press respectively. The hens and ducks arrive to give face to the working class, who with the sheep represent the uneducated masses of the working class. Moses the raven for religion, and pigeons will come to represent the Comintern. Many other birds come into represent those who own land yet also like the ideas of socialism. Two cart horses, Boxer and Clover, represent the hard-working lower class who have some education. Then enters Mollie, a pretty white horse. She loves sugar and ribbons and represents the middle class that loves fine food and fine clothes, yet because she is a horse, also is part of the working class. Lastly, there is the cat who represents those who half-heartedly went along with the ideas of socialism. All of these representations should be remembered in relation to the rest of the narrative. Old Major then teaches the animals the song called “All the Animals of England” representing “proletariats of the world unite!”, the ending lines of Marx and Engel’s book The Communist Manifesto (Marx, Engels).
Soon after, Old Major dies, and the animals, or proletariat, start making plans to take over the farm. Napoleon and Snowball assume leadership of the rest of the animals and they head their secret meetings. The time of opportunity comes when they overthrow Mr. Jones, who flees to Foxwood, which is England. With him, Moses the raven leaves too. This is the Bolshevik revolution. After much rejoicing, the animals setup Old Major’s head to be gazed upon, as was done with Lenin, and form the seven commandments for the newly titled Animal Farm, the greatest of these is that all animals are equal. A green flag is raised with the image of a hoof and horn, an obvious reference of the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the USSR. As with the USSR, education is state controlled, and Snowball takes it upon himself to educate the animals while Napoleon takes nine puppies to train himself. The pigs then establish themselves as the most intelligent and therefore most eligible to lead and set aside special portions of food for themselves which, as squealer persuades, is so that they can serve the animals well. He repeats throughout the narrative that if the pigs cannot lead, then Mr. Jones will come back and nobody wants this. During this time, the pigeons are sent out to spread word of revolution to neighboring farms. This symbolizes Stalin’s Comintern that was sent out to spread propaganda to “foster a worldwide communist revolution” (Rosefielde). Snowball announces the plan for a windmill to be built, whose power will be a benefit to all animals. Much debate happens and Napoleon stays out of most of the picture until the very end of one meeting when he says he is against it. With a cry, dogs come running and chase snowball off of Animal Farm, thus making Napoleon sole ruler. These dogs, of course, were some puppies that Napoleon trained himself, now vicious beats. This relates to the disagreement between Stalin and Trotsky that ended with Trotsky being exiled from Russia. Just before the Great Purge, Stalin introduced the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, or NKVD, represented by the dogs and becoming the secret police (Rosefilde).
To the animals’ surprise, Napoleon announces the building of the windmill. The windmill is the first of many five-year-plans proposed by Stalin, though he appeared to remain neutral for most of the debates. Squealer states that snowball actually stole the plans from Napoleon, and that’s why he was run off. In addition to that, snowball is accused of being in league with Mr. Jones, tampering with food, destroying the windmill, and other things throughout the rest of the plot. This is to represent how Stalin ended up changing history by altering what Trotsky actually did and even going to the extent of cutting him out of pictures and textbooks. But with Squealer’s convincing, Napoleon becomes the hero at every turn. As Boxer comes to state, “Napoleon is always rights.” In reality, it was Stalin, or Orwell’s Napoleon, who was not just tampering with, but destroying food.
It is soon after this, with the help of Snowball the scapegoat, that a series of killings happen. Those who made any claims of disagreement with Napoleon or had any ties to Snowball were killed by the dogs. These were the Purges of Stalin, in which it is said that during a period of two years, 1,000 people were killed every day (Radio). Over the entire course of the USSR’s history, over 13 million were slaughtered or starved (Rosefielde). These deaths, of course, were strictly against the seven commandments of Animal Farm. Yet when the workhorse Clover goes to read it, with the help of a literate goat named Muriel, the rules now say that animals can kill animal with good reason. Periodically through the latter half of the narrative, Clover checks the rules only to find them altered. Yet because of the dogs, or secret police, no animal can cry in protest. Even when squealer is found guilty with a ladder, paint, and paintbrush on the wall of the seven commandments, the animals, just like Russia’s citizens, remain in fearful silence.
The dogs, representing Stalin’s bodyguard and secret police, were very good at keeping a fearful control over the citizens. During this time the sheep start their cry of “Four legs good, two legs bad” to shout out any thought of disagreement or logic. One of these occasions is when the birds question if they are under this four-legged rule, to which squealer states that their wings are methods of propulsion, and not of manipulation. This was in relation to the short period of time when some Russians were allowed to own property because they produced and therefore could “stand on two legs” for a short period of time. This eventually changed with communal, state-controlled property. Over and over again, with the propaganda put forth by Squealer, the animals are connived that they are much better off than they were with Mr. Jones. Why, they may be hungry, but were they not hungrier with Jones? Did they not work harder with Jones? Do you really want Jones to come back? With this, the animals are convinced that they are better off and are appeased. As a Roman satirist put it, people are content with “bread and circuses” (Juvenal). Yet with this appeasement, the animals also lost a voice in the meeting, which now only the pigs were a part of. After all, what if the lower animals made wrong decisions? What if that allowed Jones to come back? Squealer, or the press, did a number on the minds of citizens with the magic show of “look over here at the left hand, don’t look at what the right hand is doing!”
The readers are then introduced to two neighboring farms; Foxwood and Pinchfield, whose owners are Mr. Pilkinton and Mr. Fredrick respectively. They represent England and Germany. The farm happens to have a stack of seasoned wood that Napoleon wishes to sell to one of these two farms, unsure of which would be the best to trade with. To choose Foxwood would be to choose the west and all that is stands for, including the capitalistic society that Stalin hates. But to choose Pinchfield would be to choose the man who has beaten, starved, and brutally murdered his animals. This should be understood by the reader to represent the atrocities committed against the gypsies, genetically inferior, and the Jews in Germany. In the end, he trades the wood with Pinchfield, only for them to come back and destroy the windmill, but not without their own casualties. This represents three things: first is the Soviet-Nazi pact made between these countries, the second is Germany’s deliberate breaking of that pact by attacking Russia, and the last is the failure of the first five-year-plan (The Revolutionary Holocaust).
Stalin’s five-year-plan is represented in many ways. The first are the consistently reduced rations. Stalin repeatedly told his people, through the press, that this was simply a “readjustment”, and not a reduction of food (TRH). Another way was through the destruction of crops, which in Animal Farm is blamed on Snowball and not Napoleon, or Stalin, himself who ordered its destruction (TRH). The next is very specifically outlined in the resistance of the Hens and giving away their eggs. One of the worst atrocities committed by the USSR was the Holodamor in the Ukraine. Nearly 10 million were starved to death over the course of a year, a starvation that was forced and planned by the USSR (TRH). Orwell represents this in Animal Farm when the resistance of the hens is met with drastically reduced rations, killing most of them. Later too, an overworked and loyal Boxer, or middle class, whose first motto was “I must work harder”, collapses and then is sold to the knackers. In short, a horse who could still live was sent to death. In a similar way, Stalin’s forces buried many still alive people saying that “they will die tomorrow, we will bury them now” (TRH). It is a simple way to put outright murder, but no less horrifying. The money Napoleon makes off of Boxer he uses to buy more whiskey, a symbol of the intoxicating effects of totalitarianism. Thus, both Stalin and Napoleon sold over and brutally killed the most loyal and hardworking citizen for personal gain.
Yet despite all of this, the neighboring farms are kept mostly in the dark. There are rumors of cannibalism, and starving, and that the animals are fighting, but these rumors were silenced by propaganda spread by the birds, Stalin’s Comintern. Moreover, a man named Mr.Wymper is hired by Napoleon, much to the shock of the animals. He poses as a mediator for trade between Animal Farm and neighboring farms. Also, from time to time, he is shown the orderliness of Animal Farm, and the sand-filled gran-topped barrels, along with other things which he promptly tells to the outside world. This represents westerners who did business inside of the USSR and painted a pretty picture of all that is contained (Carroll). Some reporters also visited the Union, one infamous named Walter Duranty. Reporters like him deliberately ignored the obvious devastation left in the wake of communist Russia and instead described it in edible terms. One such instance was in an article saying, “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition (Duranty).” Thus, the West willfully blindfolded itself to the horrors committed by the USSR.
Years pass and with that, the rules change. What were once unchanging laws, the seven commandments are altered in order to serve the desires of the pigs, or ruling class. In fact, there are no longer any seven commandments, but one line that states, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In due time, the silenced animals realize the trap they have fallen for. No longer is the land owned by all, but by Napoleon and his domain. There is no song “All the Animals of England”, but praises to Napoleon. The pigs now walk on two legs, sleep in beds, wear clothes, drink alcohol, and kill other animals. All of these were strictly forbidden, but now altered just slightly. By this point, barely anyone can remember the point of the revolution. In fact, it now seems rather pointless. The sheep, who for years followed blindly, not shout the new cry of “four legs good, two legs better”. There are more animals, but not as many as they would have thought after so many years. There is food, but no more than when Jones was in charge. Even now, the only hope they have is in what Moses the raven preaches since he was allowed back on the Farm. This symbolizes the return of organized religion by Stalin in order to tame the masses, even though Russia itself was mainly atheist by this point.
At this point, other farms have recognized the farm as not Manor Farm, but Animal Farm. This represents the West, and specifically America’s president FDR, who acknowledged the USSR as a country (United Nations). The relationship between the other farms cumulates when Napoleon invites the neighboring farmers to come visit the farm. All the leaders of the farms gather, presumably the United Nations meeting at the end of World War II or the meeting between Stalin, FDR, and Churchill (United Nations). They see and love the obedience and submissiveness of Animal Farm, and one remarks how, “if you have your lower animals, then we have our lower classes!” They drink together, man and pigs, raucously in the farmhouse while the animals on the outside peer in. Amidst the cheers and toasts, Napoleon makes an announcement informing his guests that many things had changed on the farm. No longer do they call each other comrade, as that was an old term. The flag is just be green, and no longer has the hoof and horn. Moreover, the title of the farm is Manor Farm, instead of the old Animal Farm, as Napoleon insists that was its original title. All of this is demonstrative of Russia changing colors to appear westernized, and not revolutionary. To “dismiss any suspicions” of brutality, but to show that Russia was just like every other country, like Old Russia! To this pronouncement, they are great cheers among the men and pigs, just as there were great agreements between Russia and the West. Yet the animals still watch from the outside, and before they leave, there is a ruckus. They had noticed something earlier of little distinction between those gathered there. When the animals look back in, they realize that they cannot tell the difference between the pigs and the men gathered with them. Thus, all the human sacrifice and fight to make a better world was for naught, and the world applauded the Soviets for it.
Orwell was a genius for composing this portion of history in the form of an allegorical novella. Surely, he could have conveyed his point through a novel, an essay, or even a newspaper article. But instead he formed it into a shape the masses would consume. He took a long period of history and condensed it into a short, narrative, and convenient setting. By convenient I mean it was child-like and innocent in title and characters; it does not hurt to hear. It is friendly, understandable, and sugar-coats what I have come to call legalized murder. For a brief moment, it masks the destruction that it is trying to convey; it becomes the curtain that is lifted at the end of the narrative. Yet Orwell’s novella is useless without the knowledge of history. Without knowledge of the Russian Revolution, the allegory is nothing more than just another farm-set story. Anyone can read Animal Farm and enjoy it, and there are countless stories of animals and abusive people that line shelves in a bookstore. Yet what sets Animal Farm apart and above all the rest is it conciseness and accuracy of history. It may be eaten quickly in the few hours it takes the read this novella. But at the end, with the knowledge of history behind it, it leaves an unsettling ache in the stomach of its readers. For too long, Westerners ignored those whom they should have helped and aided those who sought to destroy. Orwell set the record straight in being bold enough to write on the evils of communism in hopes to educate his readers. After all, it was due to much ignorance on the part of Russia’s citizens that they fell prey to their soviet leaders. As Baker put it, Animal Farm is “a sermon against political ignorance” (Baker). The only hope now is that those who read Animal Farm take heed of its advice and illumination and not repeat a question that history has already answered.
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