Animal Farm by George Orwell uses animal characters to satirise events and people in Russia, following the revolution in 1917. Orwell admitted that the book was intended to attack Communist leader Stalin for his dramatic loss of ideals.

The background to the novel

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950), a prolific writer of novels, poetry, criticism, journalism and non-fiction. He wrote the manuscript ofAnimal Farm after his experience of the Spanish Civil War. The book is without doubt intended to refer to the Russian Revolution and society following events of 1917. Orwell said as much in his writings. This attack on Russia is the main reason why he struggled to get the book published, as Russia had been an ally in World War Two. Nevertheless, it was published in 1945 with the subtitle “A Fairy Story”, although the subtitle has not always been used.

The book (considered a novella rather than a full-sized novel) is an allegory of events in Russia from just before the October Revolution in 1917 to the 1940s, and as such is a savage indictment (formal accusation) of the way the country – and Communist leader Stalin in particular – abandoned ideals. Animal Farm can also be read as a general indictment of any dictator and tyrant and is considered political literature with universal resonance.


This literary technique works well if you want to have a satirical impact on the reader. You tell a simple tale, but the reader is able to recognise that the characters or – as is quite often the case – creatures in the story have counterparts in another story. So the Parable of the Sower and the Seed in the Bible is actually a story about God (the Sower) spreading his word (the seed) to different kinds of people (the different kinds of ground).

With Animal Farm it is possible to pin virtually all of what happens to a character or event in the parallel Russian story. So why not just write an account of the events? By portraying the Russian leadership as pigs, for instance, Orwell powerfully tells us that they are innately greedy. The kind of ordinary person that a carthorse represents barely needs to be described when you think of all the characteristics we associate with the animal: loyal, strong and hard-working.

The Russian Revolution

The Russian Tsar Nicholas II was a monarch equivalent to the British King (George V) at the time. Indeed, the wife of Nicholas was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The Tsar ruled with absolute power, and this autocracy was resented, particularly because he and his family lived in luxury while there was much poverty in the country.

There were two revolutions in Russia in February and October of 1917. The first saw the abdication of the Tsar and the rule of a Provisional Government, still composed of politicians from the Russian Imperial Party. Then in October 1917 more radical politicians, the Bolsheviks, took over and the Tsar and his family were imprisoned then executed in 1918.

The Bolshevik leader at the time was Lenin. (Stalin took over the leadership after Lenin died in 1924.) They supported the teachings of Karl Marx, who provided the Communist Manifesto (public declaration of ideals) in Das Capital, a book criticising capitalism, first published in 1867.

In a perfect world, Orwell would have been happy with a communist regime. It would have meant common ownership, total equality and a classless society. He was himself a socialist, believing in the equal access to resources and either public or direct worker control of resources and productivity. However, he saw the impact that human nature could have on ideals and knew that there were people who would distort such an ideal world until it was a totalitarian state with total control shifted to the leadership.

Two major players in Russian affairs after 1917 were Stalin and Trotsky, easily recognised as Napoleon and Snowball in Animal Farm.

source: English literature – BBC


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