Animal Farm by George Orwell uses animal characters to satirise life in Russia after the revolution in 1917. This section explains the plot of the novella, chapter by chapter.
This chapter represents a time before the revolution, when revolt was in the air perhaps, but had barely been thought of by most of the animals.
One night on Manor Farm, Mr Jones, the farmer, goes to bed without properly shutting up the animals. They gather in the barn to listen to Old Major, a wise old pig, who speaks about the wrongs that they suffer and the abuses that man imposes on them. He points out that
“man is the only creature that consumes without producing”. However it is not just that but his cruelty and neglect that causes the animals to suffer unjustly. Old Major says he does not know when the rebellion will come but he urges the animals to be ready for
“the overthrow of the human race”, and promises that
“sooner or later justice will be done”. The meeting comes to an abrupt end because Mr Jones hears the animals singing
“Beasts of England”, the song of animal freedom that Old Major’s mother taught him and which came back to him in his dream.
Old Major represents a blend of Karl Marx, one of the originators of the principles of communism, and Lenin, the first Bolshevik leader. The principles Old Major expounds in his speech are later enshrined in the doctrine of Animalism. Mr Jones represents the Tsar of Russia. As the other animals file into the barn for the speech, we meet different animals who clearly represent the various types of people that make up a typical society.
It is worth comparing what goes on here with what happens later. The animals debate the matter and decide that rats are comrades. They come up with a clear principle:
“Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.” The pigs later corrupt their ideology and twist that precept to accommodate the abuses of power they enjoy. In this way, Orwell fictionalises the distance he sees between ideals and the rottenness of the political reality.
After the death of Old Major, his work is carried on by the pigs, who emerge as the cleverest of the animals. At the forefront are Napoleon and Snowball, plus a very persuasive pig called Squealer, who, it was said,
“could turn black into white”.
Old Major dies in March and the teaching goes on after that with no real expectation of when the rebellion might come. Then in June, on Midsummer’s Eve, Mr Jones neglects the animals for 24 hours. Eventually the animals are driven by hunger into action. A cow knocks down the store-shed door and they help themselves. Mr Jones and his men come in with whips and the animals turn on them and drive them out.
The animals destroy everything that reminds them of Mr Jones: whips, nose-rings and knives, for instance. They change the name of the farm to Animal Farm. They decide to preserve the house as a museum and no animal should live there.
At the meeting, which takes place after breakfast on the day after the Rebellion, the pigs introduce the animals to The Seven Commandments that contain all the principles of Animalism:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend
- No animal shall wear clothes
- No animal shall sleep in a bed
- No animal shall drink alcohol
- No animal shall kill any other animal
- All animals are equal
It is time to go out to bring in the harvest, but the cows have to be milked first. The other animals wonder what will happen to the milk, which looks delicious, but it has disappeared by the time they come back from the hayfield in the evening. Of course, the reader understands that the milk has been drunk by the pigs and we perhaps begin to suspect the direction in which their superior intelligence will take them.
The animals are very enthusiastic about getting the harvest in. They all work with a new enthusiasm, now they are working for themselves, but the carthorse,Boxer, is extraordinary in what he accomplishes.
The other animal that stands out in the description of their hard work isBenjamin, the donkey. It becomes apparent that Benjamin is wise and aware of what is really going on, long before the other animals. All he will say, however, is:
“Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.”
Much is said in this chapter about the establishment of the animals’ society. There is the weekly hoisting of the flag, made out of an old tablecloth that used to belong to Mrs Jones. We hear about Snowball’s committees, which, like the formal flag ceremony, have their parallels in Soviet society. The fact that Snowball’s committees seem mainly pointless – like the Egg Production Committee – or impractical, like the Whiter Wool Movement, simply adds to the satire of theallegory.
Reading seems to represent the kind of intelligence that the pigs have, and, of course, the power that such a skill gives them. As Orwell describes how far the different animals could get in their learning, we begin to realise how vulnerable Boxer and his four letters are, despite his great strength.
Two other important things emerge in this chapter:
- Napoleon has been occupying himself, looking after the nine puppies that were born soon after the harvest. He keeps them away from the other animals.
We learn that the cows’ milk is being mixed with the pigs’ mash. We are told by Squealer that the reason for this is that it is necessary for the success of the pigs’ brainwork.
While Snowball and Napoleon send out the pigeons to spread the word of the Rebellion, Mr Jones meets with Pilkington and Frederick from neighbouring farms, who agree to help him recapture the farm. They help him as much for themselves as anything else as they do not want the Rebellion to spread.
Early in October, what becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed takes place, when Jones and the other humans try to take back the farm. The animals are victorious, thanks largely to Snowball’s strategy and Boxer’s strength.
Boxer’s admirable characteristics are again built up in this chapter: he shows himself as strong, courageous and compassionate when he mourns the boy he thinks he has killed. He and Snowball are awarded
“Animal Hero First Class”after the battle. This and the decision to fire the gun on the anniversaries of the battle and the original Rebellion are ironic indicators that the animals see success as marked by behaving in the same way as their human master.
This chapter starts with the shocking discovery by Clover that Mollie, the
“foolish, pretty white mare”, as she is described in Chapter 1, is betraying the other animals by accepting gifts from a man. Three days later she leaves the farm and is reported by the pigeons to be living in the old style.
When the winter weather makes the ground too hard for any work to be done, plans are made by the pigs for the coming season. Snowball has many ideas for improvements, including a very grand plan for a windmill to provide electricity. This is so challenging a project that the animals are uncertain about it.
Napoleon appears to criticise Snowball and all his plans: he condemns the windmill idea, saying the animals will all starve if they waste time on it.
Benjamin doesn’t get involved in the arguments and will only say that
“life would go on as it had always gone on – that is, badly”.
The animals are easily swayed in their support between the two pigs. Orwell describes them as being persuaded by the last speaker they had listened to. There is another dispute over the way the farm should be protected.
Then the situation is resolved in a terrible way. At the regular meeting on the Sunday after Snowball completed his plans, he speaks to the animals about the windmill. Napoleon only speaks for about 30 seconds against him. When Snowball speaks again, despite the interruptions of the sheep, he persuades all the animals with his passion and eloquence. However, Napoleon gives a high-pitched call, which brings nine enormous dogs (ironically wearing collars) to the meeting. Snowball narrowly escapes being torn to pieces there and then, and runs away.
The animals soon realise that the dogs are the puppies that Napoleon took away to rear in secret. They respond to him as the other dogs used to behave with Mr Jones. It is clear, when Napoleon speaks to the other animals, that this is a coup of huge strength. Napoleon tells them that a committee of pigs will now make the decisions. The murmurs of doubt and dissent are silenced by the growling of the dogs and the sheep bleating
“Four legs good, two legs bad!” for more than quarter of an hour.
Squealer is sent round in his role as the propaganda man to silence the objections. He tells the animals:
- Snowball is little more than a criminal
- the animals should be grateful that Comrade Napoleon is prepared to do so much work on their behalf
- Snowball’s alleged bravery at the Battle of the Cowshed is undermined
Snowball’s most powerful argument had been to remind the other animals that they don’t want Jones back. Boxer adopts the slogan
“Napoleon is always right”to go with his previous motto of
“I will work harder.”
The regular meetings now reinforce the pigs’ role as leaders. Three weeks after Snowball was driven out it is announced that the windmill is to be built after all. Squealer’s explanation for this is that Napoleon’s opposition to the windmill had been tactical, in order to defeat Snowball. Nobody is inclined to argue with Squealer when his persuasive words are accompanied by the growls of three dogs escorting him.
This chapter is all about how the pigs, under Napoleon, change the rules of Animal farm to suit themselves. The animals work hard:
“Like slaves” is how Orwell ironically describes them. However, in August it is announced that there will now be work on Sundays as well, something that had initially been abolished.
The work on the windmill was harder than expected since the animals had to drop the large stones from the top of the quarry to break them, before they could make use of them, and this involved dragging them uphill. It would have been impossible without Boxer’s enormous strength.
It gradually emerges that Animal Farm is not self-sufficient and Napoleon announces that he will engage in trade on their behalf with a solicitor called Mr Whymper. The hens are told it will be a privilege to give up their eggs for this purpose. This shocks the animals but they are assured by Squealer that they must have dreamt the idea that trading with humans was banned. There is a strange consequence of this trading, however. The humans start to accept Animal Farm a little more. They still expect the windmill to fail but there is respect for the way that the animals are running the farm, and people stop supporting Mr Jones and actually start to call the farm ‘Animal Farm’.
When the pigs move into the farm, it is an even greater shock to the other animals. However, when Clover, the other carthorse, asks Muriel, the goat, to read what it says on the wall where the Commandments are painted, they found that it actually says,
“No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets”. Squealer is again out there with his explanation, this time because the pigs need the comfort of the beds to help with all the brainwork that they do. The animals are so gullible that they even accept it when it is announced that the pigs are going to get up an hour later than the other animals.
Pride in the windmill is very important to the animals, but one morning in November, after a storm the night before, the animals wake up to find that the half-finished windmill has been destroyed.
Obviously the windmill is the victim of a bad storm, but the pigs tell the other animals that it is Snowball who is to blame and that he had come in the night and destroyed the windmill. It is a well-known technique, which restores morale, to give victims of some difficulty a target to blame. Certainly it works here. The animals believe the evidence of the few pig footprints, seemingly leading towards Foxwood. They are also willing to respond to Napoleon’s call to go back and start the windmill again.
In bleak wintry conditions, the animals set about the rebuilding of the windmill. When food starts to run short, Napoleon’s first concern is to conceal this from the humans, which he does by deceiving Mr Whymper into thinking that stocks of grain and meal on the farm are plentiful.
However, eventually it becomes clear that Napoleon will have to purchase more food and he orders the hens to give up their eggs to be sold. They are just about to hatch them and consider this murder. They rebel by laying their eggs from the rafters so they smash, but after five days of protest they are starved into submission by Napoleon and his dogs. Nine hens die during the rebellion and their deaths are covered up by the pigs.
Napoleon is going to sell a pile of timber and is deliberating between Pilkington and Frederick. He is also aware that morale needs raising on the farm. Once more Snowball is blamed and is said to be in league with farmers including Mr Jones. Squealer is sent out to make this story hold up and is angry when Boxer struggles to accept that Snowball was a traitor as early as the Battle of the Cowshed.
Four days later there is a meeting in the barn. The four pigs, who had protested when the Sunday meetings were ended, are executed after they had confessed to being in league with Snowball. The same thing happens to the three ringleaders of the hens’ rebellion. They are followed by a goose and some sheep who also confess to crimes and being under Snowball’s influence. The dogs attack Boxer, who had angered the pigs by his loyalty to Snowball, but Boxer is too strong for them.
Despite everything, Boxer still believes that the solution is to work harder. Clover and the other animals are numbed by the horror of what has happened.Clover believes that they are still better off than they were under Jones, and it is this, of course, that makes Napoleon’s tyranny possible. But the horror of animals killing other animals is deeply wrong. She and the others start to sing
“Beasts of England” to comfort themselves, but are told by Squealer that the fervent anthem has been replaced by the more bland
“Animal Farm, Animal Farm, Never through me shalt thou come to harm”, marking the end of their true rebellion.
When they go to check, the animals find that the sixth commandment reads
“No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.” Again they accept this as the truth. In the same way they accept Squealer’s statements that they are better off than under Jones, even though they know they are hungry. They now only get orders from the pigs, who are living in the farmhouse but with Napoleon living separately. Napoleon is almost worshipped by the pigs and his status is carefully fostered by Squealer.
Napoleon still has to sell the timber and there is much use of propaganda against both sides as he deliberates who to sell it to. Snowball is represented as being in league with whichever farmer is out of favour. Eventually Napoleon agrees to sell to Frederick, at an increased price, which would give him enough to pay for machinery in the windmill, which has just been finished. However, it turns out that the bank-notes are forgeries and Napoleon has been tricked.
Worse is to follow: Frederick and his men attack the windmill. Benjamin spots the men as they pack the walls with blasting powder. There is nothing to be done and the windmill blows up. The animals drive out the men but the windmill has gone.
The animals can see little to celebrate. The windmill has gone and some of their comrades are dead and Boxer and others are injured. However, Squealer and Napoleon represent the story as a great victory and eventually they accept it as such. It is, after all, important that the matter of the bank-notes should be forgotten!
Shortly after this, the pigs find a case of whisky in the farmhouse and give themselves the most appalling hangovers by drinking it. At first it is announced that Napoleon is dying and that drinking alcohol is henceforth to be a capital offence. However, Napoleon gets better and decides he likes alcohol. Whymper has to get him information on brewing and distilling, and the field that was to be the old animals’ retirement pasture is to be sown with barley used in the brewing process.
In the middle of the night around this time, Squealer is discovered after a loud crash, lying by a ladder with a pot of paint and a brush. He is by the barn wall where the Seven Commandments are painted. A few days after this event, Muriel notices that the actual wording of the Fifth Commandment is
“No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.”
Obviously Orwell is revealing the truth to the reader but giving a message that the animals still do not recognise or choose to acknowledge what is happening.
The injury to his hoof that Boxer received in the Battle of the Windmill takes a long time to heal. Benjamin and Clover warn him to take it easy but he insists on working as hard as he can, to try to get the windmill near completion before he retires.
When Animal Farm came into being, it was agreed that animals would retire at a good age with a good pension. However, the original retirement field is now being used to grow the pigs’ barley and no animals had yet retired, though Boxer is due to do so the following summer.
As the bitter winter progresses, food is short for everyone except the pigs and the dogs. Squealer becomes skilled in making it all seem acceptable, talking of things like
“readjustment” and reminding the animals that they are better off than in Jones’ day.
The superiority of the pigs is being consolidated, with the young pigs brought up separately from the other animals and most available resources going into the farmhouse. The worst moment for the reader is perhaps when the hungry animals smell warm barley mash being prepared in the farmhouse, but not as food for them, it is intended to become beer for the pigs.
The animals don’t get enough food but they do get impressive celebrations, which they actually enjoy. These celebrations fool them into thinking that they really are their own masters and they can forget their hunger for a while. In April,Napoleon is appointed president, elected unopposed, and yet more information is given out about Snowball’s treachery.
In the summer, Moses the raven returns to the farm. He tells tales of Sugarcandy Mountain. Many of the animals believe the tales of this wonderful haven for animals to go to after death. It makes sense to them that this kind of reward will be waiting for them after a hard life. Even though the pigs deny the truth of Moses’ tales, it appears that the pigs think Moses serves a useful purpose in keeping the animals happy, for they allow him to remain on the farm without doing any other work and give him a gill of beer a day.
Boxer’s injury has finally healed up but his age is showing as he works on and on, determined that there should be a huge stock of stone ready before he retires. Benjamin and Clover are extremely worried about him, with good cause as it turns out, because one evening he collapses.
It is announced that the pigs are making arrangements for Boxer to be treated in hospital in Willingdon. Meanwhile, Boxer lies patiently in his stall with no regrets and looking forward to his retirement. Eventually the pigs take action and the animals are summoned from the fields by Benjamin, who can read. The van that has collected Boxer is not an ambulance but the property of a horse slaughterer.In an agonising scene, the animals can do nothing. They shout to Boxer but he no longer has the strength to escape from the van. They appeal to the horses towing the van but they do not understand. Boxer has gone.
Three days later it is announced that Boxer died in hospital while being treated. Squealer announces this and claims to have been at Boxer’s bedside and that his last words were in favour of Napoleon and the revolution. Squealer shows that he has heard the rumours but says that they are not true: it was simply that the van had been sold to the vet who had not yet painted out the sign.
Understandably the animals want to believe that this is true because to believe the alternative is just too painful. So it is that the pigs are able to get round the fact that there is no body for burial but instead a tribute spoken by Napoleon and a banquet for the pigs. At that banquet it emerges that the pigs have found the money for another case of whisky. We know the money comes from the sale of Boxer to the horse slaughterer but it is all the more moving because the other animals cannot acknowledge it.
A number of years have passed since the last chapter and only Clover, Benjamin and Moses and some pigs remain from the original animals. Clover is two years past retirement age but, like every other animal, has not retired. There are many new animals on the farm, but the Rebellion for them has the quality of a legend and they are far more accepting of the pigs’ regime.
There are none of the luxuries in their lives that Snowball promised, but the farm is very profitable and the pigs and dogs enjoy luxury. The animals listen to the facts and figures churned out by Squealer and have to accept that their lives are better, though Benjamin never accepts anything other than the belief that life is tough.
The animals cling to the belief that all animals are equal, and do not go on two legs. However, even this is overthrown. Squealer takes the sheep away for a week and just after they return he is seen walking on his hind legs. Then all the pigs come out of the farmhouse and Napoleon is carrying a symbol of tyranny, a whip. Any protest that the animals might make is drowned out by the sheep’s chant of
“Four legs good, two legs better.” On the wall of the Seven Commandments nothing remained but the single commandment,
“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” In strict terms, of course, the new commandment is a meaningless statement but it encapsulates thehypocrisy of the pigs in pretending equality while they have taken absolute control. Napoleon and his favourite sow imitate the behaviour of Mr and Mrs Jones.
A week after this there is a visit from a number of neighbouring farmers. They admire the pigs’ work and are particularly impressed by the windmill. They go into the farmhouse and when there is a toast, Mr Pilkington speaks for the farmers. He says that although there had been distrust when Animal Farm first came into being, he and the others are impressed by the way the pigs run things and get so much work for so little food out from the
“lower animals”. He makes an equation between these animals and the lower classes in human society. It is important to realise that however disgusted Orwell is by the regime in Russia, he is also disgusted by the countries who allow class-based inequality.
When Napoleon responds to the toast, he once again draws our attention to the pigs’ hypocrisy by talking about how the farm is a co-operative enterprise, owned by all the pigs. Once, of course, it was shared by all the animals. He concludes his speech by saying that the farm is once more to be known as Manor Farm. Everything that the animals achieved has now gone. In the final moment of the book the other animals watch the pigs and guests return to the card game they had been playing before the toast and an outcry breaks out because Mr Pilkington and Napoleon played the ace of spades at the same time, so one of them must have been cheating. It becomes clear to the other animals that there is nothing to distinguish the men from the pigs.