Animal Farm - Thematic analysis

Analyse av noen av temaene i George Orwells "Animal Farm".
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Animal Farm is a satire written a few months after the end of World War II. A satire is a piece that focuses on a particular person, group, idea or practice. The main literary devices used in a satire are irony, sarcasm and exaggeration. The writer often praises the idea or situation in question in a highly exaggerated manner. Animal Farm is also a fable, a type of story where the characters are anthropomorphic animals, i.e., animals bestowed with human attributes. The story that unfolds in this book is allegorical to the miserable conditions that lead to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the tyrannous regime that followed.


Animal Farm was written by Eric Arthur Blair, who is better known by his pen-name George Orwell. In his lifetime, Orwell had a great number of different experiences, many of which became ideas for novels and essays. The first of these experiences followed a period of drifting about, after his family couldn’t afford to send him to university. Orwell made a decision; he would join the Indian Imperial Police. Seeing what the British Empire did and to India and its people ignited Orwell’s interest in writing and his strong political opinions. In the following years Orwell moved from India to Paris and then on to London, constantly troubled by poor health. Regardless of this, he fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. The Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, the group Orwell fought with, believed that the working class needed to overthrow their capitalist leaders to defeat General Franco, while the Spanish Communist Party, which was backed by Soviet, called for an alliance with the upper class and the aristocrats to drive the Fascists out of Spain. This choice of faction in the Spanish Civil War made Orwell an Anti-Stalinist, after seeing what the Soviet path of Socialism had deteriorated to.


Up to the year Orwell wrote Animal Farm, he worked as a freelance journalist in the UK while he served in the British Home Guard.


Animal Farm was published in 1944, and resulted in more freedom for Orwell, because the book was a success and gave him a substantially larger income. Although Animal Farm is well known around the world, Orwell’s most famous and best-received work is Nineteen Eighty-Four, published only months before his death on January 21. 1950. This novel is another allegory of the Soviet Union, but also a criticism of any totalitarian regime. After the Second World War the world is divided among three superpowers: Oceania, consisting of England, the Americas, Australia and the Pacific islands; Eurasia, including most of Europe and Russia and finally Eastasia, which comprises China, Japan and other countries of South Asia. The three are involved in a never-ending war, but all of them have the same principles and fight only to keep the populace working and to hold the quality of life down by wasting resources that could be used to build up the damaged cities.   


The plot mainly centres on Winston Smith, a resident of the ruined city of London, part of the regime of Oceania. This regime, along with the ones running the other superpowers, is totalitarian. Every citizen is indoctrinated to look for suspicious behaviour in others, and all citizens are themselves watched by the government through screens and microphones. This surveillance uncovers everything, right down to the nightmares and innermost fears of every citizen, including the leaders. The information is utilized in the torture and “rehabilitation” of law-breakers. The complete control of the inhabitants is overseen by four ministries. The Ministry of Peace is concerned with the war effort; the Ministry of Truth produces and broadcasts propaganda and rewrites history to fit the Party’s needs, the Ministry of Plenty controls food and commodity rations, and the last, and most feared ministry is the Ministry of Peace, which is in charge of watching and arresting rebels and then subject the captive to what he fears the most. This torture goes on for days, until the mental defences are broken down and brainwashing can commence.


An important part of 1984 is an adaptation of English that is taught to the people. Called Newspeak, it removes all double meanings and redundancies and eliminates the need for deep thinking while speaking. Some examples are: “bad” is changed to “ungood”, “better” and “best” become “gooder” and “goodest” and “great” and “fantastic” becomes “plusgood” and “doubleplusgood”. Adjectives and adverbs are made by adding “-ful” and “-wise”, respectively. What the regime wants to achieve with this is to prevent rebellion, by removing words that can cause the people to think about their lives and oppose the system. The novel ends with the brainwashing of the protagonist and the line

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”


A short summary of Animal Farm: Manor Farm is run by Mr. Jones, but he and his farm hands have been neglecting their duties towards the animals. The oldest animal on the farm, the boar Old Major, gathers all the other animals and tells them his idea of an England where the animals run the farms. This idea went down well with the animals. Old Major dies shortly after the gathering, but the revolt he called for comes more swiftly than expected. Jones, having succumbed to the vice of alcoholism, forgets to feed the animals. This incident acts is the final drop for the newly invigorated animals. The name of the farm is changed to Animal Farm. The reins of the farm seem to be in the animals’ collective grip, but in reality they are held only by the pigs, more specifically their leaders Napoleon and Snowball. These two quickly become adversaries; always disagreeing, sometimes because of conflicting views, but more often because of their reluctance to cooperate. One matter the two can agree upon is the introduction of Seven Commandments, the objective of which is to keep the animals away from the vices of Man. Napoleon secretly trains nine dogs that he uses to drive Snowball off the farm and keep the other animals afraid. After becoming the rulers of the farm, the pigs change the commandments they pledged to follow. They are altered to such a degree that they allow the very things they were meant to exclude. As the story progresses the pigs adopt all the vices of man, and a few of their own


The biggest part of this essay will consist of analyses of the themes that I think are the most important. I will examine how education, religion and the use of power play a part in maintaining a totalitarian regime. Then I will take a look at Orwell’s language and the significance of the animal’s names. Finally I will sum up the essay and reflect upon what Orwell’s main message to the reader is, and if his views are relevant in today’s societies and political climate.


Thematic analysis of Animal Farm

George Orwell had very strong opinions when it came to politics, and did not stray away from letting his affiliations shine through in the books he wrote. In fact, Orwell himself declared in an essay that:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism (…). The more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.”

Animal Farm is the first book where Orwell tried to “fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”, and as a result the book consists of simplistic prose with underlying political commentary. The themes mostly have base in the Russian Revolution, and its aftermath of corruption, but all uprisings that follow the same pattern are also criticized.


Education and the people

In revolutions the people, most importantly the working class, obviously play a major role. After all, it is the people that are being held down, and the people that rise up. The leaders of these uprisings are generally from the educated part of society, from the higher layers so to speak. They are the ones with time for plans, ideas and discussions. Old Major himself admits that he has had an easier life than most. It doesn’t say explicitly, but the book hints to that he has hardly done any physical labour in his life. This is similar to philosophers throughout history: almost none of them had ever even touched a shuffle or gotten their hands dirty. When one is always short of food, deep thought on life and government is impossible. Education was, and still is in many countries, a privilege for the rich.


When revolution comes, strong leaders often step up and act as a surrogate education for the people. Unfortunately, when the revolution is over, the collective intelligence and knowledge of the people has not increased. Their bloodlust and desire for change is temporarily quenched, but their thirst for education is not. The people are once again ruled by leaders with a different outlook on life, who may be in tune with the needs of the people, but, as history shows, most likely are not.


Education and dictatorships have a tight connection. All a dictator usually needs is an uneducated mass of workers and enough of an army to keep the objecting minority down. In reverse, the only thing a revolutionary needs is for the resistance to grow large, whilst sowing seeds of discord. Low morale helps too; many a government has been toppled when their soldiers turned against them.


In most countries in the western world education is mandatory. However, a general education and knowledge of dictatorships is not enough. The arts of discussion and critical thinking must be taught to children for an effective defence against oppressive governments, and their propaganda. In the case of Animal Farm, Napoleon focused on the education of the young, although for the exact opposite reason, blind acceptance and obedience.


Religion in relevance to Revolution

Moses the raven is Animal Farm’s animal version of the Russian Orthodox Church, which suffered greatly under the rule of the Communists. Only days after the revolution in 1917, the new Bolshevik government declared a church-state separation, and in the Civil War that broke out in 1918 many of the church’s leaders sided with the White Army which was defeated in 1921. The Russian Orthodox Church along with other religious groups was considered counter-revolutionary, and thousands of churches were destroyed or turned into “museums of atheism”, Gulags or anything in between. This conflict was not resolved until 1988, close to the collapse of the Soviet Union.


The idea of not only official atheism but active oppression of religion in Communism sprung from the ideas of Karl Marx, some of which were adopted by Vladimir Lenin. In his 1894 book Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right he writes about what religion is to human beings. His insights here include his most (mis)quoted statement, “Religion is the opium of the people”. This is what he said with a bit more context:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Marx felt that man creates religion, not the other way around, and that he uses religion to make an illusion of happiness, when the real kind is out of reach.

To call on them (the religious) to give up their illusions about their condition, Marx said, is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”

His view was that religion keeps the ones who live under unacceptable conditions sedated. Their want for revolution is extinguished by the thought of a better life in heaven after their horrible corporal one.


Moses the raven is frowned upon by many of the animals for never working; only telling stories. But there are some animals that believe him, and the pigs try to convince them otherwise. Before the rebellion they can’t allow any animal to grow complacent, or to start focusing on their next life. This stance, however, changes drastically towards the end of the book. Moses returns, and this time the pigs welcome him. They still tell the other animals that his stories are lies, but secretly Moses is given a quarter of a pint of beer a day. Religious docility is needed by the pigs, for they are the dictators now. Animals that expect a better life after death are less likely to do something about the current one. The pigs understand this, as Marx did.



Having power, ability to change people’s lives, is a big part of Animal Farm. The farmer, Mr. Jones, uses his power as people often do, for personal gain. Old Major has lived a long time and sees this tendency in humans. His idea for a solution is based on years of deliberation, and he is successful in recruiting the other animals. However, the solution he arrives at has a few critical flaws. It concludes, rightly, that man is keeping the animals down. Unfortunately, the idea that the removal of man will make everything perfect is not well enough thought through; here Old Major makes a fatal misassumption about the nature of animals: that they will all do what is best for the community, and that they will accept equality. This manifests itself right after Mr. Jones is chased off the farm and Napoleon takes the milk for himself. But at the meetings in the barn another part of it is shown. The pigs immediately take charge and decide for the other animals, instead of with them.


Napoleon and Snowball constantly argue; the struggle parallels the conflict between Stalin and Leon Trotsky, whom the leading pigs actually are modelled after. It seems that Snowball, or Trotsky, has the most beneficial ideas. Unfortunately, power struggles are rarely won with good ideas alone; one part usually has to do something drastic. In this book Napoleon takes the initiative and forms a “secret police”, similar to the Soviet KGB. When the time is right, Snowball is chased off the farm, never to return, like Trotsky was in 1929. Napoleon’s reasons for doing this, can, in my opinion, be explained by a quote from the novel Chapterhouse: Dune, by Frank Herbert:

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that power is a magnet to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted


I think that Napoleon’s attraction to power starts right after the old dictator is gone, and there’s a niche to be filled. He then gets a taste of violence when he rids himself of his only real enemy. The power is also making Napoleon corrupt his earlier ideals, although he probably never quite believed in them. When he discovers a new thrill or luxury, he rewrites history, much like Stalin did, by changing the Seven Commandments. The changes are, in the beginning, subtle in words but not so subtle in actual meaning. For instance: who is the judge of what drinking to excess means? And who will ever ask Napoleon what his reason is if he kills someone? Apart from these practical issues there is also the propaganda put forth by Squealer. The collective memory of the farm is rather poor, so he is able to convince the animals what they did and what they didn’t do. The propaganda is important in that it convinces the people to believe in the “right” things, the new truths made to suit the pigs.


Napoleons power grows and is managed by his nine dogs. The way he keeps his power is classic to all dictators: he uses fear. A mass execution in the yard of anyone who confessed of anything instils a sense of fear in the rest of the animals. While this is the most effective method to use, it is truly dangerous and can backfire like it did on Jones. Here I can use two more quotes from Chapterhouse: Dune to show my point:

“(…) the inevitable failure of slavery and peonage. You create a reservoir of hate. Implacable enemies (…) oppression will make your enemies strong. The oppressed will have their day and heaven help the oppressors when that day comes. It was a two-edged blade. The oppressed always learned from and copied the oppressor. When the tables were turned, the stage was set for another round of revenge and violence—roles reversed. And reversed and reversed ad nauseam


Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past. Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity. (…). Whoever commits atrocity also commits those future atrocities thus bred.


Exactly this happened to Mr. Jones, and it will probably happen to Napoleon as well, though in a slower pace because of his success in rewriting history and getting rid of his opposition. The situation is the same, and the result will be the same.


The language of Animal Farm

Orwell has written this book with a purpose, and has kept the language fairly simple, as was his intention. He uses a subtle form of humour that suits the themes the book satirizes. The names of the characters have meanings that illustrate their role in the story. Napoleon was an emperor of France, half dictatorial, suggesting strength and an aura of command. Snowball loses to the more brutal and ruthless Napoleon in the struggle for control of the farm, much like a snowball melts in the sun and falls apart when hitting something hard. The meaning of Squealer’s name is pretty obvious; it refers to the fact that his work description only includes talking. Boxer has the strength and persistence needed of a fighter, and also the stupidity that is often associated with boxers. Moses’ name is taken from the biblical character that led the Israelites to Israel from Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.


Long and complicated words and lengthy descriptions are very rare in Animal Farm. Orwell had this to say about his writing style:

And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”

In my opinion the language is good enough to get its ideas out, but the plot drives the story more than the language and wordings. Especially the fact that I can try and connect what happens in the book to what has happened in real-life makes it exiting.



In this essay I have written a short summary of the plot in Animal Farm and George Orwell’s life, along with a summary of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel by Orwell that deals with some of the themes that Animal Farm does. This is followed by an analysis of the themes in the book, starting with the role of the people and their education in a revolution. Then I considered the role of religion in the same setting, before looking at the concept of power, mainly a dictator’s power.


Orwell’s commentary on Stalin’s actions after the Russian Revolution is relevant as long as dictators exist, which might be for as long as the existence of mankind. The book also paints a picture of what can happen when a person or a society gets dragged onto the slippery slope of power madness and decadence. But the most important thing Animal Farm teaches is that oppression creates new oppressors, an insight that I think can be transferred to all parts of life, especially the upbringing of children. The sentence “the oppressed always become the oppressors is something one should remember and keep in mind.




George Orwell. (1945). Animal Farm. ISBN 0-14-012670-8




George Orwell essay “Why I Write”:


Frank Herbert. (1976). Children of Dune. ISBN 0-450-03427-5. p. 105

Frank Herbert. (1985). Chapterhouse: Dune. ISBN 0-450-05886-7. pp. 59, 155

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