Introduction to Animal Farm:
- Written in 1945 by George Orwell, Animal Farm is an allegorical novella about the 1917 Russian Revolution and the repressive Stalinist period which followed.
- As a democratic socialist, Orwell was an adamant critic of Joseph Stalin and his totalitarian dictatorship over Russia.
- Thus, Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satirical fable against Stalin’s tyrannical control, stating that he wrote it with the intention of ‘fusing political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole’.
- The novella is set in Manor Farm, located in Willingdon, England at an undisclosed time.
- As the events of Animal Farm symbolise the power struggle of early 20th century Russia, this ambiguity of time is intended to prevent Orwell’s warning against repressive tyranny from becoming dated.
- Orwell’s use of a farm as the main setting is also notable, as farms represent nations in Animal Farm; both require a vast amount of work in order to function properly. Thus, the act of the animals cooperating to cast the humans out of the farm symbolises a workers’ revolution against their oppressive leadership.
Main Character Analysis:
- Based on Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, he emerges as the leader of the Farm after the Rebellion.
- He consolidates his control over the farm with the violent force of his nine attack dogs, having raised them as puppies; these directly symbolise Stalin’s military force.
- He never contributes to other animals’ efforts at revolution, as he is only a corrupt individual who seeks to take advantage of opportunities created for him by others.
- Based on Soviet rebel Leon Trotsky, he challenges Napoleon for control of the Farm after he takes control of the leadership.
- Similar to the leader he is modelled after, Snowball is eloquent, charismatic, intelligent and persuasive - thus, he wins the loyalty and support of other animals easily.
- Extremely devoted to the farm and the Rebellion, Boxer symbolises what Orwell believed to be the best qualities of the proletariat, or the exploited working class, such as loyalty, strength, camaraderie and hard work, perceivable by his personal motto of ‘I will work harder’.
- However, he simultaneously suffers from typical weakness of the working class, such as a naive trust in the intelligentsia and a slow-witted oblivion to political corruption, represented by his other motto of ‘Napoleon is always right’.
- Manipulative and highly persuasive, he spreads Napoleon’s propaganda throughout the farm to intimidate uneducated animals into supporting Napoleon’s ideas and policies.
- Orwell uses the character of Squealer to warn against politicians’ deliberate manipulation of mass media in order to gain social and political control.
Old Major (boar):
- Based on the socialist revolutionary Karl Marx, as well as Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Old Major’s dream of a socialist utopia acts as a major motive for the Rebellion.
- Major’s death creates a political vacuum in the farm, leaving Napoleon and Snowball in a power struggle for control of his followers.
Themes and Motifs:
- By allegorising in Napoleon dictator Joseph Stalin, Animal Farm is first and foremost a satirical critique of politicians’ tyrannical misuse of power.
- This is epitomised by the deceitful methods Napoleon uses to gain support, such as lying to the other animals that Snowball is a political traitor in order to banish him from the Farm.
- Animal Farm explores the need for the working class to be educated, as the inability of the farm animals to question Napoleon’s authority directly leads to the perpetuation of his oppression.
- Thus, Orwell presents to his readership that the working class may suffer not only due to dictators’ abuse of power, but also from their own naive unwillingness to question the intentions of the authority.
- Orwell accurately exhibits treacherous aspects of the human condition in his portrayal of dramatised relationships between humans and animals.
- Just as the pig rulers of the rebellion eventually betray their own idealistic visions, the theme of alliance is shattered between Frederick and Napoleon when the latter learns that the former has been forging banknotes while buying firewood from him.
- Thus, Animal Farm depicts the idea that alliances formed in a tyrannical dictatorship are merely veneers of camaraderie, which hide each person’s capability to destroy others in their path towards control.
Analysis of Quotes:
‘Four legs good, two legs bad.’
- From Chapter 3, this slogan is based off of Old Major’s speech before his death about the need for animals to unite in the face of human oppression and tyranny.
- The quote is a noteworthy example of propaganda in Animal Farm, as the leaders utilise language in order to essentially brainwash the working class animals.
- Although it initially helps the animals to remember their goals, the phrase later loses its meaning of solidarity as it becomes a nonsensical noise made by sheep when used to drown out the voices of challengers to the regime.
‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’
- This quote exemplifies the pigs’ abuse of logic and language to keep their power over their followers.
- The evidently senseless and illogical meaning behind this phrase is an example of the methods that the leader of the Farm takes in order to brainwash his followers.
- The quote also suggests that the pigs’ real intention to create an animal utopia is not, in fact, to rise up against the oppression of the humans, but to become part of the elite; the ‘some’ that possess greater rights and power than the rest of the underprivileged society.
5 Types of Essay Prompts
Your approach to each essay will depend on what type of prompt is being asked. Be aware that not all essay prompts are the same, which means that sometimes your preferred essay structure simply won’t suit the type of prompt asked. That's why it's important to be aware of the 5 types of essay topics – what you should watch out for and how you could approach your essay writing. The topics used in this blog post have been curated by Lisa's Study Guides.
1. Theme-based prompts :
Animal Farm is first and foremost a satirical critique of politicians’ tyrannical misuse of power.
Usually your paragraphs will be based around particular themes. For example in this case, paragraphs may be based on ‘love’, ‘escape’, ‘horrors of war’ etc. These paragraphs can have character discussions embedded within them in order to demonstrate how the characters represent each theme. Discussion of the author’s choice of language such as symbols or imagery can be essential to the analysis of a theme.
2. Character-based prompts :
Boxer is the only animal with redeeming qualities. Do you agree?
These prompts focus on one or more characters. In this case, you can structure your essay paragraphs based on particular characters or something in common with a set of characters. Essays can become quite repetitive if each paragraph is based around one character so try to add in discussion about themes or the character’s relationships with other characters. Remember that minor characters can be just as important as major characters.
3. How-based prompts :
How does Napoleon exert control over the farm?
These prompts are usually structured, ‘how does the character do this,’ or 'how does the author do this'. In this case, since the prompt is focused on one main character, try to weave in the main character’s interactions with other characters and how other characters influenced them.
4. Metalanguage-based prompts :
The language in Animal Farm is crucial to Orwell's storytelling.
These types of prompts are the rarest of the 5 prompts but don’t be surprised if you’re asked one. They focus more on the language part of the text; rather than the plot, themes or characters. Your discussion will revolve around the author’s use of language (metaphors, prose, syntax etc.). These discussions are typically viewed as ‘harder’ prompts because you need to think about how the author achieves a particular message about character or theme through their choice of words. Check out our blog post on metalanguage and what you need to look out for.
Extra helpful resource by the BBC: Form, structure and language in Animal Farm.
5. Quote prompts :
'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ How is this true in Animal Farm?
These prompts can be character- or theme-based. However, it differs from other essay topics because it includes a direct quote from the text. Remember that the quote is part of the prompt, so ensure that you address it. One of the best ways of doing so is to incorporate the quote into the essay itself.
When faced with unknown prompts in a SAC or your exam, it's reassuring to have a formulaic breakdown of the prompt so that your brain immediately starts categorising the prompt - which of the 5 types of prompts does this one in front of me fall into?
To learn more, I discuss this and offer you practical strategies (so you never mind-blank again!) in my ebook, How To Write A Killer Text Response. Feel free to check it out, and good luck!