Animal Farm is an allegorical and dystopian novel by George Orwell, published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin (“un conte satirique contre Staline“), and in his essay “Why I Write” (1946), he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”.
The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, though the subtitle was dropped by U.S. publishers for its 1946 publication and subsequently all but one of the translations during Orwell’s lifetime omitted it. Other variations in the title include: A Satire and A Contemporary Satire. Orwell suggested the title Union des républiques socialistes animales for the French translation, which abbreviates to URSA, the Latin for “bear”, a symbol of Russia, and which recalled the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques.
Orwell wrote the book from November 1943 to February 1944, when the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was at its height and Stalin was regarded highly by the British people and intelligentsia, a circumstance that Orwell hated. It was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers, including one of Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz. Its publication was thus delayed, though it became a great commercial success when it did finally appear partly because the Cold War so quickly followed World War II.
Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and is also included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.
Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm, summons the animals on the farm together for a meeting, during which he refers to humans as parasites and teaches the animals a revolutionary song called Beasts of England. When Major dies, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and consider it a duty to prepare for the Rebellion. The animals revolt and drive the drunken and irresponsible farmer Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it “Animal Farm”. They adopt Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”
Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on the principles of Animalism. Food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items, ostensibly for their personal health. Napoleon and Snowball struggle for preeminence. When Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill, Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away and subsequently declares himself leader of Animal Farm.
Napoleon enacts changes to the governance structure of the farm, replacing meetings with a committee of pigs who will run the farm. Through a young pig named Squealer, Napoleon claims credit for the windmill idea. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. When the animals find the windmill collapsed after a violent storm, Napoleon and Squealer convince the animals that Snowball is trying to sabotage their project. Once Snowball becomes a scapegoat, Napoleon begins to purge the farm with his dogs, killing animals he accuses of consorting with his old rival. Beasts of England is replaced by an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals remain convinced that they are better off than they were under Mr. Jones.
Mr Frederick, one of the neighbouring farmers, attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill. Though the animals win the battle, they do so at great cost, as many, including Boxer the workhorse, are wounded. Despite his injuries, Boxer continues working harder and harder, until he collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer to the veterinary surgeon, explaining that better care can be given there. Benjamin, the cynical donkey who “could read as well as any pig”, notices that the van belongs to a knacker, and attempts a futile rescue. Squealer reports that the van was purchased by the hospital and the writing from the previous owner had not been repainted. But in reality, Napoleon has sold his most loyal and long-suffering worker for money to buy himself whisky.
Years pass, and the pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name “The Manor Farm”. As the animals look from pigs to humans, they realise they can no longer distinguish between the two.