Animal Farm is an animal fable—or beast fable—because it uses animal characters to make a concise, forceful argument about human morality and politics. Throughout European history, writers from Aesop to Jean de la Fontaine have used animal fables as a way of criticizing their own societies under the cover of a “harmless” story about animals. For example, Aesop’s Fables are simple stories about creatures such as mice, geese, and frogs. The stories end with clear moral lessons that are applicable to daily life.

By drawing on the animal fable’s tradition of social criticism, Animal Farm critiques Orwell’s own English society as well as Soviet totalitarianism. Traditionally, fables rarely include more than one human character, but Orwell subverts this convention. By including several human farmers in his fable, Orwell reminds his readers that the exploitation and oppression of animals is not just a literary metaphor for the exploitation and oppression of human beings. The exploitation of animals really happens and relies on the same process as the exploitation of humans.