The central conflict of Animal Farm arises when the animals’ desire for freedom and equality is corrupted by the consolidation of political power amongst the pigs. The animals’ original goal is expressed in the first chapter, in Old Major’s teachings and especially in “Beasts of England,” the song that becomes the anthem of Animal Farm. At the beginning of the novella, political power is embodied by the farmer, Mr. Jones, who indulges himself while the animals starve. The animals win easily when they rebel against Mr. Jones, and as a result they make the mistake of thinking they have overcome political power itself. In reality they have only overcome one of the forms that political power can take. By the end of Chapter 2, when Napoleon steals the cows’ milk, the political power becomes embodied by the pigs.
Chapters 2 –7 trace the development of the pigs’ power, and the other animals’ growing awareness that they have not achieved their goal after all. The pigs—and Napoleon in particular—come to embody political power in three ways. First, they claim more and more of the farms’ resources for themselves. They start by stealing milk and apples, then eventually sell animal products to buy human luxuries like whisky. Second, the pigs become more violent, introducing the dog police force and ordering executions. Third, the pigs claim the power to determine what truth is. Squealer changes the Commandments of Animalism and the story of the Battle of the Cowshed. Meanwhile, the animals slowly come to realize that their lives are no better than they were before the Rebellion.
The climax of the novella occurs in Chapter 7, when Napoleon decides to sell the hens’ eggs. The hens finally recognize that the pigs are their antagonists, and they rebel. Their rebellion is brutally crushed and the hens are executed. Now, Boxer is the only character still clinging to the hope that freedom can be achieved. He has worked tirelessly to achieve this goal set forth by Old Major, which for Boxer is represented by his hope of one day retiring to a special pasture. However, when the time comes for Boxer to retire, he is sold and killed. Boxer’s betrayal marks the moment in which political power—embodied in Napoleon and the pigs—completely defeats the animals. In Animal Farm’s final pages, the animals watch the pigs dining with human farmers, and find they are unable to tell the difference between humans and pigs. The pigs have become one with the human farmers because both groups are equally corrupted by the reality of political power.