The animals’ original vision for their society stems from noble ideals. Orwell was a socialist himself and supported the creation of a government in which moral dignity and social equality would take precedence over selfish individual interests. The Russian revolutionaries began with such ideals as well; Marx certainly touted notions like these in his writings. On Animal Farm, however, as was the case in the Russian Revolution, power is quickly consolidated in the hands of those who devise, maintain, and participate in the running of society—the intelligentsia. This class of Russians and their allies quickly turned the Communist Party toward totalitarianism, an event mirrored in Animal Farm by the gradual assumption of power by the pigs. After Lenin’s seizure of power, Communist Party leaders began jockeying for position and power, each hoping to seize control after Lenin’s death. Snowball and Napoleon, whose power struggle develops fully in the next chapters, are based on two real Communist Party leaders: Snowball shares traits with the fiery, intelligent leader Leon Trotsky, while the lurking, subversive Napoleon has much in common with the later dictator Joseph Stalin.
Orwell’s descriptions in this chapter of the pre-Rebellion misery of the farm animals serve his critique of social inequality and the mistreatment of workers. They also make a pointed statement about humans’ abuse of animals. Indeed, the same impulse that led Orwell to sympathize with poor and oppressed human beings made him lament the cruelty that many human beings show toward other species. He got the idea for Animal Farm while watching a young boy whipping a cart-horse. His pity for the exploited horse reminded him of his sympathy for the exploited working class.
Orwell creates a particularly moving scene in portraying the animals’ efforts to obliterate the painful reminders of their maltreatment: this episode stands out from much of the rest of the novella in its richness of detail. In the attention to “the bits, the nose-rings, the dog-chains, the cruel knives,” and a whole host of other instruments of physical discipline, we see Orwell’s profound empathy with the lowest of the low, as well as his intense hatred for physical suffering and its destruction of dignity.