Animal Farm

George Orwell
Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

Corruption

Animal Farm demonstrates the idea that power always corrupts. The novella’s heavy use of foreshadowing, especially in the opening chapter, creates the sense that the events of the story are unavoidable. Not only is Napoleon’s rise to power inevitable, the novella strongly suggests that any other possible ruler would have been just as bad as Napoleon. Although Napoleon is more power-hungry than Snowball, plenty of evidence exists to suggest that Snowball would have been just as corrupt a ruler. Before his expulsion, Snowball goes along with the pigs’ theft of milk and apples, and the disastrous windmill is his idea. Even Old Major is not incorruptible. Despite his belief that “all animals are equal,” (Chapter 1) he lectures the other animals from a raised platform, suggesting he may actually view himself as above the other animals on the farm. In the novel’s final image the pigs become indistinguishable from human farmers, which hammers home the idea that power inevitably has the same effect on anyone who wields it.

The Failure of Intellect

Animal Farm is deeply skeptical about the value of intellectual activity. The pigs are identified as the most intelligent animals, but their intelligence rarely produces anything of value. Instead, the pigs use their intelligence to manipulate and abuse the other animals. The novella identifies several other ways in which intelligence fails to be useful or good. Benjamin is literate, but he refuses to read, suggesting that intelligence is worthless without the moral sense to engage in politics and the courage to act. The dogs are nearly as literate as the pigs, but they are “not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments” (Chapter 3). The dogs’ use of their intelligence suggests that intellect is useless—even harmful—when it is combined with a personality that prefers to obey orders rather than question them.

The Exploitation of Animals by Humans

As well as being an allegory of the ways human exploit and oppress one another, Animal Farm also makes a more literal argument: humans exploit and oppress animals. While the animals’ rebellion is mostly comic in tone, it ends on a serious and touching note, when the animals “wipe out the last traces of Jones’s hated reign. The harness-room at the end of the stables was broken open; the bits, the nose-rings, the dog-chains, the cruel knives with which Mr. Jones had been used to castrate the pigs and lambs, were all flung down the well” (Chapter 2). The novella also suggests that there is a real connection, as well as an allegorical one, between the exploitation of animals and the exploitation of human workers. Mr. Pilkington jokes to Napoleon: “If you have your lower animals to contend with […] we have our lower classes!” (Chapter 10). From the point of view of the ruling class, animals and workers are the same.