Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an allegorical novella which is a representation of individuals and classes in Stalin’s Soviet Russia. The events in the book mirror some of the actual events in Soviet Russia and serve as a critique of Stalin’s rule. Orwell uses animal characters in his book to represent some of the important people in Soviet Russia and other characters represent parts of Russian society. The book that illustrates Orwell’s critical themes including the rewriting of societal rules, the abuse of power by a privileged few, and exploitation of the vulnerable. In exploring these themes Orwell highlights the tension between conformity and individuality in Soviet Russia.
The first theme to explore is the rewriting of societal rules which is a key feature of Stalin’s Soviet Russia. Napoleon, a pig and ruler of the farm following the revolution against the humans, sets the rules for the new order and all the rest of the animals follow without question. Together with the rest of the pigs there is a representation of the ruling class and the way societal rules are manipulated progressively throughout the novella based on the changing desires of the pigs. For example, the original rule painted on the barn facade was: “No animal shall sleep in a bed” which was later changed to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.” This rule was changed once the pigs experienced sleeping on a bed in a human dwelling and realised how comfortable it made their rest. The purist farm conditions that they espoused during the revolution were modified once they had a taste of comfort. The other animals instantly conformed to the new rule without question. This example is meant to illustrate the conformity in Soviet Russia at the time where rules were set by an elite class of Communist leaders and followed by the masses through fear of reprisal or ignorance. No wonder the name of the chief pig is Napoleon to highlight the extreme power that this animal has, as did his early nineteenth century French namesake.
The pigs Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer adapt Old Major’s ideas into ‘a complete system of thought’, which they formally name Animalism, an allegorical reference to Communism. The pigs get a taste for the luxuries that humans have for example drinking alcohol, sleeping in beds, trading, which were explicitly prohibited by the Seven Commandments. Squealer is employed to alter the Seven Commandments to account for this humanisation, an allusion to the Soviet government’s revising of history in order to exercise control of the people’s beliefs about themselves and their society.
Orwell’s treatment of the theme of power is expressed through the quotation: “All animals are equal”. This was one of the commandments, that appeared after the revolution. The collection of commandments or rules was later changed to just one: “All animals are equal but some more than others”. The rules were formulated so that the animals clearly established their rights on the farm. Their seizure of power from Mr Jones through the revolution was grounded in the search for better standards of living and equality. This catalyst for change is representative of the 1917 Revolution in Russia. However, conditions on the farm soon changed according to the desires of the ruling pigs led by Napoleon. This is quite a different outcome to that envisaged by Old Major before the revolution who, in many ways, is representative of Lenin’s or Karl Marx’s vision of communist ideology. Thus, the corruption of ideology and exercise of power on the farm closely mirrors the changes in Soviet Russia under Stalin. Power enabled the ruling elite in Russia and their equivalent in “Animal Farm” to enjoy privileges not enjoyed by the masses. The general population was exploited in order for a small part of society to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.
Snowball started plans on a construction of a windmill to increase the farms productivity and additionally decrease the animals work. At first Napoleon disagrees with these plans not because it’s a bad idea but because it is from Snowball and he puts Napoleon’s power in jeopardy. In Animal Farm, the characters and events are an allegory, or a symbolic representation of what’s happening in the Soviet Union before and during the time of the book’s publication. Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, who believed in promoting technology and spreading communism. Napoleon represents Joseph Stalin, who believed in building a strong defense and well as building up supplies. Once Stalin rose to power, Trotsky was exiled and later killed by KGB (which is represented by the dogs in Animal Farm). Three weeks after Snowball is removed from the farm, Napoleon changes his mind about the windmill: “He did not give any reason for having changed his mind, but merely warned the animals that this extra task would mean very hard work, it might even be necessary to reduce their rations.” Once several of Napoleon’s plan’s fail, he blames it on sabotage by Snowball. In this part of the story, the windmill is a symbol of how political rhetoric is manipulated into in the self-interest of the politicians. After Trotsky’s exile from the Soviet Union, Stalin initiated the five-year plan to promote industry in the Soviet Union. Each version of the five year plan was plagued with problems that Stalin blamed on Trotsky. In the novella, the motor for the completed windmill has not even been installed when Mr. Frederick (who represents Adolf Hitler) levels it, just as in real life the German invasion of Stalingrad destroys industry in the Soviet city. The recurrent building of the windmill, with no benefit to the people, is an example of a political promise that was never fulfilled.
Orwell’s brief, but effective literary work clearly portrays a society, that initially through teamwork has the potential for improvement, but tragically is misdirected into an authoritative model, with considerable abuse of power. Slowly social norms are at first adjusted and then altered to the degree that they disadvantage the majority of their community. This is easily seen in the way the commandments are modified to benefit the pigs. Exploitation has become more apparent and this is clearly demonstrated with the abuse that Boxer, the workhorse first experiences and then is ignominiously despatched to a glue factory, when dying. The lack of food and the dwindling favourable living conditions of the rest of the animals convince the reader of the overwhelming encroachment of the pigs. This clearly reflects the start of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and long term effects upon the Russian people in the twentieth century.