You are Benjamin, a cynical old donkey, and you live on a Manor Farm. If life at the farm has taught you anything, it’s that life is pretty awful.
Yes, you have some friends, including your BFF Boxer, a Workhorse, but you despise this life of yours on the farm. All the animals are mistreated by the owner of the Farm, Mr Jones.
So one day, when Mr Jones falls asleep in a drunken stupor, a pig named Old Major summons all of the farm animals to the Big Barn to share a vision of a better future.
Old Major explains how the humans have been exploiting the animals and that if they could only just stand United, they could overthrow their farmer.
He says, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, and he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals.
He sets them to work, gives them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and keeps the rest for himself.
Our labour tills the soil, our dung fertilizes it, and yet there is not one of us that owns more than his bare skin.
You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies.
And you hens, how many eggs have you laid in this last year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens? The rest have all gone to market to bring in money for Jones and his men.
And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age? Each was sold at a year old–you will never see one of them again. In return for your four confinements and all your labour in the fields, what have you ever had except your bare rations and a stall?
Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.”
Now old major dies shortly thereafter, but his words inspire a trio of his fellow pigs, Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer, to take up his mantle and devise a new philosophy called animalism.
There are seven major tenets of this new ideology, mostly aimed at uniting the animals and avoiding the failings of humans.
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3.No animal shall wear clothes.
4.No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5.No animal shall drink alcohol.
6.No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
Shortly after, when Mr Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution happens, and Jones and his men are chased off the farm. The Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the Seven Commandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall, the most important Commandment being “All animals are created equal “.
Subsequently, there is a period of prosperity in animal farms, and the resources are plentiful.
The pigs, especially Snowball and Napoleon, take upon themselves the leadership and the responsibility to educate other animals and give suggestions on how to improve the farm.
They come up with various ideas, especially building a windmill. At first, the animals work collectively and support each other, toil harder than before, especially Boxer, your BFF, a loyal, dedicated, and respectable cart-horse, to complete their tasks, and yet they were in bliss as they enjoyed their freedom.
The harvest is most productive than they’ve ever seen, everyone has more food and more freedom from jobs, and the functioning of the farm is smooth. Soon, the pigs are at the top of the hierarchy.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Then one day, everything changes when Napoleon gets rid of Snowball, who works for the well-being of the animals and makes changes to the governance of the farm, and assumes supreme leadership. Napoleon drives Snowball away from the farm by using his pack of fierce dogs and declares himself the supreme commander.
Things go downhill for the animals living on the animal farm after Napoleon becomes the supreme commander. They are made to work harder than before and end up getting lesser food and nourishment than in the days of Mr Jones.
Under Napoleon’s baleful leadership, things turn ugly as he, along with his aids, passes over absurd commands and handles the affairs of the farm with dishonesty, wickedness, and greed and without care for their comrades.
They deprive animals of their rights and make them work beyond their permit and without much self-gain, whereas the pigs themselves didn’t do too much of the physical work, considering them suited for managing and directing only. Animals felt that their hope of a utopia, for what they laboured for and freedom, was no longer a possibility.
Artful Napoleon made others believe that Snowball was responsible for all evils that had befallen on them. Napoleon cunningly uses his propaganda to brainwash the inhabitants of the animal farm and prevent them from revolting. The propaganda eventually convinces the animals that Snowball is an accomplice of Mr Jones, and anyone showing support to Snowball is immediately slaughtered.
Years pass, and the pigs, once comrades, turn into dictators. They learn to walk upright, carry whips and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are reduced to:
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
Lies, corruption, private interests, and tyranny take over the farm, making life miserable for the animals, back to the way it was before in the times of Mr Jones. Napoleon, now the holder of absolute power, annuls practices related to the revolution, announces an alliance with the humans, and changes the name of the farm to “The Manor Farm”.
On the first reading of the novella, it appears like a children’s book with animals talking, walking, and behaving like humans, a farm run by animals, and a fight between animals and humans.
But Orwell, through the story, has presented a sharp critique of the ill effects of totalitarianism and how absolute power corrupts. Through the functioning of the farm, the author has presented the political and economic functioning of any nation.
The book highlights how history can easily be misrepresented and often changed for the convenience of the ruled. It also highlights that as long as weak and ignorant exists, exploitation will continue till the end.
Depicting the journey from revolution to tyranny, Animal farm is a classic tale to understand how power corrupts and citizens are tricked into believing and adhering to the authoritarianism and corruption of the leaders.
It is a small read. But this book has to make it to the “To-Read” list of anyone. It leaves you with a lot of food for thought after you have turned the last page. Highly recommended.
There is also an animation series based on the animal farm book. You can watch it for free on youtube. But the animation is a bit more tame than the actual book. I feel that this is more of a companion piece to the original story than a substitute or replacement. I highly encourage you to read the actual book.
And if you like to read more of Orwell’s work I have also written an article about his 1984 Novel, explaining The Dystopian World of 1984.