December 24, 2017

The relevance of George Orwell’s Animal Farm to modern politics

The relevance of George Orwell’s Animal Farm to modern politics

By John Chukwuma Ajakah

British journalist and author, George Orwell (1903-1950) in his satirical fable, Animal Farm published in 1945 by Longman Group Limited, portrays the idea of equality before the law as a delusion. He makes a caricature of political leaders, who contrive utopian ideals and hoodwink the ignorant peasants to crave for a supposed perfect state. The quest for change in most human societies begins with a dream. So does that of the animals in this classic novel.

Buoyed by the dream of a wizened old pig, Old Major, the animals in this allegory, rebel against their oppressive human owner, Mr. Jones, and overthrow him to form an egalitarian society. However, their vain pursuit for socio-economic and political utopia is usurped by the maverick pigs whose emergence as political elites elevates to the status of being ‘more equal than others’.

The pigs, led by Napoleon and Snowball, become lords of the farm. Although the novel hinges on the Russian Revolution which features high profile political figures like Tsar Nicholas II, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky and Vyacheslav Molotov, it has a universal application and could represent any other society, especially African countries that have had colonial experience.

The citizenry rarely fare better after the change of guard. The emergent political gladiators put the garb of demigods, using obnoxious laws to perpetuate themselves in power and make life more unbearable for the downtrodden masses.

The Storyline

The Animal Farm centers on a group of domestic animals, who rebel against their owner, the proprietor of Manor Farm, Mr. Jones, to form self-government, free of any human control. The animals expel Jones and rename the facility, Animal Farm. Jones had angered them by under feeding and exploiting them for cheap labour. One day, a pig named Old Major, calls a meeting of all the animals and narrates a dream he had had. He believes it to be a revelation of a future without human dominance. He also teaches them an inspirational freedom song, ‘Beasts of England’ which later becomes a National Anthem. They get very excited and begin to imagine the possibility of a life of unmitigated freedom. The dream inspires them to aspire for liberation from their oppressive and exploitative human master.

Old Major dies a few days after, leaving two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon to lead the other animals in preparation for the foreseen rebellion. Things happen fast. The animals revolt against Jones and take over the farm. The purpose of the revolution is to create a fair society in which the animals will live freely on the basis of equality in the spirit of animalism. They fashion out seven cardinal commandments to this effect. Jones launches an attack to reclaim the farm. He is assisted by the proprietors of two other farms who fear that their own animals might re-enact the rebellion.

On the day of battle, the animals led by Snowball fight bravely and win, forcing the men out. They name it, “The Battle of the Cowshed” decorating Snowball and Napoleon with the medals, ‘Animal Hero, First Class.’

Things start falling apart as leadership tussle ensues between Snowball and Napoleon. They oppose each other on every move to advance the farm. Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill, which would supply electricity and reduce menial labour. Napoleon vehemently opposes him, canvassing for increased farm produce instead. Their heated debates polarize the animals into two camps. Napoleon, along with nine fierce- looking dogs, arrive the farm one day and chase Snowball away.

Napoleon, surrounded by his dogs, then reads the riot act in a military fashion that reveals him as a real dictator. He blames everything that goes wrong on the exiled Snowball, who he claims sneaks around the farm, ruining everything. He surprisingly begins to execute the windmill project he had condemned, forcing the animals to work more and eat less. Boxer, the dutiful horse, loses strength due to old age and Napoleon sends him to the abattoir to be slaughtered.

Soon, the pigs begin to behave like Jones, exploiting the others. They manipulatively use gullible and ignoramus ones like the sheep to cause mayhem. They metamorphose into proprietors of the farm and establish bilateral trade relations with human beings. They also wear clothes and mimic humans in every possible way, including walking on hind legs. The maxim, “Four legs good, two legs better” replaces the old one that condemns two legs.


The few human characters in the novel include Jones, the founder of Manor Farm; Pilkington, the proprietor of Foxwood, a neighbouring farm; and Frederick, the landlord of Pinchfield, a small, but well-kept nearby farm. They are all depicted as minor characters with neither sterling attributes nor profound roles.

The major characters are Old Major, who inspires the animals and sets the tune for the rebellion; Napoleon, a large boar who becomes the maximum leader of Animal Farm after masterminding the expulsion of his main rival, Snowball, the inventive and visionary political leader, with exceptional oratorical prowess. Snowball is the main hero of the battle with the human beings tagged, ‘The Battle of The Cowshed.’ He is also the mastermind of ‘the windmill’ which Napoleon installs after his ignominious expulsion from the farm. He is an avid reader and the author of most of the brilliant ideas used in running the farm after the rebellion. Napoleon considers him a serious threat to his ambition because he is persuasive and easily wins the loyalty of other animals. Napoleon dislodged him by engaging the services of savage dogs who hounded him out of a meeting during a heated debate over his pet project, the windmill.

Squealer is another prominent member of the pigs’ cabinet. He is a passionate and persuasive orator. He serves as the Information Officer and proves to be a loyal spokesperson for Napoleon after the banishment of Snowball. He twists the language to justify Napoleon’s actions and confuse the animals until they accept whatever Napoleon says as being correct. The pigs are the political elites who plan, make policies and drive other animals to attain set goals.

The horses lead the workforce with their extraordinary strength. Boxer is a loyal and dedicated horse. He agrees with his partner, Clover, to the philosophy of working harder. He puts extra time, waking earlier than others to work and close late. He believes that ‘Napoleon is always right.’ However, he later grows too weak to work actively. Napoleon reneges on his promise to provide him with retirement benefits and sends him to an abattoir instead, deceiving others to believe that he is sent to the hospital.

The dogs are the political thugs who man Napoleon’s security unit to deter resistance from the other animals and curtail the ambition of fellow pigs. The pig, Minimus, is one of Napoleon’s loyalists. He composes poems and songs in honour of Napoleon and writes two national anthems to replace ‘Beasts of England’. He typifies a sycophant who hails the man in power to the detriment of the larger society.


The novel conveys many thematic concerns. The central theme of rebellion is portrayed as the animals revolt against their human owner, Jones, and establish their own government. There is also the theme of power tussle. This is expressed in the unhealthy rivalry between Napoleon and Snowball which culminates in the expulsion of Snowball and enthronement of the despotic leadership of Napoleon. The theme of social inequality is explored through the elevation of the pigs as superior animals and preferential treatment they consequently receive over others. For instance, apples and milk are exclusively reserved for them. The piglets also receive elitist education as future leaders while puppies are trained as thugs and eggs belonging to hens are sold for money.

Betrayal of trust occurs as the pigs usurp the power reposed in them to the detriment of the other animals. The theme of political apathy is presented through Benjamin, the old donkey, who prides himself with the axiom that donkeys have long life, remains non-committal to the evolving political system and unperturbed at the intrigues though he is wise enough to know the pigs are insincere. The theme of religion is realised through Moses, an old raven who visits the farm and like the Biblical Moses, tells the animals stories of a heavenly place called, ‘Sugarcandy Mountain.’ He claims that hard working animals go there when they die. Moses represents a religious leader who preaches faith in an unknown future as palliative measure to ameliorate the immediate suffering of the people. This echoes Karl Marx’s assertion that religion is the opium of the people.


Napoleon systematically jettisons the 7 commandments – the articles of faith, which form the bedrock of the Principles of Animalism. When the pigs learn to walk on their hind legs, he alters the 1st commandment, ‘Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy’ to read ‘Four legs good, two legs better.’

The pigs begin to hobnob with human beings. They also start wearing clothes, sleeping in beds and drinking alcohol contravening the 3rd, 4th and 5th commandments: No animal shall wear clothes, No animal shall sleep in a bed, and No animal shall drink alcohol.

The killing of Boxer and other aged animals negates the 6th commandment: No animal shall kill any other animal.’ Finally, the 7th commandment: All animals are equal, is extended to amalgamate all the commandments into an over-riding maxim: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

The pigs revert to the old name, ‘Manor Farm’. Resistance seems needless. The animals are too intimidated to protest against Napoleon’s dictatorship.