Animal Farm, by George Orwell, is a fable about rulers and the ruled, oppressors and the oppressed, and an idea betrayed. The particular meaning given will depend partly on the political beliefs- “political” in the deepest sense of the word. The book is there to be enjoyed about how human beings can best live together in this world. The novel, Animal Farm by George Orwell, successfully combines the characteristics of three literary forms- the fable, the satire and the allegory.
Animal Farm could be called “A Fairy Story” because people think of the fairy story as the escapist form of literature par excellence. Animal Farm has sometimes been read as a fable against socialism. The animals are meant to represent certain types of human beings, not complex individuals. Using animals as types is also Orwell’s way of keeping his hatred and anger against exploiters under control. Each animal character is a type with one human trait, or two at most traits usually associated with that particular kind of animal. For example, the pigs represented corrupted human leaders in particular, “the Bolsheviks, who lead the overthrow of the capitalist Russian government only to become new masters in return.”(Internet) Old Major is a wise old pig whose stirring speech to the animals helps set the rebellion in motion even though he dies before the rebellion actually begins. Old Major and his role compare with that of Karl Marx, whose ideas set the communist Revolution in effect. Also, the animals in Animal Farm talk and act like men and women. (Orwell 33) For instance, the pigs in the novel eat mash- real pig food but with milk in it that they have grabbed. (Orwell 34) The pigs also persuaded the animals to let them keep a human action. The dogs’ growl and bite the way real dogs do but to support Napoleon’s drive for political power. (Orwell 66) The two horses, Boxer and Clover, represent the long-suffering workers and peasants of the world. Old Mollie, the loving mare, took a piece of ribbon and put the ribbon on her shoulder looking at herself into the humans’ mirror. (Orwell 31) She actually leaves the farm for sugar and ribbons at a human hotel. (Orwell 52) He (Orwell) may have been thinking about certain Russian nobles who left after the Revolution or a general human type. Some readers view Animal Farm as a perfect illustration of the famous saying associated with British historian Lord Action, All power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Internet) Orwell never forgets this delicate balance between how real animals actually behaves and what human qualities his animals are supposed to represent.
Since Orwell attacks that new society and despite the grim bitter picture he paints of it, he attacks it with humor (the humor of the animal fable), the reader can also call Animal Farm a satire. Satire, which is irony, is a contrast or contradiction, such as between what a statement seems to say and what it really means or between what really happens. For example, “ all year long the animals worked like slaves”(Orwell 63). This could simply mean that the animals worked very hard. It is charged with meaningful irony. The animals may not know it, but they really are becoming slaves. Their sacrifice is not “for the benefit of themselves”(Orwell 63) as they think, but readers soon realize, for their new masters, the pigs. In addition, the book tells the story from the naïve viewpoint of the mass of animals and often in the objective voice without explaining the event. For instance, there’s a crash one night and Squealer is found in the barn sprawled on the ground beside a broken ladder, a brush, and a pot of paints (Orwell 103). It was a strange incident, which hardly anyone was able to understand. A few days later, the animal find that the 5th commandment painted on the barn wall is not exactly as they remembered. It read, “no animal shall drink alcohol “ (Orwell 33). Now they can see two words at the end that they had forgotten. Since the reader see the explanation clearly enough, the reader of this book can say that Orwell is using the oldest ironic trick there is: feigned ignorance. There is also a brutal irony in comparing the state of Animal Farm under Napoleon with the main points of Major’s speech. For example, Boxer’s last sacrifice has been to be slaughtered in order to procure drinking money for the pigs. (Orwell 116) Major’s prophetic incitement to Revolution was:
And you, Boxer, the very day that you lose those great muscles of yours and lose their power, Jones will sell you to the knacker, who will cut your throat and boil you down for the foxhounds. (Orwell 20)
This has been fulfilled, ironically, not by Mr. Jones but by the animals that has taken over revolution. Irony is sometimes charged with great intensity in Animal Farm. The contrast between what the animals believe and what the narrator actually tells the readers. Anyone who reads this novel knows the truth fills us with more anger than an open denunciation could have done.
Readers can actually enjoy Animal Farm without knowing it’s an allegory just like readers can enjoy Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel without realizing that it is a bitter satire and a political allegory. The allegory makes the storyline funny and deeper because many people feel as the socialist Orwell certainly did have a passion for justice stirred into the animals. Orwell pushes his allegorical narrative from past history to future prophecy. The pigs will openly reveal themselves to be identical with man. For instance, “ the pigs start to walk on their hind legs just as the humans does.” (Orwell 121) All the animals on the farm were shocked to see the pigs “marching slowly around the yard” (Orwell 122). Their animal commandment said, “ any person that walked on two feet was an enemy” (Orwell 33). Napoleon also told them to remember that “ in the fight against man, we (the animals) must not come to resemble man” (Orwell 21). Napoleon and the rest of the pigs started to resemble and become friends with the enemy. Another example of how the pigs resemble man is when the pigs move into the farmhouse and sleep in the humans’ bed (Orwell 70). This is connected to how Napoleon is gaining the power, honor, and the privilege. Napoleon is not giving the other animals on the Animal Farm those privileges that he is getting. Napoleon is a dictator and is becoming human as the book progresses.
As one can see, this novel successfully uses three literary forms, the fable, the satire, and the allegory. The novel Animal Farm discusses more than just the three literary forms. Animal Farm concerns one of the central political experiences of this time: revolution. It has been on the rise in the last three hundred years of human history. If people want to understand the world around us, they must try to understand the phenomenon of revolution- the how, the why, and what happens then. Another thing people can get from this book is a feel for how a modern dictatorship works. Orwell gives the reader an imaginative analysis of totalitarian dictatorship in Animal Farm. One way of doing so is to see how an imaginative writer deals with it. Think of this as an important benefit of reading Animal Farm.