George Orwell was born by the name of Eric Arthur Blair. He changed his name shortly before he published his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, in 1933 and recognized himself as a socialist by the 1930’s. Animal Farm was first published in August of 1945, in England, later published the next year in the United States of America. Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satire with the intention of attacking a real system of belief. This book was a reflection of the events that lead up to and after the Russian Revolution in 1917, and later, the rule under Stalin. There is a great amount of symbolism in this book. The parallels that the Orwell draws to the Russian Revolution make this story an example of an allegory. Old Major inspires the animals of Manor Farm to consider revolting in hopes of a new and better life, representing Karl Marx and his beliefs.
After Old Major’s death, three pigs emerge as leaders: Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer. Snowball wants to carry out the dreams of Old Major, and improve the economy through industry using the windmill. However, he loses the battle for power and ends up being chased off the farm. This is similar to the role Trotsky played as a close ally of Lenin’s who was exiled from the Soviet Union after he became a threat to the leader Joseph Stalin. Napoleon took power by force and used it to improve the conditions for himself, the supporting pigs, and his dogs at the expense of everyone else. Napoleon represents Stalin, who is not considered part of the Russian Revolution per se, but instead a transition to a bureaucratic dictatorship. Squealer never got power for himself, but worked with Napoleon to keep all the animals under his control. The animal massacres brought about by Napoleon and his followers, signify the Moscow purge trials of the 1930’s. Squealer doesn’t represent a specific person, but rather the media. During that time period, the government used the press to spread propaganda to sell Stalin to the people.
One more example of symbolism found in this book is the flag they would run up every Sunday morning in the farmhouse garden. The flag was green to represent the green fields of England, while the hoof and the horn signified their future once the human race had been finally overthrown. This flag was almost identical to the flag of the Soviet Union. A plain red flag, with a gold hammer crossed with a sickle, placed beneath a star. The hammer symbolized the nation’s industrial workers, while the sickle symbolized the nation’s agricultural workers and the star represented the rule of the Communists.
George Orwell wrote a letter to Dwight Macdonald in December 1946, soon after the publication of Animal Farm in the US. Macdonald wrote to Orwell describing to different views people have of his book and interpretations. He then proceeded to ask which view was closest to the motive for his story. Orwell responded with, “Re. your query about Animal Farm.
Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job.
The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt). If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism. In the case of Trotskyists, there is the added complication that they feel responsible for events in the USSR up to about 1926 and have to assume that a sudden degeneration took place about that date. Whereas I think the whole process was foreseeable—and was foreseen by a few people, eg. Bertrand Russell—from the very nature of the Bolshevik party. What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.”
To summarize, Orwell wrote Animal Farm to illustrate the way stalinism had betrayed the ideals of the socialist revolution in the Soviet Union. He used animals to write an allegorical fable that could be read on the surface as an entertaining story about animals. His deeper meaning was an attack on those who misuse their political power in the government, namely Stalin, a dictator of Russia. We may not remember the distinct historical parallels that George Orwell references, but the warning against a rebellion turning into a tyranny is still being remembered.