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Author: George Orwell
Title: Animal farm
Year of first publication: 1961
2. Summary of the plot
Animal farm is a book about a rebellion of animals that doesn’t achieve the goal it wanted to achieve. The Major, a very old boar, tells all the animals of Manor Farm about a dream he had in which animals were free in what they wanted to do, without the oppression of humankind. He tells the animals that the current way of life of the animals is miserable and laborious. He tells the animals that they have to rebel against the humans in order to achieve freedom for all animals. He also says that all animals have to be equal, and no animal would ever behave like a human being. The Major dies a few months later. The rebellion of the animals is achieved much earlier than everyone expected. The animals chase off Jones, the owner of the Manor farm, from his own farm. The pigs, who are of course the smartest of all, start organizing everything very quickly. The pigs are to be the thinkers of the farm, which means that they won’t have to do all the hard work, but the “hard thinking”. The other animals have to work on the farm: they harvest the fields, carry the objects that are required for building things, etc. The pigs learn to spell and to write, and write the seven commandments (can be compared to the ten commandments of Moses) on the wall of the barn. All animals have to live to these rules: Animals should not kill other animals, animals should not wear clothes, everything on two legs is an enemy, etc. But what starts as animals living together in harmony, ends in a tyranny of the pigs. First of all Snowball, the only pig who really cared for the other animals was chased away from the farm, after that animals were executed and while the other animals work as if their life depends on it the pigs are giving themselves more privileges every time by altering the seven commandments. Eventually the pigs become humans themselves. Even though the Major warned the animals not to do anything related to humans, it still happened.
3. Most important themes of the book
- Oppression: This theme is obviously present in the book. But the kind of oppression is a special one. The pigs don’t initially oppress the other animals by force, but by cleverness and slyness. The pig squealer, who is a brilliant talker, always tells smart lies to the animals to put them at ease if something happens. The other animals who are not smart enough to understand that they are being oppressed, always believe Squealer’s smart talks. Even when Napoleon executes other animals in the open air while there is the commandment No animal shall kill any other animal the animals believe Squealer when he explains to the unexecuted animals why the others had been executed. The pigs also oppress the others by changing the commandments: First the commandment said No animal shall kill any other animal and just after the executions the same commandment said No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
- Society/Politics: This theme is also very important in the story. There is a constant stream of organizing in the story. First the animals organize the producing and consuming of food. Then they start organizing their electricity by building a windmill. After that there is even the export and import of certain products and the construction of buildings. In the beginning of the story there are Sunday meetings on which the schedule for the week is discussed. There also are a lot of debates in which the current state of business is discussed. As the story progresses the animals are divided in different classes: the pigs are the leaders and the thinkers (you can compare them to dictators), the horses do the heavy labor, the hens have to lay eggs, etc. All these facts make the theme society and politics important.
- War/fighting: This theme is less important than the other two, but there are several fights in the story. First there is the battle of the cowshed. The animals have a lot of tactics in this battle to effectively defeat their enemy. Later in the story Frederick (the farmer of Pinchfield farm) scams Napoleon and then attacks the farm. There is a fight again, this time with a little less tactics. But the animals are still victorious.
4. Motives of the story
- The windmill: The windmill is a very important aspect of the story. This building plays an important role in the story, as it’s being built up, destroyed, built up, destroyed and finally built up again. Almost every character of the story is involved in building the windmill, and a large part of the story is dedicated to this building. This is why it’s a very important motive.
- The nine dogs: These nine dogs, fed up by Napoleon, are also very important in the story. You could say that the dogs are the cops. The only difference between cops and these dogs is that cops tell give you a fine and that the dogs either growl at you or bite your throat open. They are the executive branch of the Animal Farm society. Napoleon is their supervisor and they protect him no matter what. The dogs play an important role in the story, as Napoleon often makes speeches. The dogs walk around him and growl at anyone who has a complaint. They also guard the Farm house, which is at a certain point taken over by the pigs.
- The green flag and the gun: the green flag with the horn and the hoof is a flag that’s used especially for memorials. Each time something important has to be remembered, the animals rise the flag to remember for example the Battle of the Cowshed. This flag is also a symbol for the unity of the animals on the farm. At the end of the story the Hoof and the Horn have been removed from the green flag. This symbolizes the definite split between the pigs who have turned into humans, and the animals who will be oppressed by the pigs from that moment on.
5. Describing a character
a. Describing the character (personality) of a character
Napoleon is one of the main characters of the story. He is the dictator of the story. Everyone has to obey him and if you don’t, you’d better run or prepare to die. He doesn’t like it when others are more important than him, or if he can’t win a case. He is very weak with words (you can see this in the many debates with Snowball). He uses brute force instead. During one of the debates he calls his dogs to chase Snowball away. From that moment on he is the supervisor of Animal Farm. He uses Squealer as his messenger, as squealer is a good talker. First Napoleon still thinks a little bit about the good of the other animals, but as the story and thus his dictatorship continues he is carried away with it. He gets more menace and cruel, and if someone stands in his way he executes that person (animal).
b. Is this a trustworthy character and does this trustworthiness change during the story?
In the beginning of the story Napoleon is still an animal, just as the other animals. He participates in the rebellion and is as equal as the other animals. When Jones is not on the farm anymore, the animals divide the different tasks. Napoleon already does some shady things at this point. For example, he takes the puppies of a mother dog in a room where no one else can have contact with them. At a later point in the story he suddenly calls these dogs to chase away Snowball. He uses Squealer to tell the others of his plans, but he has much less contact with the other animals. This is very suspicious too. A lot of things happen in the story: executions, Squealer who keeps on soothing the other animals and suddenly selling a pile of wood to Frederick instead of Pilkington. At the end of the story all the animals can see that Napoleon had deceived them all. His trustworthiness changes from rather trustworthy to extremely deceiving. On the whole I don’t consider Napoleon trustworthy.
6. Three quotations
1. These are two quotations that I compare:
1. Four legs good, two legs bad! Four legs good, two legs bad!
2. Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!
These are quotations of the sheep. At the beginning of the story the animals hate humans, but at the end of the story it’s impossible to hate the animals because the pigs themselves have become human. This quotation is very important considering the oppression of the pigs. The pigs have indoctrinated the sheep to change their standard sentence because the pigs had now become human. While the pigs were still animals, the sheep said Four legs good, two legs bad! But when the pigs had become human they were ordered to say Four legs good, two legs better! You can clearly see oppression here (the pigs were told to say this by Squealer).
2. The seven Commandments:
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.
This is an important quotation too, because the writer often refers to them. They play an important role in the story because the animals have to live according to these rules. You often see the effects of this lifestyle in the story. All animals treat each other equally (except for the pigs) and all animals sleep on straw. In the beginning there is a big hate against human beings. But another important aspect of this quotations is the altering of it: the pigs oppress the other animals by continuously changing the commandments: No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause. Because the pigs change these commandments they can easily oppress the others.
3. It was only his appearance that was a little altered: his hide was less shiny than it used to be, and his great haunches seemed to have shrunken. The others said, ‘Boxer will pick up when the spring grass comes on’; but the spring came and Boxer grew no fatter. Sometimes on the slope leading to the top of the quarry, when he braced his muscles against the weight of some vast boulder, it seemed that nothing kept him on his feet except the will to continue. At such times his lips were seen to form the words, ‘I will work harder’ ; he had no voice left. Once again Clover and Benjamin warned him to take care of his health, but Boxer paid no attention. His twelfth birthday was approaching. He did not care what happened so long as a good store of stone was accumulated before he went on pension.
This quotations is important because it shows what the circumstances on animal farm can do to someone. Boxer has always been a noble horse and always trusted in the good of everyone (this changed a little at the end of the story). ‘I will work harder’ is one of his standard sentences. The way he worked on the windmill strongly suggests that he built half the windmill. You can also see the position of one of the animals in the Animal Farm Society. Boxer is obviously a ‘hard worker’. But the way he works has a lot of negative consequences for him. He gets less healthy and eventually ends up death (probably because he had been slaughtered by the knackers). All this is a consequence of the oppression and the slyness of the pigs and also because the pigs urged the animals to complete the construction of the windmill as fast as possible.
7. Finishing a sentence
One of the remarkable things about the book is the way the author confuses the reader and how he puts the reader to imagining. Of course, the author tells you about the different characters and about the important things that happen in the story. But he doesn’t tell you everything. There is for example Snowball, the abandoned pig. The one moment he is hiding at Foxwood Farm, and the other moment he is living in luxury at Pinchfield farm. Another example are the constantly changing relations between Napoleon and the other two farmers and the possible attacks on the windmill. By constantly telling different things the writer confuses the reader and puts them to thinking. Personally, I really wondered where Snowball was, or whether there was really going to be an attack on the windmill.
8. 10 important English words
-Dissentients (page 13): andersdenkenden. This word is used to tell who didn’t agree with a certain thesis/opinion.
-Pre-eminent (page 16): Uitblinkend. This word is used to tell which pigs were very conspicuous among the animals.
-Tale-bearer (page 18): Klikspaan. This word is used to tell the reader something about the character of Moses, the raven.
-Maxim (page 30): Stelregel. This word is used to give a name to the sentence that summarizes the seven commandments.
-Flogging (page 35): Afranseling. This word is used to show what human beings do to animals if they hear them sing the song “Beasts of England”.
-Restive (page 43): Onhandelbaar. This word is used to show the behavior of animals on other farms after they heard of the loss of Jones attack to recapture his farm.
-Laborious (page 51): Moeizaam. This word is used to tell how fatiguing the construction of the windmill is.
-Famine (page 61): Hongersnood. This word is to show the consequences of the stubbornness of Napoleon, who didn’t want to buy food from the outside world when all the animals were starving.
-Did not square with (page 73): kwam niet overeen met. These words are used to show that the new commandment No animal shall kill any other animal without cause was not the same as the old one.
- Graphic (page 99): nauwkeurige. This word is used to show that the description about the last hours of Boxer were very precise.
9. The use of language in the book
First of all there is not much dialogue in the story. This is of course very logical, as almost all the characters in the book are animals. A lot of pages consist of long paragraphs with no dialogue and if there is dialogue it often consists of rather short sentences. The language that is used is not difficult to read or cryptic, but sometimes the sentences are a little old fashioned (the book was written in 1961).
The tone of the book is rather pessimistic. This is because of all the bad things that happen in the book: the pigs dictate and abuse the other animals, Snowball is abandoned from the farm, the windmill is destroyed after all the hard work, animals are being executed, the windmill is destroyed again, Boxer dies, etc. All these facts contribute to the pessimism that’s prevalent in the book.
10. Biographical information about the writer and the relation between this information and the book
The name George Orwell is the pseudonym of the writer’s real name: Eric Arthur Blair. He was born in the year 1903 in India, and he died in the year 1950 in London. He dislikes totalitarianism (Stalinism) and was a leftist. In the year 1943 he started pleading for the socialistic democracy. His most famous books are Animal Farm and 1984, in which he expresses his sharp complaints about totalitarianism.
This background of George Orwell can very well be seen in Animal Farm. His sharp complaints about totalitarianism are very well explained in Animal Farm. The society on Animal Farm can be compared to a totalitarian state. Even though the writer doesn’t complain about all the bad sides of totalitarianism in the book, he does make his point by showing all the bad things that happen to the animals because of the totalitarian state on Animal Farm.
Indeed, his biographical background is partly important to understand the book. I don’t mean the vocabulary of the book, but the intention of the book. The writer didn’t write the book just to write a book about pigs, cows and horses. No, he wrote the book to show us why we shouldn’t allow totalitarianism.
11. The historical period in which the book was written
The book was written during the Russian Revolution influenced by Stalin. Stalin promised the civilians of the Sovjet-Union that money would be shared and that everyone would thus be able to live a happy life. This is not what eventually happened, Money was shared, but most of the money remained in Stalin’s pocket. All this money was earned by hard work of the civilians and they had to pay a lot of taxes so that it could be “shared”. And if you didn’t obey the rules you were sent to Siberia where you would most likely die. Not really the happy life that the Russian civilians imagined.
Animal farm is almost equal to this Revolution, except for the fact that the humans were animals. The pigs (Stalin and the government) said that the harvest would be shared equally, but in fact the pigs got most of it. The other animals worked very hard to plough and harvest the fields, while the pigs watched and enjoyed. If you didn’t obey you were executed (equal to Siberia).
The Russian Revolution was not really a literary period of time, but you can obviously see a lot of influences of this time period in the book.
12. Do I consider this book as a literary piece?
If I have to give a definition to the word literature, it would be a very long definition. Literature is a very big subject and is different for everyone. In my opinion, a book can be considered as literature if there is a deeper meaning and if you can somehow reflect the things in the book to your own experiences or those of others. It should not simply be a story about a boy who gets lost in a forest and finds some dwarves to play with.
The book Animal Farm fits perfectly in my definition. First of all there is a deeper meaning: totalitarianism is bad. If you didn’t make this up while reading the book I’d say you read it again, but with more attention. Second of all the things that happen in the book can very well be compared to the experiences of others (luckily not mine). Even though George Orwell didn’t live in Russia, he did of course hear the things that happened in the Soviet Union. He Heard this and magnificently processed this into the story Animal Farm. I absolutely consider this book as a literary piece, even though it’s a short.
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