April 30, 2010
Animal Farm and the Russian Revolution
Animal Farm is an allegory for what happened in Russia between the years of about 1917 and 1943. Orwell uses characters and certain details to symbolize different situations in the Russian Revolution. Understanding the specific historical context underlying Animal Farm enriches one’s reading of the book. The novel is about failed revolutions everywhere, but above all, it is about the Russian Revolution. Orwell uses Animal Farm to show how events step by step correspond to events ranging from the publishing of The Communist Manifesto in 1848 up through the Tehran Conference in 1943. One of the first events is how old Major’s dream relates to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The first scene of Animal Farm opens with the news that old Major has called all the farm animals to a meeting to discuss a dream that he had. As he is explaining the dream to the other animals, he points out two important things to them. He says, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing,” and he further encourages them to “work night and day, body and soul, for the over-throw of the human race” (Orwell, Print). He explains that men have been taking advantage of them for years, and it is time to put them in their place and to an end. The only way they could do this was by one word that old Major stated at the end of his speech and that was “Rebellion!” What Orwell is trying to show through old Major’s speech is a simplified version of the basic tenets of communism, which were originally put down by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto. What the Manifesto intended to show was that the capitalist economic system was seriously flawed. The workers never saw the products of their labor because the capitalists claimed the profit for themselves. If common workers could overthrow the capitalists and claim the means of production for themselves, then all the workers of the world could live in peace with one another (Smyer, Print.) This is what Marx was trying to suggest. The Manifesto famously ends with the workers of the world uniting and old Major essentially ends his speech in the same way with his final call to “Rebellion!” Both Marx and old Major are better at criticizing the existing system than at proposing a new one as we see very soon after the Rebellion where everyone does not really know what to do next. The Manifesto was written during a time of many revolutions across Europe, even though it did not happen in Russia until roughly sixty years later. Even while it was written, Russia was the top most interest for Marx’s message. The country had an enormous peasant class and it was ruled over by tsars. In other words, the barn animals were itching to overthrow Mr. Jones.
Two other events that are have something in common is the fall Mr. Jones and the Russian Revolution 1917. The animals are not exactly sure what will come of this rebellion, but they begin to prepare for it as soon as old Major dies. We soon learn that "the Rebellion was achieved much earlier and more easily than anyone had expected" (Orwell, Print). Mr. Jones forgets to feed the animals one night after he goes out and gets drunk. The cows are fed up and kick in the barn door, and all of a sudden all the animals are eating from the bins. When Mr. Jones and his men come in to whip the animals into their place, a huge rebellion erupts, and the animals chase Mr. Jones and his men off the farm. Soon after, Napoleon and Snowball step into the lead and begin organizing the animals around a new system based on the Seven Commandments. The most important of these is that "All animals are equal" (Orwell, Print.) Mr. Jones is an allusion to the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. Tsars were already known to not be on good terms with Russian people, but Nicholas was a prime example of being very bad at it. In 1914, he got Russia involved in World War I, and then...
Cited: Carr, Edward Hallett. The Russian Revolution: from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-1929. London: Macmillan 1979. Print.
Hamlin Jr., William A. "The Economics of Animal Farm." Southern Economic Journal (2000): 942-56. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt, Brace and, 1946. Print.
Smyer, Richard I. Animal Farm: Pastoralism and Politics. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Print.
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