Book Summary #5: Animal Farm by George Orwell

From revolution to repression

5 min readSep 13, 2023

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell is a satirical novella that tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their oppressive human farmer, Mr. Jones. Led by the pigs, especially the cunning and manipulative Napoleon, the animals establish their own self-governing farm, based on principles of equality and freedom, encapsulated in the Seven Commandments.

The Characters

Initially, the farm flourishes, but over time, the pigs consolidate power, becoming corrupt and oppressive rulers who resemble the humans they once rebelled against. The story illustrates how power corrupts and how revolutions can devolve into tyranny, serving as a powerful allegory for the dangers of totalitarianism and the manipulation of language and propaganda. The changed commandments are as follows, with the modifications highlighted in bold:

  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 with sheets.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
  7. All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

As the story unfolds, the farm undergoes a series of transformations, with the original ideals of equality and justice giving way to oppression, inequality, and exploitation.

The parallels between “Animal Farm” and Communism

1. The Rebellion

The animals’ initial rebellion against Mr. Jones represents the Russian Revolution of 1917, where the working class overthrew the autocratic rule of the czar.

2. The Seven Commandments

The Seven Commandments, which include principles like “All animals are equal” and “No animal shall drink alcohol,” are initially established as a set of rules to create a fair and equal society, similar to the ideals of communism.

3. The Pigs

The pigs, particularly Napoleon and Snowball, represent the leaders of the Soviet Union, with Napoleon bearing a strong resemblance to Joseph Stalin. They manipulate and consolidate power, becoming the ruling elite.

4. The Working Class

The other animals on the farm represent the working class and common people who initially support the ideals of the revolution but are ultimately exploited and oppressed by the ruling class.

5. Propaganda and Manipulation

The use of propaganda, indoctrination, and the rewriting of history by the pigs mirrors the manipulation of information and control of the narrative seen in totalitarian regimes.

6. Betrayal of Ideals

The story illustrates how the original ideals of equality and justice are gradually betrayed as the ruling class becomes corrupt and oppressive, which is often seen as a critique of how communism evolved into authoritarianism in the Soviet Union.

In essence, “Animal Farm” is not a direct critique of communism itself but rather a critique of how it can be corrupted by those in power.

Hidden lessons

1. Power can corrupt even the most well-intentioned

The animals initially overthrow their human oppressors with noble ideals of equality and fairness, but as they establish their own hierarchy, the pigs gradually become tyrannical rulers, exploiting their fellow animals.

2. The Dangers of Blind Obedience

The sheep represents the blind obedience, mindlessly repeating slogans and supporting the pigs’ oppressive regime. This underscores the importance of critical thinking and the need to question authority when it seems to deviate from its original purpose.

3. The Manipulation of Language

“Animal Farm” illustrates the manipulation of language as a tool of control. The pigs use propaganda and altering commandments to justify their actions and maintain their dominance. This teaches us the importance of a well-informed and critical citizenry who can see through the manipulation of words and rhetoric.

4. The Perils of Ignorance

The animals are easily manipulated and deceived by the pigs because they are unaware of the true nature of their leaders’ actions. This underscores the importance of education and awareness in a society to prevent the abuse of power.

5. The Cycle of Revolution and Repression

“Animal Farm” highlights the cyclical nature of revolutions and the tendency for new leaders to become oppressors themselves. This indicates at the need for vigilance and active participation in maintaining a just society.

Diverse Interpretations Through Book Covers of “Animal Farm”

Book covers are not merely a protective layer for the contents within; they serve as a visual gateway to the world created by the author. The book covers of “Animal Farm” reflect the diverse interpretations and enduring relevance of George Orwell’s masterpiece. Each cover captures a facet of the story’s complexity, making the novella accessible and intriguing to readers of different backgrounds and generations.

1. Symbolism and Allegory (Various Editions)

Some covers incorporate animals, such as pigs and sheep, to represent the characters and themes of the story. The use of symbolism on these covers helps readers immediately grasp the allegorical nature of the book.

2. Political Satire (Modern Editions)

In more recent editions, publishers have leaned into the book’s political satire. Some covers feature caricatured images of pigs in suits, representing the corrupt leadership of the pigs on the farm.

3. Contemporary Relevance (Reissued Covers)

As “Animal Farm” remains relevant in contemporary discussions of power and politics, some reissued editions feature modern elements to connect with today’s readers. These covers incorporate current political symbols or references to highlight the story’s continued relevance.

4. Artistic Interpretations (Collector’s Editions)

Collector’s editions often feature artistic and visually striking covers that draw attention to the book’s enduring literary importance. These covers may focus on the story’s broader themes of revolution and oppression rather than specific characters or symbols, allowing for a more abstract representation.

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell serves as a powerful warning against the dangers of unchecked power, blind obedience, manipulation, ignorance, and the cyclical nature of revolutions. Its lessons are as relevant today as when the novella was first published in 1945, reminding us of the importance of upholding principles of fairness, equality, and justice in the face of authoritarianism and corruption.