On the Manor Farm in England, Mr. Jones, drunk as usual, goes to sleep without properly securing the animals.
Mr. Jones's drunkenness symbolizes the Russian Tsar's decadence.
Word had spread among the animals during the day that Old Major, an old and respected prize boar, had a strange dream and wants to speak to them.
As their leader weakens, the privileged citizens see the chance for revolution.
The animals gather in the barn to hear what Old Major has to say: the dogs arrive first; then the pigs, who sit in front of Old Major's speaking platform. Next come the hens, pigeons, sheep, and cows; two cart horses, the enormous Boxer, and the motherly Clover who lets some orphaned ducklings shelter between her legs; Muriel the goat and Benjamin the donkey; Mollie, a white horse showing off the red ribbons in her hair; and finally, the cat. Only Moses, the tame raven, fails to come.
Notice the solidarity and sense of mutual concern among the animals. Yet the seating position of the pigs and dogs hints at the existence of class divisions among the animals, despite their united stance against Mr. Jones.
Old Major addresses the animals, calling them "comrades." He says he won't live much longer, then describes all the hardships the animals face on the Farm—long hours, little food, and death in the slaughterhouse when they've ceased to be useful. He asks: What's the cause of all these problems? He answers his own question: Men, who produce nothing, but take whatever they want from the animals.
Old Major's ideas mirror the main tenets of socialism: equality and freedom from exploitation. Old Major's words are revolutionary: they are the first time the animals understand that they're slaves to men, but don't have to be.
All animals, Old Major concludes, are comrades. Just then, the dogs notice some rats listening to Old Major's speech and leap at them. The rats barely escape. Old Major calls for a vote: are wild animals friends of farm animals or enemies? The animals vote unanimously: friends.
It's ironic that the dogs attack the rats just as Old Major calls all animals comrades. Old Major smooths over the conflict now, but he won't always be around.
Old Major says that whatever goes on four legs or has wings is a friend, that no animal should ever kill another animal, that no animal should ever act like a man, and that the ultimate goal for animals, whether in this lifetime or the future, must be the overthrow of humans. Old Major describes his dream of a future without men, in which the words and melody came to him of a song called "Beasts of England." All the animals learn the words and sing.
Not all the animals understand Old Major's ideas. With "Beasts of England" Old Major gives the animals something they can feel. All the animals rally around the song, even though some don't understand exactly what they're fighting for.
The sound wakes Mr. Jones, who fires his gun into the wall of the barn. The animals scatter to their sleeping-places.
Jones asserts his authority, but he's unaware of the mounting revolution.