Animal Farm depicts a revolution in progress. Like all popular revolutions, the uprising in Animal Farm develops out of a hope for a better future, in which farm animals can enjoy the fruits of their own labor without the overbearing rule of humans. At the time of the revolution, all of the animals on Mr. Jones’s farm, even the pigs, are committed to the idea of universal equality—but these high ideals that fueled the revolution in the first place gradually give way to individual and class-based self-interest. Animal Farm thus illustrates how a revolution can be corrupted into a totalitarian regime through slow, gradual changes.
At first, the revolution creates the sense that there could be a bright future in store for Animal Farm. Old Major makes a number of objectively true points in his speech to the animals, such as that Mr. Jones is a cruel and unfeeling master who cares little or not at all for their wellbeing, and that humans themselves don’t produce anything (like eggs or milk). The Seven Commandments that Snowball and Napoleon come up with in the months after are similarly idealistic, and, in theory, lay the groundwork for a revolution that truly will elevate individual workers above horrible, totalitarian leaders like Mr. Jones. Indeed, when the rebellion surprisingly happens, things initially seem as if they’re going to go in a positive direction for everyone: there are debates among the animals, animals have the ability to propose items for discussion, and every animal participates in the working of the farm. Best of all, the animals pull in the best and fastest hay harvest that the farm has ever seen, suggesting that their revolution has benefits in addition to freeing them from a cruel situation under Mr. Jones. It seems possible that they’ll truly be able to make self-government work.
However, the novel also offers early clues that corruption begins to take hold on Animal Farm long before Napoleon takes drastic steps to turn it into a totalitarian state, even when by most metrics, things seem to be going smoothly and fairly. For instance, it’s not an accident that only the pigs and the dogs are the ones who become fully literate. While to a degree, this becomes a chicken and egg question (in terms of which came first: literacy or corrupt power), the fact remains that the only literate creatures are the ones who ultimately seize control. Further, even idealistic Snowball insists to the other animals that because the literate pigs are “mindworkers” engaged in figuring out how exactly to run the farm, they need the entire crop of apples and all the cows’ milk. This power shift takes place during that first exceptional hay harvest, making it clear that things aren’t as rosy as the hay yield, and the increased productivity it suggests, might lead one to believe.
The corruption doesn’t end with the theft of milk and apples; by the end of the novel, the pigs sleep in the farmhouse, have a school for their pig children, drink alcohol, and consume sugar off of the Jones’s set of fine china—all things initially forbidden in some form in the original Seven Commandments. However, one of the most corrupt things that the pigs do is to modify the Seven Commandments to effectively legalize whatever it is they decide they want to do, from drinking alcohol to sleeping in beds. This corruption is something that most animals don’t notice, while those that do are either cowed into pretending that they don’t notice or executed for expressing concern. This combination of fear and unthinking trust in leaders, the novel suggests, is one of the most important elements that allows corruption to flourish.
Though the animals’ rebellion began as one against humans and everything they stand for in the animals’ eyes—greed, alcoholism, decadence, and cruelty, among other vices—it’s telling that the novel ends when animals, led by Clover, cannot tell Napoleon and his pig cronies apart from the human farmers who came for a tour and dinner. With this, the novel proposes that revolution is something cyclical that repeats throughout time. Because of corruption, those individuals who are powerful to begin with or who overthrow cruel and heartless leaders will inevitably come to resemble those former leaders, once they understand what it’s like to occupy such a position of power. In this sense, Orwell paints a grim view of revolution as a whole, as Animal Farm demonstrates clearly that even when the ideals of a revolution may be good, it’s all too easy to twist those ideals, fall prey to corruption, and poison the movement, harming countless powerless individuals in the process.
Revolution and Corruption ThemeTracker
Revolution and Corruption Quotes in Animal Farm
“Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings.”
“Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”
“Remember, comrades, your resolution must never falter. No argument must lead you astray. Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, that the prosperity of the one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself. And among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.”
“Comrades!” he cried. “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.”
At this there was a terrible baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the barn. They dashed straight for Snowball, who only sprang from his place just in time to escape their snapping jaws.
“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
If a window was broken or a drain was blocked up, someone was certain to say that Snowball had come in the night and done it, and when the key of the store-shed was lost, the whole farm was convinced that Snowball had thrown it down the well. Curiously enough, they went on believing this even after the mislaid key was found under a sack of meal.
If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak [...] Instead - she did not know why - they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.
At the foot of the end wall of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written, there lay a ladder broken in two pieces. Squealer, temporarily stunned, was sprawling beside it, and near at hand there lay a lantern, a paint-brush, and an overturned pot of white paint. [...] None of the animals could form any idea as to what this meant, except old Benjamin, who nodded his muzzle with a knowing air, and seemed to understand, but would say nothing.
Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer—except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.
“Four legs good, two legs better!”
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.