Animal Farm Chapter 1 establishes Farmer Jones, the incompetent and drunk farmer who owns Manor Farm. In the opening scene of the novel, he is too drunk to “remember to shut the pop-holes” and the animals gather around to hear about a “strange dream” that the respected boar Old Major had the previous night. Old Major is “highly regarded” by everyone on the farm and they are keen to hear about the dream of someone so “wise and benevolent”. Orwell introduces a range of other characters. Clover is a mare who takes great care not to harm the other animals as she walks into the barn. Boxer, the carthorse, is a “enormous beast” who is as “strong as two ordinary horses put together”. Benjamin is a taciturn and cynical donkey. As Orwell notes: “He seldom talked, and when he did it was usually to make some cynical remark – for instance he would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have had no tails and no flies.” Mollie is the “foolish” mare who comes in chewing a lump of sugar that Farmer Jones gave her.
Old Major talks to the animals about their miserable and squalid existence on the farm. They’re exploited by Farmer Jones and worked to death, receiving little or no reward for their labour. As Old Major notes: “Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.”
Old Major explains that the land is capable of supporting a great number of animals. The only thing standing between them and a more comfortable life is man: “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.”
Old Major explains that man unfairly profits from their labour while condemning them to a miserable existence and a brutal death. “But no animal escapes the cruel knife in the end. You young porkers who are sitting in front of me, every one of you will scream your lives out at the block within a year.” Old Major dreams of a time when the animals will rebel and establish their own society where they will all profit equally from their labour: “Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings? Only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we could become rich and free. What then must we do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race! That is my message to you, comrades: Rebellion!”
During the speech, Old Major outlines the ideas that will eventually become the system of belief known as Animalism: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil. And, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal.”
The chapter ends with a chorus of ‘Beasts of England’, a song that will eventually become an anthem for the revolution.
Animal farm Chapter 1: Commentary
Animal Farm Chapter 1 establishes important parallels between this novel and the events that occurred after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Russian Revolution was a result of numerous factors, including “centuries of oppression” from the Tsarist regime. Like many other countries, Russia was undergoing a massive industrial revolution. Thousands of peasants flocked the cities to work in factories where they received little pay and were victims of food shortages. Most of the people in Russia at the time were farming peasants. A very small portion of the population owned the majority of the land. It was unfair and the peasants believed that they should own the land that they worked on. This discontent is mirrored in the novel by the animals who live short and miserable lives under the rule of Farmer Jones.
Farmer Jones is a representation of the brutal and uncaring Tsar Nicholas II who ruled Russia prior to the revolution in 1917. He was nicknamed Bloody Nicholas because of events like Bloody Sunday in which over a thousand protesters were killed when they marched on the Winter Palace in an attempt to improve working conditions.
Old Major is a revolutionary voice among the animals. He is very much a representation of the philosopher and journalist Karl Marx who outlined the concept of communism in The Communist Manifesto. Communism is the idea that exploited and discontent working class will rise up and seize control, creating a classless society where there is common ownership of the means of production, such as factories and farms. In the novel, Old Major outlines an idea that will eventually become known as Animalism, a political idea that the animals will rise up and take over the farm themselves, sharing the profit of their labour equally.
Orwell was inspired to write Animal Farm by the Soviet Union’s descent into tyranny. What started as revolution to make a fairer society quickly became a repressive totalitarian society. And when you think about the opening chapter, there’s a real contrast between the optimism of Old Major’s dream of a truly fair and classless society and what happens in the final chapter of the book. The opening and closing chapters are very much bookends that frame the farm’s descent into tyranny.
Write a single paragraph in response to Animal Farm Chapter 1 by responding to the following topic:
It is Farmer Jones, not Old Major, who sows the seeds of revolution. Do you agree?
When you’re responding to this question, I’d like you to use TEEL structure.
- Topic sentence. Open with a topic sentence that explains your stance on the topic, for example, Although Farmer Jones treats the animals poorly, Old Major’s agitates the animals by calling for rebellion.
- Explanation. Explain what you mean about both Farmer Jones and Old Major.
- Evidence. Use short quotations from the novel in sentences of your own to support the discussion.
- Link sentence. At the end, you’re going to close your discussion with a sentence that links back to the topic, e.g. While Farmer Jones neglect and cruelty is unfair, Old Major is the catalyst for the revolution.
Continue exploring Animal Farm with this article on Chapter 2 of the novel.