Chapter I

In the opening chapter of the novel establishes the character of Farmer Jones, an incompetent farmer and a drunk. In the opening scene of the novel, he is too drunk to “remember to shut the pop-holes”. The animals on the farm 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 from someone so “wise and benevolent”. Orwell also 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 is an “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 file 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 from Farmer Jones.

Old Major talks to the animals about their miserable and squalid existence. They are exploited by Farmer Jones and worked to death for little or no reward: “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 knift in the end,” he explains, “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.” Although their lives are miserable and they are destined to die brutally, 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.”

At the end of Chapter I, the animals sing ‘beasts of England’ a song that will become an anthem of the revolution.

COMMENTARY

The opening chapter of Animal Farm 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 at the time. He was nicknamed Bloody Nicholas because of events like Bloody Sunday during which over one thousand peaceful protesters were wounded or killed when they marched on the palace in an attempt to improve working conditions.

Old Major is a revolutionary voice among the animals. He is a representation of the philosopher and journalist Karl Marx who outlined the concept of communism in his 1848 book The Communist Manifesto. Communism is the idea that the 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.

ACTIVITIES

You should respond to these questions in a detailed paragraph of writing using short quotations from the novel to support your discussion.

1. Describe the following characters: Old Major, Boxer, Benjamin.

2. What is a fable? What is a moral? In your own words, write down one of Aesop’s fables and describe what its moral is.

3. How does Farmer Jones treat the animals?

4. What sort of a future does Old Major dream about for the animals? What are the key beliefs of Animalism?

Photograph: goingslo