Animal Farm Literature Guide

Although Animal Farm is an allegory of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the story is just as applicable to the latest rebellion against dictators around the world, which makes it a perfect novel for cross-curricular study. This guide includes chapter summaries, teaching suggestions, discussion questions, and writing assignments.
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Updated on: October 25, 2000
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Orwell's Animal Farm

Students should make notes on why the animals rebelled against Mr. Jones and mankind in general. Differences in the lists about actual revolts and those from the novel can be quite revealing. Students will see that there is not much difference in what real people or fictional animals want.

The following are other questions and topics students can answer or explore in their notebooks as they read. You will want to take time at the end of each reading assignment to allow students to discuss their answers to these questions. This will clear up any misunderstandings before the student goes on to the next assignment.

Chapter I

(1) What is significant about how the animals arrange themselves as they gather to hear Major? What might this arrangement say about future meetings or events? (The pigs and dogs sit in the front row. The other animals arrange themselves behind the pigs and dogs. In the future the pigs will be in charge, and the dogs will guard the pigs.)

(2) According to Major, what is the cause of all the animals' problems? (Man is the only real enemy. Man is the only animal who produces nothing, but consumes what animals produce. Get rid of man and all of the animals' problems will be solved.)

(3) What motto does Major give the animals? (He urges them to remember whatever goes on two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes on four legs or has wings is a friend. He also urges them to refrain from coming to resemble man and lists man's vices.)

(4) What are the commandments Major gives the animals? Can you think of ways each of them could be considered a vice?

(a) No animal is ever to live in a house. (Caring more about possessions)

(b) No animal is ever to sleep in a bed. (Becoming lazy, spending too much time in bed sleeping instead of working, luxury)

(c) No animal is ever to wear clothes. (Pride in appearance)

(d) No animal is ever to drink alcohol. (Drinking to excess, forgetting duties)

(e) No animal is ever to smoke tobacco. (Ruining health, expensive habit)

(f) No animal is ever to touch money. (Money corrupts)

(g) No animal is ever to engage in trade. (Profit making)

(h) No animal is ever to tyrannize his own kind. (Slavery)

(i) No animal must ever kill any other animal. (Murder)

(j) All animals are equal. (Competition is self-serving)

(5) Ask a student (or perhaps two or three students) to orally present Major's speech. This speech is meant to stir the animals to the point that they will actually rebel against man. Presenting the speech in various oratorical styles such as those of noted politicians would be enlightening and fun if entered into with enthusiasm.

(6) Examine the song "Beasts of England" as poetry. What imagery is present? What is the message? Why do the animals like it so much that they memorize it on the spot? To what emotions and needs does it appeal? (The song paints a vivid picture of the day when animals are at last free of man and all the symbols of slavery such as whips and spurs are gone. It appeals to their dreams of a more prosperous future, an abundance of food and the absence of cruelty, and the need for hope to keep an individual from giving up.)

When students reach Chapter VII, have them compare this song with the one that replaces it.

(7) Analyze various rallying hymns/songs and compare them to the song "Beasts of England." Consider questions to those in the item above.

Chapter II

(1) After Major's death, what happens to the idea of rebelling against man? (Led by the pigs, especially Napoleon and Snowball, the animals meet secretly for three months and learn the new system of thought called Animalism. Boxer and Clover, the two horses, help to convince the other animals.)

(2) Why don't the pigs like the pet raven Moses' stories about Sugarcandy Mountain? (If the animals believe a fantastic world of ease and plenty awaits them when they die, they will not be as eager to rebel against the life they currently live.)

(3) What causes the animals to finally rebel against Mr. Jones and his four farmhands? (Due to Mr. Jones's drinking problem and dishonest farmhands, the farm has fallen on hard times. The animals have been underfed for some time. When Mr. Jones gets drunk and neither he nor his men feed the animals on Saturday or Sunday (Midsummer's Day), the animals break into the feed storage shed. They attack the men when they come with whips to drive the animals away from the food.)

(4) When the humans have been chased from the farm, what do the animals do? (The bits, nose rings, dog chains, knives, etc. are thrown down the well; the harness, whips and ribbons are thrown on the rubbish fire; and the animals eat double rations and sing "Beasts of England" seven times before they go to sleep.)

(5) What do the animals do about the farmhouse? (They all file through the house looking at all the luxuries. Some hams are taken out and buried, and a barrel of beer is destroyed. The animals agree that the farmhouse is to be preserved as a museum and that no animal may ever live there.)

If this novel is being taught in conjunction with a history class, the reaction of the common people of Russia to the ostentatious wealth of the royal Russian Family should be addressed here.

(6) How does the behavior of the pigs foreshadow their eventual leadership positions? (The pigs have secretly taught themselves to read and write during the past three months. They rename the farm and reduce the principles of Animalism to seven commandments, which Snowball writes on the barn wall. The pigs milk the cows, who are about to burst. When Napoleon sends the rest of the animals off, led by Snowball, to harvest the hay, he stays behind and drinks the milk. No one notices, but the pigs are already proving that, contrary to what they preach, all animals are not equal.)

Chapter III and IV

Before reading the next assignment, have the students write on the following topic in their notebooks: From what you know so far about the pigs and the other animals on the farm, speculate about what the future will be like for the animals. As you continue reading, compare your predictions to what actually happens in the novel.

You can choose to let students work in pairs or individually to answer the following questions in their notebooks.

(1) What further examples of the difference between the pigs and the other animals occur in these two chapters? (The pigs only direct and supervise; they do no actual work. No one but the pigs puts forth any resolutions at the meetings. Napoleon and Snowball disagree over everything. The harness-room is set aside as the pigs' headquarters. Snowball busies himself forming committees to solve real and imagined problems. The pigs try to teach the other animals how to read and write, with unsatisfactory results. The apples are set aside for the pigs' use only.)

(2) What are Napoleon's ideas about education? (He thinks education is more important for the young than for those already grown-up. He takes away Jessie and Bluebell's puppies to educate them.)

(3) How is Squealer able to convince the other animals to accept whatever Napoleon decides? (Squealer uses outright lies, "scientific proof" - false, of course - and appeals to the animals' sympathy. He always ends with the threat that Jones will return if the pigs are not obeyed.)

(4) Describe the Battle of the Cowshed.

(5) What was Snowball's part in this battle? (Because Snowball has studied Julius Caesar's military strategies, he is able to plan a successful defense of the farm. He leads the animals in the attack and is wounded slightly.)

(6) Where is Napoleon during the battle? (No mention is made of him or his activities, which leads one to believe he played a very minor role in the battle.)

(7) What is the significance of the gun's placement at the foot of the flagpole? (The gun symbolizes the successful fight against the humans. It will be fired ceremonially twice a year to celebrate the Battle of the Cowshed and the anniversary of the Midsummer's Day Rebellion.)

Chapter V

Suggest that students make a list of all the changes that occur in this chapter. From this list they will find vivid evidence of the pigs' increasing power.

(1) Why does Mollie run away from the farm? (Mollie likes being admired, admiring herself, wearing pretty ribbons, eating sugar, and being stroked by humans. She does not like the work on the farm or the hardships she faces there.)

(2) What changes have been made in the weekly meetings over the last year? (The pigs now decide all questions of farm policy. Snowball and Napoleon still disagree over almost everything. Although Snowball is more skillful at making speeches capable of swaying the animals, the sheep interrupt him more and more with their chants of "Four legs good, two legs bad."

(3) Explain the windmill controversy from Snowball's point of view. (Snowball wants the animals to build a windmill so they will have electrical power to make life easier for all of them - light and heat in the stalls and labor-saving devices such as electrical milking machines. The animals would only have to work three days a week when it was finished.)

(4) Explain the windmill controversy from Napoleon's point of view. (He thinks the major problem on the farm is increasing food production. He thinks the whole windmill thing is nonsense, or so he says, and urinates on Snowball's plans.)

(5) What changes does Napoleon make after his dogs chase Snowball off the farm? (There will be no more Sunday Meetings. All decisions about the farm will be made by a committee of pigs presided over by Napoleon. The animals will now meet on Sundays to salute the flag, sing "Beasts of England," and receive their orders for the week.)

(6) Why don't the other animals protest Napoleon's decisions? (None of them is really smart enough to bring up any arguments. The sheep begin their bleating, and the dogs growl before anyone can think of a protest. Squealer later explains the decisions. He begins to shed doubts on Snowball's bravery at the Battle of the Cowshed and again threatens them with the return of Jones if they don't agree with Napoleon.)

(7) Note how the animals now arrange themselves when they enter the barn to receive their orders, as compared with the description in Chapter I. (Napoleon, Squealer, and Minimus, the poet, sit on a raised platform, The nine dogs sit in a semicircle around the three, and the other pigs sit behind them. The rest of the animals stand facing the pigs.)

(8) What is the importance of the dogs' accompanying Squealer when he comes to talk to the animals? (Napoleon wants to make sure there is no protest or rebellion against his orders. In addition to Squealer's natural ability to convince, he has three vicious dogs to back him up. Naturally, no one protests.)

Chapters VI and VII

Before going on to the next reading assignment, ask students to imagine how Snowball might have run things if he had gotten rid of Napoleon. Would things have been any different? Are there indications that Snowball's ideas for running the farm would have proved more beneficial to the animals? Or would things have turned out the same? Because Orwell is writing about the corrupting force of power, things might have remained the same. After some discussion, ask students to assume one side or the other of the issue (That Snowball would have been a better leader, or that he would not have been) and write a persuasive composition using details from the first five chapters to support their positions. These compositions could serve as a basis for a formal debate or a panel discussion.

(1) How much work are the animals now doing? (The animals still believe they are working for themselves. Although they already work a 60-hour week during spring and summer, Napoleon informs them that they can volunteer for Sunday afternoon work, as well. However, any animal not volunteering will have his rations cut in half.)

(2) Why does Napoleon decide to engage in trade with neighboring farms? (Because certain items such as paraffin oil and dog biscuits are in short supply, Napoleon decides to sell a stack of hay and part of the wheat crop. Later they may have to sell some of the hens' eggs.)

(3) How do the animals react? (They are troubled and think they remember a resolution against trade with humans. Four young pigs try to protest but are silenced by the dogs' growls and the sheeps' bleating of the slogan, "Four legs good, two legs bad." Squealer later explains the decision and asks if they have seen such a resolution written down, but no such record is found.)

(4) How is the windmill destroyed? Why does Napoleon blame Snowball? (A violent November storm blows it down. Instead of admitting that the windmill's walls were not thick enough to support it against a strong wind, Napoleon blames Snowball for blowing it up. Since Snowball had drawn up the plans, the blame for its failure is partly his.)

(5) Why does Napoleon insist the windmill must be rebuilt immediately? (Napoleon probably had many reasons, including preventing the animals from becoming too discouraged to begin building if they wait until spring. By keeping the animals busy building a windmill that will supposedly ease life for all of them, the animals will forget how miserably cold and hungry they are during the hard winter.)

(6) Why does Napoleon order that the hens' eggs be sold? (The animals are nearly starving and there is almost no food left. The hens must give up their eggs for sale so that meal and grain can be purchase for the good of all.)

(7) How does Napoleon react when the hens rebel against his orders? (He orders the hens' food rations cut off. If any other animals give any food to the chickens, they are to be killed. The dogs enforce his orders. Nine hens die of starvation before then hens give up their five-day protest.)

(8) Why does Napoleon revive the threat of the farm being sabotaged by Snowball? (Snowball is the perfect scapegoat, the one who can be blamed when something goes wrong. It is not the pigs' fault when a storage-shed key is lost, or the cows' fault when they don't give much milk - it is Snowball's fault. They need an outside enemy to hate, someone they can accuse in place of wrongdoers. Snowball is discredited totally through the use of lies and false accusations. The other animals want to disagree but can't, and finally give in and agree with Boxer that if Napoleon says it is so, it is, because "Napoleon is always right.")

(9) Explain why the animals confessed to being traitors. Or is there any explanation? (The four pigs who are taken first are the same four who had disagreed previously with Napoleon's decisions. They probably are guilty of not wholeheartedly supporting Napoleon's policies. Certainly, they do not expect to be killed for it. There is a resolution against animals killing one another. However death is the punishment. Next, the three hens who had led the egg rebellion confess, as do many others, to crimes against the state. All the dissidents are killed on the spot. Probably most of them did not support one or more of Napoleon's policies, so in that sense they were guilty. They undoubtedly expected forgiveness rather than death. However, death might be seen as a release for these poor animals at this point. No doubt a certain amount of mass hysteria would have contributed to the large number of confessions.)

(10) Why does Napoleon order the animals to stop singing "Beasts of England?" (The rebellion is over, and the pigs are in control of the farm. Even though the rest of the animals seem too dull-witted to realize that the pigs are just as bad as Mr. Jones, one might finally realize that one rebellion was not enough and lead another rebellion, this time against the pigs. The bleating of the sheep keeps any of the animals from protesting. One of the last traces of the society envisioned by Major is now gone, replaced by a patriotic song about Napoleon, leader of Animal Farm.)

Students will probably want to talk about Chapter VII and may need more of an explanation of the murders of the animals. Even though the resolution against animals killing animals has not been broken before, there have been threats of death to wrongdoers. Nine of the hens were starved to death - not murdered, but close enough. Point out how the animals react to the murders and how they gain some comfort by gathering together and singing "Beasts of England." What will comfort them, now that the song has been banned?

Chapters VIII and IX

(1) What purpose is served by the production figures Squealer reads to the animals? (The pigs fool the other animals by manipulating facts and figures to prove they are producing more and are much better off than they have ever been before. Nobody can dispute facts! Not even today.)

ACTIVITY: Students may create a bulletin board display by collecting advertisements from newspapers and magazines that use figures to support their pitch. Ads that parody truth in advertising would help make the point.

(2) How is Napoleon becoming more and more like a typical dictator? (He is rarely seen in public, is always surrounded by his guard dogs, has an entourage that attends him whenever he goes out, has his own apartment in the house, has a taster for his food, and eats alone off fine china. The gun is also fired on his birthday. He has added many titles to his name, including "Terror of Mankind.")

(3) Compare/contrast the poem "Comrade Napoleon" to "Beast of England." (Either make a copy of both poems for students (side by side, preferably) or write the first stanza of each on the board. Then work through the rhyme scheme, etc. "Beasts of England" is made up of four-line stanzas (quatrains) with an A, B, C, B rhyme scheme. It is trochaic tetrameter (four stressed, unstressed feet per line). The word beasts is repeated frequently, and the whole song concerns the freeing of all beasts from man's tyranny. The new song, "Comrade Napoleon," is made up of three 7-line stanzas (septets) with an A, A, B, C, C, C, B rhyme scheme. The lines, however, do not have any set meter. No two lines are the same. it is an ironic parody of Napoleon's real behavior, a subject unlikely to greatly inspire the animals.)

(4) Describe the sale of the stack of lumber. How does Napoleon outwit himself? (The lumber is to be sold first to Mr. Pilkington and then to Mr. Frederick. Napoleon plays the men against each other until he gets the price he wants. He insists on being paid in banknotes, which turn out to be forgeries. When Frederick attacks the farm, Pilkington refuses to help Napoleon.)

(5) What makes the battle against Frederick's men different from the Battle of the Cowshed? (There is no strategic defense planned for the farm. The men are better prepared and have more weapons, and the leaderless animals quickly hide.)

(6) Why do the men blow up the windmill? (No doubt the humans see it as a symbol of the pigs' ability to run the farm. By destroying the product of the animals' considerable labor, the men probably think they will give up and Mr. Jones will regain his farm.)

(7) The animals celebrate a victory, but at what cost? (The windmill is destroyed; Boxer has a split hoof, bleeding knees, and buckshot in his hind leg; several animals have been killed; and all of the animals, except Squealer who hid, are injured.)

(8) Describe the whisky incident. Why would Orwell make this scene somewhat humorous? (The idea of pigs drinking whiskey, getting drunk, singing, and doing silly things - such as Napoleon wearing a bowler hat and running around the yard - is humorous. Some of the students may know how painful a hangover is and will sympathize with the pigs who think they are dying. The first reaction of the pigs is to banish all alcohol under threat of death to anyone who drinks it. Given a chance to recover, however, the pigs (like many humans) decide it isn't so bad after all. They learn how to make beer and take the land that was to be used by the retired animals, so that they can plant barley.)

(9) Why are the animals so easily fooled, even when they find Squealer with a ladder and white paint beside the barn at night? (Most of the animals cannot read and make no connection between this incident and the commandments written on the wall. They are very naive, except for Benjamin, who refuses to say anything. Then too, the dogs hustle Squealer away before anyone can ask him anything. Later, when Muriel reads the commandments, she finds she had forgotten that one of them really said, "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.")

(10) What is happening to Boxer? (Boxer is working himself to death. He is not recovering from his injuries as quickly as he should, because he practices his own motto, "I will work harder.")

(11) What are living conditions like for all of the animals except the pigs and dogs? (The animals are working harder than ever and are given less food. Rations are cut repeatedly, a "readjustment" according to Squealer, who uses more facts and figures to prove how well off the animals really are. And the animals believe it!)

(12) Why does Napoleon allow Moses to return and to tell his stories about Sugarcandy Mountain? (The animals' physical condition is so miserable that they need the hope of a better life after death. With this promise, they will put up with more privation since they will eventually be rewarded. Students might see a parallel between Sugarcandy Mountain and heaven. People generally need to look forward to something.)

ACTIVITY: Students can write about what they look forward to, describing how those things will make their lives better or more enjoyable. Students often dream of the day they will get married, or get a job, or leave home, or reach 21, or win the lottery.

(13) What happens to Boxer? How do the animals accept it? (Boxer finally injures himself while dragging stone for the windmill, and is taken away to the knacker to be made into glue, dogfood, fertilizer, etc. Squealer tells the animals that Boxer died in the hospital and repeats Boxer's final words, the two maxims by which Boxer lived and died. The animals want to believe what they are told, but only Benjamin understands what really happened. He had tried to stop them from taking Boxer, but was unable to do so. The money the pigs get for the dead Boxer is spent on whiskey.)

(14) Of what kind of person does Benjamin remind you? Give some examples. What is your opinion of such people? What makes people behave this way? (Students may wonder why Benjamin has waited so long to speak up about what is happening. He is an interesting character - cynical, knowing, but determined not to become involved. He alone knows what the pigs are doing. Perhaps if he had been aggressive sooner, he might have been able to save Boxer. He is like many people who know something is wrong but ignore it since it does not involve them - until it is too late.)

Chapter X

(1) What changes have the years brought to the farm? (Most of the animals who were alive during the Rebellion are dead. The farm is now prosperous. Other animals have been bought to replace the dead ones. The windmill has been finished, but instead of generating electricity to help all the animals, it is used for milling corn to make money for the pigs. Napoleon tells the animals that the truest happiness "lay in working hard and living frugally." And they do that.)

(2) How does Orwell make fun of bureaucracy? (The pigs now spend hours typing up reports, minutes, and memos, which are then burned in the furnace. The pigs and dogs accomplish nothing productive by all this paperwork, but their appetites are always good.)

(3) How do the animals now feel about their social order, their farm? (The animals, even the new ones, are proud to be a part of the only farm in England run by animals. They still believe there will be a time when man will be defeated and only animals will tread English soil. They are very pleased that at least on this farm no beings walk upon two legs.)

(4) What drastic actions do the pigs use to shatter the animals' complacency? (The pigs begin to walk upright on two legs, Napoleon carries a whip, the pigs begin to wear the Jones's clothing, a telephone is installed, and they subscribe to newspapers. The sheep have been taught a new motto, "Four legs good, two legs better.")

(5) All seven commandments are erased. What is the new commandment and how has it been true from the beginning? (The new commandment reads: "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS." This commandment has been true from the beginning when Napoleon drank the milk, when the pigs had already taught themselves to read and write, and when the pigs merely supervised while the other animals worked. Now the pigs have openly stated what has always been true.)

(6) At the conference with neighboring farmers, what new changes does Napoleon point out? (The farm is cooperatively owned by all the pigs. The animals will no longer call each other "Comrade." There will be no more marches by Major's skull. The flag is now a field of green with the horn and hoof removed. And the name of the farm has been changed back to The Manor Farm. All traces of the Rebellion have been erased.)

(7) What happens to the pigs' appearance? (As the animals watch, the pigs begin to resemble the humans. There are no longer any differences between them. The animals can finally see their true situation, but it is too late to do anything about it.)

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