George Orwell

Animal Farm

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Animal Farm Summary

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Animal Farm, a novella by George Orwell, asks the question, “Are humans better than animals?” More specifically, the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the events that took place after, particularly the Stalinist era and the Soviet Union, inspired the book. The story takes place on Manor Farm, which is owned by Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones’s prize-winning boar, Old Major, tells the other animals on the farm that he has determined the source of their misery—the tyranny of humans. They can enjoy an easy and comfortable life if they overthrow the humans. Old Major dies, and two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, take up his cause.

Snowball and Napoleon work together to develop a system they call Animalism, which outlines Old Major’s ideas. They preach about it to the other animals. One night, Mr. Jones forgets to feed the animals after he has too much to drink. The animals, in their hunger, become angry enough to fight the humans and chase them away from the farm. They rename it Animal Farm and scrawl the seven commandments of the Animalism system up on the barn wall. When Mr. Jones comes back with more humans to try to reclaim the farm, Snowball leads the animals to another victory.

With the humans gone, Snowball and Napoleon are left in charge of Animal Farm. The problem is that they argue all the time. One of the topics they argue the most over is how to get electricity to the farm. Snowball wants to build a windmill and use electric power, but Napoleon disagrees. He gets nine dogs to work for him and trains them to chase Snowball away. After Snowball leaves, Napoleon tells the other animals via his mouthpiece, Squealer, that Snowball betrayed them and was working with the humans. Squealer also tells the other animals that the windmill was always Napoleon’s idea, and Snowball was just trying to take credit.

Building the windmill is hard work that the animals couldn’t complete without help from Boxer, a carthorse. Boxer works hard and, because he is a carthorse, has the necessary strength to assemble the windmill. Napoleon begins to trade with other local farmers. The animals begin to sleep in the farmhouse, using the beds, a practice in direct contradiction to the commandments of Animalism.

Winter comes. The animals are hungry, but Napoleon and Squealer keep telling them that all their hardships are Snowball’s fault. Bad crops? Snowball did it. Blocked drains? Snowball was to blame. A handful of pigs confess to being on Snowball’s side, and Napoleon looses his dogs on them. Animals who confess are killed by the dogs, and all those who don’t are stricken by fear.

In order to get the machinery that will operate the windmill and draw electricity for the farm, Napoleon decides he will sell some timber to Frederick, a local farmer. Only he discovers that Frederick paid in fake money. Frederick and other humans blow up the windmill, and the animals must fight them to get them off of the farm. While Boxer is trying to repair the damage to the windmill, he is injured. Napoleon tells the animals that he has sent for a vet, but Benjamin reads the side of the supposed vet’s van. The letters read, “Horse Slaughterer.” Napoleon hasn’t called the vet, but rather has sold Boxer’s body in order to buy more whisky so they can get drunk.

Years pass, and the animals are still miserable. Old Major’s promises have faded, just like the commandments that were once written on the barn wall. Some humans arrive at the farm, and play cards with the pigs. Over cards, they argue, and the animals can’t tell anymore who is a human and who is a pig.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory. An important theme is the corruption that comes with power. Napoleon becomes powerful and that power corrupts, ultimately leading to his forsaking Animalism and selling Boxer to a horse slaughterer. Another important message in this story is that humans are no different from pigs. The pigs, who once thought themselves better than the humans they conquered, soon sink to the level of humans, using one another and wasting money on whisky.

The names of the animals are important, particularly Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball is an innocent—though Napoleon labels Snowball a traitor, Snowball only ever wanted what was best for the animals of the farm. Napoleon, on the other hand, is corrupt and tries to come across as greater than he is—much how his namesake is often perceived.

George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair. He was born in 1903 and lived until 1950. He wrote often about social injustice, totalitarianism, and democratic socialism.