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Animal Farm | Study Guide

George Orwell

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Animal Farm | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the description of the first appearance of Old Major in Chapter 1 of Animal Farm reflect his importance to the farm, the animals, and the rebellion?

When the animals go to hear Old Major's speech, his first and only living appearance in the novel, he is "ensconced" on a bed of straw, which in turn sits on a raised platform at the front of the large barn. This position is reminiscent of a ruler's throne, giving Old Major power and importance from the start. The narrator describes him with words such as "wise and benevolent" and "majestic-looking." The scene is designed to emphasize these qualities. Furthermore his bed sits directly under a lantern that shines directly upon him, another highlight of Old Major's importance, resembling a spotlight or perhaps a halo. It is an idealized image of the old boar known in his show days as "Willingdon Beauty." This name references the village near the farm and gives Old Major a strong connection not only to his own farm but also to the entire region, while his current name reveals his high rank on the farm.

As the large cart horses Boxer and Clover appear in the animals' first meeting in Animal Farm, what actions do they take, and what do their actions reveal about them?

The two horses seem to take seriously the responsibility that comes with their great size and strength. When they enter the barn for the meeting, they step carefully through the straw to avoid crushing any small animals they might not see. Once they are settled Clover uses a foreleg to create a protective wall for a group of ducklings, and the two horses allow the cat to snuggle between them. All of these actions reveal tremendous kindness and concern for their fellow creatures. These horses do not lord their physical prowess over the other animals; instead they use their strength to protect and assist their fellows.

What does Benjamin mean in Animal Farm Chapter 1 when he says instead of a tail to keep flies away he "would sooner have had no tail and no flies"?

As the oldest animal on the farm, even older than Old Major, Benjamin has a world-weariness and cynicism that color his entire approach to life on the farm. He never laughs and sees little in the world around him that brings him joy, with the possible exception of his close friendship with Boxer. He shows the stubbornness that is stereotypically associated with donkeys in his refusal to see the bright side of any situation, as in his observation that it would be better to have no tail at all than a tail to keep flies away. He is willing to give up an important physical part of himself rather than make a physical effort, meaning he would rather wish away a problem than try to find a solution to it. As a result he limits his participation in the events that unfold during and after the rebellion and interacts little with the other animals.

What are the products of labor the animals are forced to give to the humans listed in Animal Farm Chapter 1, and how do these losses affect the animals?

The ordinary items the humans take from the animals as part of the normal working of the farm have more value to the animals than the humans realize. To the humans eggs and milk are food, and young animals are simply labor to sell. In his speech Old Major reminds the hens of all the eggs that did not grow into chickens. He reminds the cows of the milk that could have nourished their calves. He reminds Clover of the foals she had to give up for Mr. Jones to sell that, as the boar reminds her, should have been a comfort to her in her older years. To the animals these are not simply products of their labor that have been taken away, although that would be bad enough in Old Major's reckoning. Some of these products represent lives and family members lost for the humans' profit. Indeed, the animals have no real families to speak of because of the farmers. As a rhetorical device, this appeal plays to the emotions of the animals.

What sort of world is presented in "Beasts of England," the anthem of rebellion presented in Animal Farm, Chapter 1, and why is this song important to the animals?

"Beasts of England" presents an idealized vision of a world without humans, in which animals are free. The early verses of the song use descriptors that look forward to a "golden future time" filled with "fruitful fields." In the world of the song there is no brutality toward the animals, who no longer wear harnesses or nose rings used to lead them around and no longer face the whip if they don't obey. In its later verses the song describes a world free of pollution, with sweeter breezes and purer waters, which mildly paints humanity as a problem for the environment at large, not just the animals. For Old Major this song is a memory from his own youth, recalling the innocence of that simpler, happier time, an innocence he hopes all animals can share in the future. The song also gives the animals a concrete vision for what their rebellion can and should accomplish, something for them to work toward. Singing it together becomes their first small act of rebellion, as they wake Mr. Jones from his sleep with the sound, and it continues to be a rallying point of hope for the animals during and after their revolt.

What are the differences that emerge between Snowball and Napoleon as they are introduced in Animal Farm Chapter 2?

After the rebellion, as the pigs assume leadership roles on the farm, Snowball and Napoleon emerge as the leaders among the pigs, but the two have drastically different styles and priorities. Their differences lead to extended debates between them at the animals' weekly meetings. Theirs is a classic brains-versus-brawn dichotomy. Snowball's strength derives from his intellect, his sociability, and his skill at making speeches. His physical characteristics are not notable, and he is perceived as having less "depth of character" than Napoleon. Napoleon's apparent depth may come from the fact that he speaks much less than Snowball, which implies greater thoughtfulness. He is the only boar on the farm, which means he is the only male pig who has not been castrated. He has a reproductive power that the other pigs lack, and his physical strength and "fierce" appearance likely contribute to his reputation for getting his own way.

What aspects of Mollie and her resistance to Animalism in Animal Farm Chapter 2 reveal a weakness in Animalism (and by extension, communism) as a philosophy and way of life?

Mollie is described as "foolish and pretty" when she is first introduced in Chapter 1. She has problems almost immediately following the rebellion because the rebellion does not really bring her any benefits. Unlike the other animals, Mollie enjoys a relatively good life with Mr. Jones in charge. She may be foolish and pretty, but her only job is to look pretty and wear ribbons in her hair when she pulls Jones's carriage out in public. She likes the ribbons. She likes the attention and the cubes of sugar Mr. Jones gives her as treats, but all those advantages disappear from her life when the rebellion comes. In espousing equality for all animals, Animalism does not consider the possibility that some of the animals may experience loss of status and material benefits after the rebellion. The system does not really have a way to address these losses. It simply tells Mollie she has to get on board with Animalism without giving her strong reasons or motivation to do so. As a result Mollie never buys into Animalism the way the others do.

After the rebellion in Animal Farm Chapter 2 what is the animals' first act after their victory, and why is this first act important to them?

After the humans have been expelled from the farm, the first thing the animals do is break into the harness room and destroy all the tools they find there. They destroy the bits that have been placed in their mouths and the rings that have been painfully inserted into their noses to lead them around the farm and village. This action is highly symbolic because the animals lead themselves now. They also destroy the tools used to castrate the pigs and the whips used to control all of them, implements that have caused them pain in the past. They are now free of the physical abuses they have suffered. Even seemingly innocuous items such as feed bags and hair ribbons are destroyed on the grounds that they are degrading. By destroying all the items the farmers have used against them for so long, the animals claim control over their own bodies and affirm their dignity, perhaps the most important goal of the rebellion.

What is potentially dangerous about Boxer's and Clover's total loyalty to the pigs, as presented in Animal Farm Chapter 2?

As the leaders of the rebellion, the pigs are certainly entitled to a measure of devotion from the other animals, but Boxer's and Clover's devotion to the pigs is absolute. From the very start of the new regime Boxer and Clover "would harness themselves to the cutter or the horse-rake (no bits or reins were needed in these days, of course) and tramp steadily round and round the field with a pig walking behind." However, this total devotion is only appropriate if the pigs' intentions are totally positive, which is a dangerous assumption for any citizens, animal or human, to make of their leaders. Boxer's and Clover's unquestioning allegiance to the pigs is especially hazardous, though, because they hold positions of leadership in their own right. The animals look up to Boxer and Clover because they are respectable and popular. Their kindness toward and care of the other animals inspire trust, so when the two pass along the pigs' messages, the other animals accept what Boxer and Clover say as blindly as the horses have accepted these ideas from the pigs. This hierarchy illustrates how the blind following of leaders can evolve, which, again, only works if the leaders have completely good intentions, which is rarely the case.

What bits of evidence in Animal Farm Chapter 2 illustrate how the pigs' intentions after the rebellion may not be in the best interests of all the animals?

It is impossible to overstate how much the ability to read and write gives the pigs an advantage over the other animals. They are the ones who write the Seven Commandments on the barn wall, but their ability to do so means they have the ability to rewrite the commandments as well. They can put anything they want up on the wall, even now, and the animals will not be any wiser. An advantage this absolute is ripe for exploitation. That exploitation begins at the end of the chapter with the mystery of the disappearing milk. The cows need to be milked before the animals go to the fields. The animals are naturally attracted to the rich milk sitting in the pails afterward and express the hope that they might share in these spoils. Mr. Jones sometimes mixed milk into the animals' mash, so it is reasonable for them to think that under the new, improved system they might be entitled to milk. As a sign of things to come, though, Napoleon physically inserts himself between the animals and the milk pails, telling them not to worry about the milk, that it will "be attended to." It is clear from this action that Napoleon intends for the pigs to take the milk for themselves, and this outcome is confirmed in the following chapter. Even Mr. Jones sometimes shared the milk with the animals, but the pigs do not, so this incident provides an ominous indication of the way life will be under the new leadership.

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