Of the Golden Future Time: A Review of ‘Animal Farm’

“The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.”—Saint Pope John Paul II

“Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the builders labour.”—Psalm 127:1

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grade 7-9

Review and Thoughts

Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of those novels that every student will most likely read in their lives.  One of the books in the current literary canon, it has helped demonstrate the evils of communism through an allegorical depiction of the Russian Revolution.  By using a seemingly innocent setting, Orwell tells the horrific story of a group of animals as they attempt to overthrow human rule.

The novel begins with an alcoholic farmer who has long neglected his farm.  The great boar, Old Major, starts teaching his new philosophy to the animals.  His philosophy points out the uselessness of humans.  The animals on the farm begin to feel a sense of pride and one day, when the farmer has forgotten to take care of the animals for too long, they fight Farmer Jones and take over the farm.

While all is seemingly wonderful at the beginning of the animal revolution, it quickly becomes obvious that the pigs have the advantage over the rest of the animals.  One of the pigs, Snowball, works to educate the animals and works to keep the farm running and find ways that it can become even more successful.  Snowball’s leadership is quickly overthrown, however, by Napoleon, a rival pig.  It becomes obvious early on that Napoleon is in it only for himself.  He has a way of twisting the truth and bending the rules to benefit himself.  The animals on the farm work harder and harder and are treated worse and worse by Napoleon and his companions.  Slowly, what was once a seemingly successful revolution turns into a completely corrupted society with death and ultimate deception by Napoleon and the other pigs.  In fact, at the end of the story the pigs and the corrupt humans from neighboring farms that they befriend are hardly distinguishable from one another.  The book ends, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

While the novel is simple to read and easily understood, the deeper, allegorical meaning is what is most important.  It becomes easy to see the deception of communism and the corruption of its leaders.  It’s easy for students to see how malicious the pigs are and how they take advantage of the other animals, especially Boxer, the work horse.  This is a great book for teaching allegory because it is so simple, but the emotional impact on the readers is great.

I have taught this book numerous times and the students always become very passionate about it.  They find it odd at first, but once they begin to make the connections, they usually become very excited about the Russian Revolution and enjoy learning more.  It also presents a perfect opportunity to discuss communism with students.  This novel has always been one of my favorites to read AND teach.  Some people may shy away from it in a Catholic setting, but I think that would be a mistake!  It has so much to teach us about what has happened in the past and warns us of a terrible future should we choose to allow these ideals to take over our current culture.

Possible Issues

  • George Orwell, though very anti-communist, was also anti-Catholic. You can read about it here.
  • Moses the Raven represents organized religion.  He is not portrayed well by the novel.  He speaks about Sugarcandy Mountain (heaven) and when things get tough, he leaves.  The animals quickly give up on any ideas of Sugarcandy Mountain.
  • As Napoleon becomes more powerful, he uses violence and executes some of the animals.

 Further Discussion

  • Discuss the slow corruption of the pigs. How do they slowly become what they used to preach against?
  • What is propaganda? How does Squealer do a good job of portraying propaganda?
  • How might the farm have been different had Snowball been allowed to stay in charge instead of Napoleon taking over?
  • Why is communism so evil? What is the difference between communism and social justice? (Use the resources below to help.)

Catholic Resources

General Teaching Resources

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