Published in the post-WWII period, George Orwell's allegorical novella Animal Farm is considered to be one of the modern classics of literature, and is probably his second-best known work of fiction after Nineteen Eighty-Four. As a rule, it is usually thought to be a critique of Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union, an opinion that was evident both in the animated film of 1954 and in life action movie of 1999. However, it can be argued that not unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four, when George Orwell wrote Animal Farm he was more concerned about the events in his homeland, and used those concerns of his for the main idea of his novella.
The pigs, of course, are the main reason why people tend to believe that Animal Farm is an allegory of Stalin and Stalinist Soviet Union - Napoleon and his regime appear to be clearly based on them (an idea that was reinforced further by the movie versions of Animal Farm), and Snowball initially does have similarities to Leon Trotsky, Stalin's main rival for power after Lenin's death.
Now, it is quite natural that Snowball and Trotsky have some similarities to each other, for George Orwell had relations with the Trotskyist party in the past, during the Spanish Civil War:
In the early stages of the war foreigners were on the whole unaware of the inner struggles between the various political parties supporting the government. Through a series of accidents I joined not the International Brigade like the majority of foreigners, but the POUM militia-i.e. the Spanish Trotskyists.
So in the middle of 1937, when the Communists gained control (or partial control) of the Spanish government and began to hunt down the Trotskyists, we both found ourselves amongst the victims. We were very lucky to get out of Spain alive, and not even to have been arrested once. Many of our friends were shot, and others spent a long time in prison or simply disappeared.
(Orwell, George. 110-111.)
For the record, Leon Trotsky, the head of the Trotskyist political party, was a professional politician by today's definition and a fiery orator - something that, perhaps, was reflected by Snowball's tendency to be a fast, passionate talker since the beginning of the novella (9). In fact, in the first chapters of Animal Farm, there is relatively little to distinguish Snowball and Napoleon, in terms of politics: they both break into Joneses' abandoned farm house at the same time (14) and when it comes to milk (23), the two put up a single front with the other pigs... Put otherwise, in the early chapters of the novella, Snowball is quite similar to Trotsky in a realistic, political way, and the farm itself, upon which the novella's drama unfolds, is equally similar to the early USSR.
As Animal Farm progresses, however, Snowball's differences from Trotsky begin to emerge, namely his windmill project. Unless one assumes that Orwell had introduced it as an allegory for the Comintern organization, Trotsky's main political project that eventually led to his downfall, then it is clear that Snowball is not Trotsky - at least not in any conventional sense - but a rather idealized figure in terms of political Socialism:
306. SNOWBALL: Comrades! Think of this farm as it might be if degrading labour was lifted off our backs! Think of the machines that we can have! Threshing machines, ploughs, harrows, reapers and binders - electricity can run every one of them. Think of your stalls with hot and cold water and electric light. Every one of you could lie in bed till ten o'clock in the morning.
(Orwell, George. 157-158.)
However, the quote above was taken not from the original novella, but from the slightly later, post-WWII radio adaptation of it. By then, Snowball's character underwent certain changes: for example, there is no mention of Snowball and Napoleon working together even in the beginning (139), while Snowball's speech quoted above talks about technological progress, something that Orwell equated - at least partially - with Socialism (in his perception), as demonstrated by his earlier works, such as The Road to Wigan Pier.
Therefore, it can be seen that as Animal Farm changed both by Orwell's own will and, later, the wills of others, Snowball lost most of his Trotsky-like characteristics and instead became a spokesperson for Socialism, at least how Orwell perceived this political movement to appear - something separate from Communism (or Fascism) of his time and much more democratic than how it actually was.
Yet, if Snowball had lost his Trotsky-like personality features as time went by, Napoleon's - Stalin-like - remained. That is quite natural, for post-WWII, the Cold War began, and now the greater political world began to share Orwell's attitudes towards Stalin, even if for their own political reasons. These political reasons, however, were not necessarily identical to Orwell's own (i.e. Socialist), and neither was their interpretation of the novella, most likely.
The most profound difference between Orwell's work and its adaptations are located, perhaps, in the end of it all, when the pigs make their peace with the human farmers, perhaps one of the more famous quotations of the whole novella:
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. 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.
(Orwell, George. 95.)
In other words, the canon ending of the novella demonstrates the fraternity, so to speak, of pigs and men; but if the leader of the pigs is Stalin, how does this fact fit into that fraternization? The answer is thus: Napoleon is Stalin, but Stalin here himself is used less as an actual historical person, but more as a generic totalitarian tyrant. Thus, it does not really matter for the novella's plot if Napoleon resembled Stalin, or Hitler, or anyone else. More precisely, the main pig characters of the novella - Snowball, Napoleon, even Squealer - show certain characteristics of real-life historical figures and may be even considered their caricatures. By the radio adaptation of 1947, however, Orwell got rid of several of these characteristics, and had altered them into not-so-much caricature but allegorical figures: Snowball now stood-in for a progressive Socialist figure, Napoleon for a retrograde and totalitarian dictator, et cetera... In addition, when considering that for the pro-Trotsky Orwell, Stalin himself was undoubtedly a totalitarian dictator (something that got reinforced further in Nineteen Eighty Four), Napoleon's similarity to him still remained strong - yet Stalin alone does not make the farm of the novella into Stalinist USSR.
Now, consider the sheep and their role. Animal Farm has made them almost as infamous as the pigs; certainly, those blind followers of Napoleon's regime are very different from their traditional Christian symbolism and may perhaps be a sly dig at the traditional Christian values as well. Mainly, however, the sheep of Animal Farm are secular, and they represent not the clergy (that part goes to Moses the raven), but the intelligentsia... but the intelligentsia of what country?
To understand better the role of novella's sheep, one must remember that when George Orwell wrote Animal Farm during the WWII, he had also written an introduction - in effect a small essay, titled "The Freedom of The Press", which contains the following lines:
The servility with which the greater part of the English intelligentsia have swallowed and repeated Russian propaganda from 1941 onwards would be quite astounding if it were not that they have behaved similarly on several earlier viewpoints. On one controversial issue after another the Russian viewpoint has been accepted without examination and then publicized with complete disregards to historical truth or intellectual decency.
(Orwell, George. 101.)
The sheep of Animal Farm are trademarked by their submissiveness and lack of thought, any thought: all they speak throughout the novella is the line "Four legs good, two legs better" (22), until in the end it is "Four legs good, two legs better" (89). In other words, these slogans do not affect their hearts, these sheep just adhere to the lines their masters had taught them, and go on and on like clockwork automatons, while in real life, according to Orwell at least, we have English intelligentsia who behave in any way, but the intelligent one. Moreover, Orwell is not done yet, but continues to discuss the flaws of the English intelligentsia in greater detail:
It is important to realise that the current Russomania is only a symptom of the general weakening of the western liberal tradition. [...] At the death of John Reed, the author of Ten Days that Shook the World - a first-hand account of the early days of the Russian Revolution - the copyright of the book passed into the hands of the British Communist Party, to whom I believe Reed had bequeathed it. Some years later the British Communists, having destroyed the original edition of the book as completely as they could, issued a garbled version from which they had eliminated mentions of Trotsky and also omitted the introduction written by Lenin. If a radical intelligentsia had still existed in Britain, this act of forgery would have been exposed and denounced in every literary paper in the country. As it was there was little or no protest. To many English intellectuals it seemed quite a natural thing to do. [...] To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.
(Orwell, George. 106-107.)
The image of such `gramophone minds', playing whatever records they received, seems to be very appropriate to describe the novella's sheep, which appear to be following Napoleon's lead (even though it was Snowball who introduced them to their trademark slogan (22)), to the detriment of Snowball and others.
However, the prototypes of the novella's sheep are not necessarily the Russian intelligentsia (at least not primarily, though there undoubtedly were plenty of such sheep during Stalin's regime in the USSR and afterwards), but, perhaps, the English, for "The Freedom of The Press" has illustrated this point quite clearly. Yet, if these sheep are English, why are they so compatible with the Soviet Stalin/Napoleon?
To answer this question, we must remember that though initially, in 1943-44, the character of Napoleon in Anima Farm was a realistic stand-in for Stalin, just as Snowball stood-in for Trotsky, by 1946, when Animal Farm was transformed into a broadcast radio presentation, the two pigs became much more allegorical and generalized, with their original Soviet connotations becoming less prominent and important to the novella's message. This was not to everyone's liking, incidentally - as it was said before, in the both movie versions of the novella the ending was changed, and the introduction, a.k.a. "The Freedom of The Press" was published far less frequently than the actual book for reasons that will be discussed below.
So far, using pigs and sheep as examples, we saw how Orwell, although initially writing (possibly) in Animal Farm about the USSR in general, turned to an allegory with a broader subject, or perhaps the subject remained the same - freedom and tyranny - but it took place in a less foreign and more native (English) setting.
Let us look now at the place of action of the novella, the actual farm of Mr. Jones. Back when it was called Manor Farm, it showed few specific similarities to the pre-Communist Russian Empire; farmer Jones and his wife do not resemble Tsar and Emperor of All Russia Nicholas II and his wife, and Moses the raven is a definitely inferior character to Rasputin. In that case, one must assume that Farmer Jones and his wife are not caricatures of specific historical figures, but are yet more of the more general characterizations of the English folk, perhaps a hard-working but unlucky farmer (who had fallen down on his luck and began to drink) and his wife?
The other named farmers of the novella, Mr. Frederick and Mr. Pilkington, tend to be also hard to classify as specific historical characters as well:
It was lucky that the owners of the two farms which adjoined Animal Farm were on permanently bad terms. [...] Its owner, Mr Pilkington, was an easy-going gentleman-farmer, who spent most of his time in fishing or hunting according to the season. [...] Its owner was a Mr Frederick, a tough, shrewd man, perpetually involved in lawsuits and with a name for driving hard bargains. These two disliked each other so much that it was difficult for them to come to any agreement, even in defense of their own interests.
(Orwell, George. 24.)
In popular opinion, George Orwell based these two people on England and Nazi Germany, a view that is reinforced further by Napoleon's maneuvering between the two and the fact that Mr. Fredericks would eventually attack Animal Farm and destroy the windmill. However, this situation differs from WWII by the fact that Mr. Pilkington does not aide Napoleon in spite of not getting Animal Farm's seasoned timber. Since George Orwell was patriotic and proud of his homeland (just not of its ruling classes), it is quite hard to believe that he would allow Mr. Pilkington to stand-in for Britain with such a character flaw. In addition, Pilkington and Fredericks had kept their identities only in the initial version of Animal Farm - by 1946, when it got adapted for the radio, they were remade into Farmers I and II, who were quite willing to co-operate to `rescue' Jones's farm for Jones and then buy it cheaply from him, whether Jones wants it or not. Moreover, since the latter part of the broadcast adaptation had kept Mr. Pilkington's words towards Napoleon, it is obvious that the Farmers I and II are stand-ins for Pilkington and Fredericks after all.
In other words, in the initial work, Pilkington and Fredericks could be considered to represent England and Germany, albeit only vaguely, lacking any distinct characteristics that could equate them with Hitler and Lord Chamberlain (who was the British prime minister before WWII). In addition, when Orwell got the chance to re-do his work, he got rid of the bulk of their personalities, leaving only their basics - namely that of a pair of farmers who abuse their livestock and are ready and willing to turn upon the others of their kind, namely Jones.
Finally, there is Mr. Pilkington's indirect speech in the last chapter of the novella.
He would end his remarks, he said, by emphasizing once again the friendly feelings that subsisted, and ought to subsist, between Animal Farm and its neighbours. Between pigs and human beings there was not and there need not be any clash of interests whatever. [...] After much choking, during which his various chins turned purple, he managed to get it out: `If you have your lower animals to contend with,' he said, `we have our lower classes!' This bon mot set the table in a roar; and Mr Pilkington once again congratulated the pigs on the low rations, the long working-hours and the general absence of pampering which he had observed on Animal Farm.
(Orwell, George. 92-93.)
Later on, this speech will be developed with greater detail in the radio broadcast version of the novella by Farmer I - a fact that probably clears away the doubts that the farmer characters of Animal Farm are not allegorical representations of England or of other countries, but of the English landowners, rich English landowners. In other words, Pilkington and Fredericks, and the other, nameless farmers are just another unflattering representation of the British capitalists of Orwell's perception, and they are being portrayed as equals to Napoleon, the Stalin-dictator pig.
Conversely, though, it is Napoleon, who is being portrayed as an equal to the farmers. Far from being Stalin, the dictator of one of the biggest domains in the post-WWII era, Napoleon of the broadcast adaptation is neither more nor less but another rich landowner in the manner of Pilkington or Fredericks, and even if one adds the Socialist angle into Animal Farm, one still gets nothing more than fraternization of British capitalists and socialists, perhaps foreign or not, and this perchance is what the infamous final paragraph of the novella is all about.
Then there is Napoleon's response to Mr. Pilkington's speech. He wholly agrees with it, but adds that the farm's name will be renamed back to Manor Farm, something that never happened to USSR during Stalin's reign (somewhat contrary to Orwell's expectations) and something that signifies the return to the times of Jones, of social inequality, when the farmers abused the animals and the upper classes did the same to the lower ones. Thus, once more Napoleon is `reduced' from a Stalin-level dictator to just a rich capitalist-socialist sell-out.
To reinforce this idea, one must remember the movie versions of Animal Farm. Just as the introduction - "The Freedom of The Press" was removed in most editions, so the endings of movies were changed. In the 1954, Cold War era, version, the animals rise and get rid of the pigs, with the whole pig-farmer bonding episode being nothing but a dream. In the 1999, post-Cold War era, the movie did follow the broadcast's version by keeping Snowball apart from the other pigs, but, firstly, it re-emphasized Napoleon-Stalin connection as well as the whole Animal Farm-USSR connection. Secondly, the farmer-pig bonding does take place, and in fact in 1999 version Mr. Pilkington is Jones's landlord, but in the movie's end, when Napoleon's wall (the Iron Curtain) collapses, the final movie shots are not of that, but of the new owners-landlords, who are presumably better people than Mr. Pilkington and his wife.
Now, these two versions are currently the only versions of Animal Farm in a movie format, both present different endings than the original work, and at least in the case of the 1954 version, there is some proof that the ending was deliberately altered to suit the British government better. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Orwell did not intend to cater to the tastes of the British government, whether of the WWII or the post-WWII eras and wrote his novella to discomfiture it. And indeed, "The Freedom of The Press" talks, or rather discusses in a complaining tone, the government's refusal to publish Animal Farm so not to antagonize its Soviet ally.
So, let us now put all of these facts together. The government of the pigs grew increasingly more tyrannical and retrograde, and it did mirror Stalin's rise to power in the USSR. Conversely, as soon as Orwell got a chance, he somewhat lessened those similarities, transforming Napoleon into a more allegorical and less identical character to Stalin, suggesting that he was not worried only about the Soviet situation per se, but about the general subjugation of people by tyrants. The sheep in the novella promote this broadness of his scope further, for they appear to have human counterparts not only in the Soviet, but in the English society as well. The farmers of Animal Farm do not appear to be particularly allegorical either, but seem to be quite realistic, and moreover, their behavior diverges greatly from the behavior of the West European government post-WWII, something that again increases the gap between Animal Farm and the political realities of those times. Finally, while Orwell criticized the Soviet Stalinist government often enough, willingly enough and poignantly enough, he was a critic of his contemporary English society for a longer time still - moreover, his other great novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, takes place mainly in England and not overseas, though it shows a theoretical dictatorial future, something that the end of Animal Farm hints at as well.
Written during the end of the WWII period, Animal Farm was a critique on several levels. It indeed did criticize Stalin's regime in the USSR and as such it was used at least twice as a weapon to criticize the communist way of life in general, but it also criticized Orwell's contemporary and capitalist British society, suggesting that the novella took place wholly on the British soil instead, a possibility that was glossed over and hidden instead. Truth, however, tends to resurface every once in a while and so it happens with Animal Farm, as this essay has hopefully shown.
Orwell, George. The Complete Works of George Orwell. Eight. Animal Farm. London: Seeker & Warburg, 1992.