Perspectives

The Russian Revolution

The most obvious perspective to make when working with Animal Farm is a historical perspective to the Russian Revolution, as the novel is a direct allegory of this revolution and the decades that followed it.

You may draw parallels between events depicted in the novel and the historical realities in the Soviet Union. It may be obvious to look for similarities, but it might also be interesting to consider whether Orwell presents an unfair or incorrect version of some events or people in his allegorical story.  

Other historical revolutions

It is also possible to compare the story of Animal Farm to other historical revolutions, as it also tries to display some general tendencies that might be observed. For example, you may consider other examples of revolutions that have left the relevant nation or area in a worse political position than before, or which were based on beautiful ideals in theory, but led to extreme violence and rights violations in practice.

The French Revolution is in some ways an example of both these issues. Even though France eventually became a proper democracy, it first went through an extremely violent period of executions of the former royalty and aristocracy,  followed by a period of dictatorship under Napoleon (the man, not the pig!).

Current issues

Even though Animal Farm was published more than 70 years ago, its core messages are still highly relevant when trying to understand the world as it exists today.

For example, its warnings against propaganda might be applied directly to a number of nations - particularly North Korea, which is infamous for its use of propaganda and its highly state-controlled media. Also, in Animal Farm Napoleon forms a cult of personality around himself, and North Korea has formed a cult of personality around the ‘Dear Leader’, Kim-Jong-Un.

The flexible propaganda used by Napoleon in response to the changing relationships between Animal Farm, Mr. Frederick, and Mr. Pilkington is also very similar to the way North Korea has changed its propaganda messages related to its neighbours Japan and South Korea, depending on the political situation at any given time.

However, the story’s warnings against state propaganda may not be limited to dictatorships, as the modern world has also seen examples of political propaganda in democracies. For example, some political candidates rely on facts or arguments that are presented in a distorted or misleading way in order to gain public support, sometimes even resorting to outright lies to secure support and criticise their opponents.

Furthermore, the Internet and the popularity of social media have made it easier than ever to spread political propaganda among the population, and it has become possible to target this propaganda very specifically towards the social groups where it is estimated to have the greatest impact. 

Textual perspective

Here you can find suggestions for other texts that deal with similar themes and may be useful to compare to Animal Farm.

1984

The most obvious choice for a novel to compare to Animal Farm is probably Nineteen Eighty-Four, also by George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four is an interesting point of comparison because it deals with similar themes, but presents them in a very different way.

Instead of focusing on a revolution that leads in a negative direction, Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place in a future society that already has a highly efficient dictatorship in place, complete with a government that places the population under constant surveillance and even strives to control their thoughts. Though the possibility of rebellion against this rule is hinted at as the plot unfolds, the ultimate conclusion is brutally dark and pessimistic.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is another famous British novel with political overtones. Much like Animal Farm, the story is centred on a group of characters who have to create a society from scratch - though in Lord of the Flies it is a group of boys stranded on a desert island rather than liberated farm animals. The plot also develops in a somewhat different direction (towards increasing anarchy and chaos, instead of an increasingly tightly controlled dictatorship), though the conclusions of both novels are highly dark and pessimistic, expressing very negative views of humanity and human societies.

Movie adaptations  

Animal Farm has been adapted into a movie twice.

The first movie was an animated version of the story, directed by John Halas and Joy Batchelor and released in 1954. Interestingly, the CIA provided most of the funding for the production, because it was in their interest during the Cold War to create a movie that was a direct criticism of Soviet Russia.  

The plot at first follows the novel relatively closely, but significant changes have been made to strengthen its political message (but also make it less complex). For example, Snowball is depicted more negatively and Napoleon’s crimes are depicted in even stronger ways. Also, Mr. Frederick is absent from the story in the movie, which might reflect the CIA’s unwillingness to show any positive sides to Soviet Russia (such as Stalin’s role in the defeat of Hitler).

The two most radical changes were made in relation to the ending, however.

First of all, Napoleon does not meet with a human delegation, but with other pigs who have taken control of neighbouring farms. This is probably intended to symbolise the danger of the spread of Communism - a major concern in US politics during the Cold War.

Secondly, the movie ends with the animals rising up against Napoleon and the pigs, eventually killing them and making Benjamin the donkey their new leader. This is probably an expression of the American wish that the Soviet citizens would rise up and reject their oppressive Communist government.

Because these changes were made for purely political reasons, it might be argued that Orwell’s criticism of state propaganda was - ironically - turned into a piece of state propaganda itself when this movie was created. Orwell unfortunately did not live to see this movie, so it is unclear what he would have felt about it himself.

The second movie was directed by John Stephenson and released in 1999. Being made-for-tv and receiving highly mixed reviews, it is far less famous than the 1954 version.

The most notable change compared to the novel is that this movie ends with one of the animals returning to the farm years later, finding everything in ruins. Thus, this version includes a clear reference to the final collapse of the Soviet Union towards the end of the 20th century (which Orwell obviously could not have included in the novel, as it happened 40 years after his death).

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