'Animal Farm' Summary

George Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegorical novel about a group of farm animals who take over their farm in 1940s England. Through the story of the animals' revolution and its aftermath, Orwell assesses the failures of the communist revolution in Russia.

Chapters 1-2

The novel opens at Manor Farm, where Mr. Jones, the cruel and incompetent farmer, is drunkenly going to sleep. As soon as the lights in the farmhouse go out, the animals gather. Old Major, an elderly boar who's lived on the farm for a long time, has called a meeting. At the meeting, Old Major describes a dream he had the previous night, in which the animals lived together without humans. He then launches into an impassioned speech. In the speech, he argues that humans are the enemies of all animals, and he urges the animals of the farm to organize and rebel against the humans. Old Major teaches the animals—who have varying degrees of intelligence—a song called "Beasts of England" in order to instill a sense of revolutionary fervor in them.

Old Major passes away three days later. Three pigs named Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer use this sad event to rally the animals. When the animals, who are starving, break into the store shed, Mr. Jones attempts to whip them. The animals revolt and drive Mr. Jones, his family, and his employees off the farm in terror.

Napoleon and Snowball quickly organize the animals and remind them of Old Major’s teachings. They give the farm a new name—Animal Farm—and hold a meeting to vote on rules. Seven fundamental principles are adopted:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Snowball and Napoleon order that these principles of Animalism be painted on the side of the barn in large white letters. The cart-horse, Boxer, is particularly excited and declares that his personal motto will be “I Will Work Harder.” Napoleon does not join the animals in the harvest, and when they return, the milk has disappeared.

Chapters 3-4

Snowball undertakes a project to teach all the animals on the farm how to read and write. Napoleon takes charge of a litter of young puppies in order to teach them the principles of Animalism. He takes the puppies away; the other animals never see them. The animals work together and know the business of the farm very well. For a time, the farm is peaceful and happy.

Every Sunday, Snowball and Napoleon gather the animals for a meeting in which they debate what to do next and vote. The pigs are the smartest of the animals, and so they assume leadership and create the agenda every week. Snowball has many ideas for improving the farm and the lives of the animals, but Napoleon is against almost all of his ideas. When the animals complain that they cannot remember so many of Animalism’s commandments, Snowball tells them that all they have to remember is “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

Neighboring farmers are afraid that a similar overthrow could take place on their own farms. They band together with Mr. Jones to attack the farm with a gun. Snowball thinks quickly and organizes the animals into an ambush; they surprise the men and chase them off. The animals celebrate the “Battle of the Cowshed” and confiscate the gun. They decide to fire the gun once a year to commemorate the battle, and Snowball is hailed as a hero.

Chapters 5-6

At the next Sunday meeting, Snowball suggests building a windmill, which will provide electricity as well as grind grain. He makes a passionate speech arguing that the windmill will make their lives easier. Napoleon gives a short speech opposing the matter, but he can tell he has lost the argument. Napoleon makes a sound, and suddenly the dogs he took away for education—now fully grown—burst into the barn, snarling and biting. They chase Snowball away.

Napoleon tells the other animals that Snowball was their enemy and had been working with Mr. Jones. He announces that the meetings are no longer necessary, and that Napoleon, Squealer, and the other pigs will run the farm for the benefit of everyone. Napoleon decides to build the windmill after all. Work commences on the windmill—Boxer works especially hard at it, excited at the easier life they will have when it is done.

The animals notice that Napoleon and the other pigs begin to act more like men: standing on their hind legs, drinking whiskey, and living inside. Whenever someone points out that this behavior violates the principles of Animalism, Squealer explains why they are wrong.

Napoleon's leadership becomes increasingly totalitarian. When a storm causes the windmill to collapse, Napoleon deflects blame by telling everyone that Snowball sabotaged it. He corrects the animals about their memory of the Battle of the Cowshed, insisting he was the hero they all remember, and that Snowball was in league with Mr. Jones. He accuses various animals of being in league with Snowball; his dogs attack and kill each one he accuses. Boxer accepts Napoleon's rule, repeating “Napoleon is always right” as a mantra as he works harder and harder.

Chapters 7-8

The windmill is rebuilt, but another farmer, Mr. Frederick, gets into a disagreement over a business deal with Napoleon and uses explosives to destroy the new windmill. Another battle ensues between the animals and the men. The men are once again driven away, but Boxer is severely injured. The animals discover Squealer with a can of white paint; they suspect the Animalism principles painted on the barn have been altered.

Chapters 9-10

Boxer continues to work, driving himself to do even more despite his injuries. He grows weaker, and eventually collapses. Napoleon tells the animals he will send for a veterinary hospital to come get Boxer, but when the truck arrives, the animals read the words on the truck and realize Boxer is being sent to the ‛knacker’ to be made into glue. Napoleon has sold Boxer for whiskey money. Napoleon and Squealer deny this and claim that the truck had recently been purchased by the hospital and hadn’t been repainted. Later, Napoleon tells the animals that Boxer passed away under a doctor’s care.

Time passes. The windmill is rebuilt again and generates a lot of income for the farm, but the lives of the animals get worse. No longer is there talk of heated stalls and electric lights for all. Instead, Napoleon tells the animals that the simpler their lives are, the happier they’ll be.

Most of the animals who knew the farm before the revolution are gone. One by one, the principles of Animalism have been erased on the side of the barn, until only one remains: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The simplified motto has been changed to “Four legs good, two legs better.” The pigs have become almost indistinguishable from the men: they live inside, wear clothes, and sleep in beds. Napoleon invites a neighboring farmer to dinner to discuss an alliance, and changes the name of the farm back to Manor Farm.

Some of the animals peer into the farmhouse through the windows and cannot tell which are the pigs and which are the men.

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Somers, Jeffrey. "'Animal Farm' Summary." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/animal-farm-summary-4583889. Somers, Jeffrey. (2020, January 29). 'Animal Farm' Summary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-farm-summary-4583889 Somers, Jeffrey. "'Animal Farm' Summary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-farm-summary-4583889 (accessed June 8, 2023).