Animal Farm Thematic Essay

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Animal Farm” by George Orwell that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Animal Farm” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Animal Farm” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Animal Farm” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

For background, here is a general plot summary of Animal Farm

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Words, Language, and Rhetoric in Animal Farm

From the rousing song, “Beasts of England" to the commandments and subsequent changing of them by Napoleon, the main source of power throughout the novel results from language and the use of rhetoric. Without language and the power of words in Animal Farm, the rebellion never would have taken place and certainly the end result of Napoleon’s complete takeover would never have happened. Through the impressive rhetorical and propaganda skills of Squealer and the skillful manipulation of meaning by other characters, reality is shaped by words—for better or for worse. By demonstrating how easily swayed the animals of the farm are by a powerful speech or strong words, Orwell is demonstrating something via a fable about the human vulnerability to carefully chosen words and out unfortunate ability to fall victim to the power of words without understanding the deeper meanings behind them. For this essay, go through the book and look for sections where Squealer is speaking or arranging words. This will provide you with a great group of quotes to eventually work in and build around.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Class Issues in Animal Farm

Throughout the novel the issue of class is an important theme, both in terms of what it means to the animals before the rebellion and even more significantly, what happens after. There is never a moment that the class distinctions in Animal Farm by George Orwell disappear. From the very beginning, all of the animals are ruled by the “human class" and then by Snowball, then by Napoleon. In this novel it seems that class stratification is an almost vital element. For this essay, use the phrase, “All animals are equal… but some are more equal than others" and trace the decline of equality in classes as Napoleon gains more power. If this is not complex enough and you would like a more challenging alternative, consider the ways in which the farm is a mini society and examine how the workers and ruling class interact with one another and how the one is subjected while the other maintains control. This might be most effective if you incorporate ideas from Essay Topic #1 and examine the way language is used to manipulate the “dumber" classes of workers.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Corrupting Influence of Power in Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a social and political fable / allegory about the influences and nature of power and how it can be used for ultimate good or absolute evil. At the beginning of Animal Farm power was used to achieve great things; it brought all members of Manor Farm together under a united cause and allowed them gain their freedom from oppression. After this initial positive influence of power, however, it began to destroy the community that had worked together to form a utopia in Animal Farm by George Orwell. After this point, power struggles emerged and served to divide rather than unite the animals of the farm. For this essay, look at how power was a corrupting and ultimately negative influence by the end of the book. For organizational purposes, choose three characters (and mention them in your thesis statement by stating “this can be seen by the development of characters such as ….) and trace the way power has negatively impacted them. It is suggested that Snowball, Mr. Jones, and Napoleon be used in this analysis but there are other great examples as well.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Animal Farm in Historical and Social Context

In many ways, Animal Farm is a complete allegorical / fable –like retelling of the founding of the Soviet Union, complete with a rebellion and eventual installation of a dictator. Like the ideological battle that was raged in Russia between the classes, the one that is played out in this novel have many of the same themes, including an initial push to strengthen the working class, a strong beginning movement of nationalism and unity, a series of successful efforts to topple the ruling authority (Mr. Jones), all followed by a complete totalitarian takeover by a dictator who is a hypocrite and goes back on many of the promises he made at the height of the revolutionary action. For an essay on this subject, it would be useful to spend a good two paragraphs detailing the events of the Russian Revolution and subsequent Communist rule before looking at how the history and the novel are alike. The thesis statement would be as simple as stating that there are many parallels between the Russian Revolution and ensuing Communist takeover and the events in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: From Utopia to Distopia

(You can argue either way in this thesis statement): The society represented in Animal Farm during the height of Napoleon’s presents an example of a dystopia. Although the society was founded after the rebellion with great ideals about the future of Manor Farm, the influences of power and greed finally gave way and the residents of Manor Farm were far worse then they were under Mr. Jones. For this essay, you could go multiple directions. On the one hand, you can claim that it was a utopia after Napoleon because a great deal of work was being done and it was an efficient society. On the other hand (and it might be one heck of a lot easier) you can claim that a quintessential dystopia was created. If you are allowed to make outside connections to other works, use 1984 as a reference and look at Orwell’s sense of utopias / dystopias as reflected in either work. This would make for an excellent argumentative or comparison (to 1984) essay; just make sure your thesis statement is strong and solid.

For background, here is a general plot summary of Animal Farm

(For an excellent example of an essay on Animal Farm, .)

(For a great essay on Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies in terms of their representations of utopias and dystopias, check this out)

This list of important quotations from “Animal Farm” by George Orwell will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Animal Farm” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.

* All page numbers for the following quotes refer to the 1989 Penguin Edition. *

“Comrades! You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in selfishness and privilege? Milk and apples contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brain workers; the organization of the farm totally depends on us" (42).

“Squealer could turn black into white" (11).

“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plow, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals" (19).

“Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only one of those on the farm. He was not much of a talker, but had a reputation for getting his own way" .. Snowball was a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive but did not have the character depth that Napoleon did" (25).

“Napoleon took no interest in Snowball’s committees. He said that the education of the young was more important than anything that could be done for those who were already grown up" (51).

“Every day Snowball and Napoleon sent out flights of pigeons whose instructions were to mingle with the animals on neighboring farms, tell them the story of the Rebellion, and teach them the tune Beasts of England" (54).

At the meetings, Snowball often won over the majority by his brilliant speeches, but Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times" (63).

“For we know now, it is all written down in the secret documents that we have found—that in reality he [Snowball] was trying to lure us to our doom" (80).

“All animals are equal but some are more equal than others" (114).

“All men are enemies; all animals are comrades" (31).

“Now, when Squealer described the scene so graphically, it seemed to the animals that they did remember if. At any rate, they remembered that at the critical moment of the battle, Snowball had turned to flee" (91).

“the execution of the traitors this afternoon was the final act" (96).

“The animals believed every word of it. Truth to tell, Hones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that they were usually working when they were not asleep but doubtless it has been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail not point out" (115).

“Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer—except, of course, the pigs and the dogs" (86).

Animal Farm is a satire of totalitarian governments in their many guises. But Orwell composed the book for a more specific purpose: to serve as a cautionary tale about Stalinism. It was for this reason that he faced such difficulty in getting the book published; by the time Animal Farm was ready to meet its readers, the Allies were cooperating with the Soviet Union. The allegorical characters of the novel represent specific historical figures and different factions of Imperial Russian and Soviet society. These include Karl Marx (Major), Vladimir Lenin (Major), Leon Trotsky (Snowball), Joseph Stalin (Napoleon), Adolf Hitler (Frederick), the Allies (Pilkington), the peasants (Boxer), the elite (Mollie), and the church (Moses).

The resemblance of some of the novel’s events to events in Soviet history is indubitable. For example, Snowball’s and Napoleon’s power struggle is a direct allegory of Trotsky’s and Stalin’s. Frederick’s trade agreement with Napoleon, and his subsequent breaking of the agreement, represents the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact that preceded World War II. The following Battle of the Windmill represents World War II itself.

Despite his fairy-tale clarity in satirizing some historical events, Orwell is less specific about others. For example, the executions in Chapter VII conflate the Red Terror with the Great Purge. The executions themselves bear resemblance to both events, although their details connect them more to the Moscow Trials than to the Red Terror. Squealer’s subsequent announcement that the executions have ended the Rebellion connects them to the period of the Red Terror, however. Orwell leaves some ambiguity in the identities of the Rebellion and the Battle of the Cowshed. These ambiguities help the reader focus on the overall satire of Stalinism and the broader warning about the evils of totalitarian government.

Orwell held the pessimistic belief that totalitarianism was inevitable, even in the West. According to Russell Baker, who wrote the preface to Animal Farm’s 1996 Signet Classics version, Orwell’s pessimism stemmed from his having grown up in an age of dictatorship. Witnessing Hitler’s and Stalin’s movements from afar, as well as fighting totalitarianism in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell came to believe in the rise of a new species of autocrat, worse even than the tyrants of old. This cynicism is reflected in both of his highly successful novels, Animal Farm and 1984. Orwell emphasizes the insidiousness of totalitarianism early in the novel, when the pigs take the fresh milk and apples. The pigs justify their actions on the basis of their superiority; they are smart and need more nutrition than the other animals to fuel their brainpower. There is no scientific basis for the pigs’ claim—in fact, if anyone needs more food to fuel their labor, it is the manual laborers—but they can count on the animals’ being too ignorant to realize that. In this way, Orwell makes the point that totalitarianism need not be blatant in order to be operating. It can hide under the guise of the “greater good” as it did in the Soviet Union before the totalitarianism became obvious.

Orwell uses a cyclical structure in Animal Farm, which helps advance the idea of totalitarianism’s predictability. The novel begins with Jones as autocratic tyrant and ends with Napoleon not only in Jones’s position, but in his clothes as well. Over the course of the novel, Napoleon essentially becomes Jones just as Stalin becomes an autocrat after pretending to espouse equality and freedom. Orwell cements this idea in the book’s final scene, where he writes, “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” (139). The circularity of Orwell’s story prevents the reader from imagining a better future for Animal Farm. After all, even if another Rebellion were to take place, its leaders would eventually come to emulate Napoleon.

According to Baker, technology turned out to be the force freeing people from Orwell’s age of dictators. But “technology” can be just another banner under which to rally the people. While Orwell does portray technology as a source of progress in Animal Farm, he points out that it is useless unless it is in the people’s hands. Most notably, even when the windmill is finished it is used for milling corn instead of its original purpose of supplying the animals with electricity in their stalls.

From the very beginning of the novel, we become aware of education’s role in stratifying Animal Farm’s population. Following Major’s death, the pigs are the ones that take on the task of organizing and mobilizing the other animals because they are “generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals” (35). At first, the pigs are loyal to their fellow animals and to the revolutionary cause. They translate Major’s vision of the future faithfully into the Seven Commandments of Animalism. However, it is not long before the pigs’ intelligence and education turn from tools of enlightenment to implements of oppression. The moment the pigs are faced with something material that they want—the fresh milk—they abandon their morals and use their superior intellect and knowledge to deceive the other animals.

The pigs also limit the other animals’ opportunities to gain intelligence and education early on. They teach themselves to read and write from a children’s book but destroy it before the other animals can have the same chance. Indeed, most of the animals never learn more than a few letters of the alphabet. Once the pigs cement their status as the educated elite, they use their mental advantage to manipulate the other animals. For example, knowing that the other animals cannot read the Seven Commandments, they revise them whenever they like. The pigs also use their literacy to learn trades from manuals, giving them an opportunity for economic specialization and advancement. Content in the role of the intelligentsia, the pigs forgo manual labor in favor of bookkeeping and organizing. This shows that the pigs have not only the advantage of opportunity, but also the opportunity to reject whatever opportunities they like. The pigs’ intelligence and education allow them to bring the other animals into submission through the use of propaganda and revisionism. At the book’s end, we witness Napoleon’s preparations to educate a new generation of pigs and indoctrinate them into the code of oppression.

Working as a propagandist during World War II, Orwell experienced firsthand both the immense power and the dishonesty of propaganda. Many types of governments make use of propaganda, not only totalitarian ones. Consider, for instance, the arguments that led many United States citizens to go along with the idea of invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Propaganda serves the positive task of uniting the people, sometimes at the cost of misleading them. Orwell takes a firm stance on the harmfulness of propaganda in Animal Farm while acknowledging its value for rallying a mistreated and disillusioned populace.

In Chapter IX, Orwell demonstrates the positive value of propaganda. By this point, the animals are so downtrodden that they are desperate for something in which to believe. (Note the irony, though: it is Napoleon who has robbed them of their belief in the original version of Animalism.) The falsely optimistic statistics, the songs, and especially the Spontaneous Demonstrations give the animals something to live for. This chapter is an exception in terms of portraying propaganda in a positive light. For the majority of Animal Farm, Orwell skewers propaganda and exposes its nature as deception.

Squealer represents a totalitarian government’s propaganda machine. Eloquent to a fault, he can make the animals believe almost anything. This fact is especially clear in Squealer’s interactions with Clover and Muriel. Each time Clover suspects that the Seven Commandments have been changed, Squealer manages to convince her that she is wrong. After the executions, Napoleon abolishes the singing of “Beasts of England” in favor of a new anthem, the lyrics of which contain a promise never to harm Animal Farm. In this propagandist maneuver, Napoleon replaces the revolutionary spirit of “Beasts of England” with the exact opposite, a promise not to rebel. In addition to being a source of manipulation, propaganda is an agent of fear and terror. Orwell demonstrates this quite clearly with Napoleon’s vilification of Snowball and his assurances that Snowball could attack the animals at any minute. He uses similar fear tactics regarding Frederick and Pilkington. The most egregious example of propaganda in the novel is the maxim that replaces the Seven Commandments: “All animals are equal / But some animals are more equal than others.” The idea of “more equal” is mathematically improbable and a nonsensical manipulation of language, but by this time, the animals are too brainwashed to notice.

In Animal Farm, Orwell criticizes the ways that dictators use violence and terror to frighten their populaces into submission. Violence is one of the yokes from which the animals wish to free themselves when they prepare for the Rebellion. Not only does Jones overwork the animals and steal the products of their labor, but he can whip or slaughter them at his discretion. Once the pigs gain control of the animals, they, like Jones, discover how useful violence and terror can be. They use this knowledge to their full advantage. The foremost example of violence and terror in the novel is the pattern of public executions. The executions can be said to represent both the Red Terror and the Great Purge, but they stand more broadly for the abuse of power. For example, they are also similar to the Taliban’s public executions in Kabul’s soccer stadium in modern Afghanistan.

Capital punishment for criminals is a hotly debated issue. Killing suspected criminals, as Napoleon does, is quite another issue. The executions perhaps best symbolize the Moscow Trials, which were show trials that Stalin arranged to instill fear in the Soviet people. To witnesses at the time, the accused traitors’ confessions seemed to be given freely. In fact, they were coerced. Napoleon likely coerces confessions from many of the animals that he executes. Orwell’s use of the allegory genre serves him well in the execution scene. Execution with weapons is a violent and horrifying act, but many people have become desensitized to it. Orwell’s allegorical executioners, the dogs that kill cruelly, portray the bloody and inescapably animalistic side of execution.

Terror comes also in threats and propaganda. Each time the animals dare to question an aspect of Napoleon’s regime, Squealer threatens them with Jones’s return. This is doubly threatening to the animals because it would mean another battle that, if lost, would result in a return to their former lifestyle of submission. Jones’s return is such a serious threat that it quashes the animals’ curiosity without fail. The other major example of fear tactics in the novel is the threat of Snowball and his collaborators. Napoleon is able to vilify Snowball in the latter’s absence and to make the animals believe that his return, like Jones’s, is imminent. Snowball is a worse threat than Jones, because Jones is at least safely out of Animal Farm. Snowball is “proved” to be not only lurking along Animal Farm’s borders but infiltrating the farm. Napoleon’s public investigation of Snowball’s whereabouts cements the animals’ fear of Snowball’s influence. In modern language, Snowball is pegged as the terrorist responsible for the infringements on the rights and liberties instigated by the pigs.

Exploitation is the issue around which the animals unite. Initially, the animals do not realize Jones is exploiting them. For this reason, Old Major’s speech is a revelation of momentous proportions. Major explains to the animals that they are enslaved and exploited and that Man is to blame. He teaches them not only what exploitation means, but also the fact that it is not inevitable. Orwell suggests that exploitation is, in fact, bound to happen when one class of society has an advantage over another. The opposite of exploitation, according to Major, is the state of being “rich and free.” Major’s ideas about animal rights symbolize the importance—and scarcity—of human rights in an oppressive regime. Gaining freedom does not necessarily lead people also to become rich, but it is better to be poor and free than poor and exploited.

All the animals on Animal Farm are exploited under Napoleon’s control, save the pigs. Even the dogs, which work closely with the pigs, are exploited. The dogs face perhaps even a worse form of exploitation than the other animals, because they are made into agents of intimidation and death. Whereas Napoleon exploits the other animals’ physical strength and their ignorance, he exploits the dogs’ viciousness and turns them into villains against their parents’ wishes.

Boxer’s life is a particularly sad example of exploitation because he exploits himself, believing wholeheartedly in Napoleon’s goodness. In the end, Napoleon turns the tables and exploits Boxer, having him slaughtered for profit. By the end of the novel, we see clearly how the animals participate in their own exploitation. They are beginning to build a schoolhouse for the thirty-one young pigs Napoleon has fathered (perhaps an oblique reference to the “Thirty Tyrants” of ancient Greece). That schoolhouse will never benefit the animals that build it; rather, it will be used to educate the pigs and indoctrinate them into the cycle of exploiting others. Throughout the novel, Orwell shows us how the lack of human rights results in total helplessness. However, though it underscores the need for human rights, the novel does not suggest how to achieve them. After all, once the animals expel Jones and gain rights for themselves, the pigs take those rights away and the cycle of exploitation continues with new players.

In the beginning of Animal Farm, the idea of freedom rouses the animals as if from a long slumber. Immediately following Major’s death, the animals begin preparing themselves for the Rebellion; just the idea of revolution is enough to motivate them, since they do not expect it to happen in their lifetimes. By the book’s end, the animals have become as apathetic as Benjamin always was. Despite the many hardships and injustices they face, the animals’ pride as well as Napoleon’s propaganda keep them invested in the “greater good” and the illusion of freedom. If Benjamin is the harbinger of apathy, Boxer is its antithesis. Strong not only in body but also in spirit, Boxer will make any sacrifice for the benefit of Animal Farm. With Boxer’s eventual betrayal by the leaders he served so unconditionally, Orwell lays bare another type of apathy—theirs. Far from truly considering Boxer a loyal comrade, the pigs treat him as apathetically as they would a mere object. Symbolically, they even make a profit by having him turned into literal objects—glue and bone meal.

Boxer’s enthusiasm does not give him an advantage, but the other animals’ eventual apathy gives them a defense mechanism against the painful reality of their lives. It is no coincidence that Animal Farm’s most apathetic and cynical animal, Benjamin, is one of those that survives the longest. Benjamin’s emotional detachment from situations, whether they are good or bad, keeps him from being disappointed. In his apathy and cynicism, Benjamin represents the stereotypical “gloomy” Russian and also the perennially pessimistic Orwell himself.

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