Book Review — Animal Farm by George Orwell

'Tosin Adeoti
4 min readApr 22, 2023

Yesterday afternoon, I finished reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. George Orwell was the pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. The book was first published in England on August 17, 1945.

Animal Farm is a dystopian satire that depicts the negative features of a society, as opposed to a utopian satire that talks up an ideal or perfect society. It is a work of fiction that serves as a warning or cautionary tale about the dangers of certain political, social, or technological trends. More accurately, Animal Farm is a political allegory inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which took place from 1917 to 1923.

The plot revolves around a group of farm animals who overthrow their oppressive human masters (Mr. Jones’ household) and establish an egalitarian society. “All animals are equal”. However, the intelligent and power-hungry pigs who lead the animals eventually undermine the revolution. Led by Napoleon, who chased out the well-intentioned fellow pig, Snowball, with his personally groomed dogs, the pigs slowly but surely gave themselves the best of the produce of the farm and the properties of the humans left behind; properties they had hitherto decreed would be left untouched. They were helped by their smooth-talking, sly propaganda chief, Squealer the Pig, who made sure any objection is confidently and manipulatively explained away. This he did until all the rules were written to favor the pigs. The famous quote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” encapsulates the pigs’ twisted ideology.

In the end, they formed a dictatorship that was more cruel and oppressive than that of their former human masters. The novel ends with Napoleon establishing trade relations with humans and a couple of humans seen enjoying drinks with the pigs inside Mr. Jones’ house. Napoleon reverts the farm’s name to Manor Farm and has a dispute with one of the humans while playing cards, both attempting to play the ace of spades. The rest of the animals, watching from outside the window, are unable to distinguish between the pigs and the humans, highlighting the pigs’ transformation into human-like figures — the previously oppressed indistinguishable from the oppressor.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Orwell believed that Animal Farm was a reflection of the events that led up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Old Major is an allegorical combination of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Napoleon, the leader of Animal Farm, is an allegory of Joseph Stalin. Snowball’s life parallels that of Leon Trotsky. Squealer, Napoleon’s second-in-command and minister of propaganda, is a collective portrait of the Soviet nomenklatura and journalists, such as those of the national daily Pravda (The Truth), able to justify every twist and turn in Stalin’s policy. Squealer has also been linked to one of Stalin’s staunchest allies, Vyacheslav Molotov, who ranked second in the Soviet leadership after Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.

Among the characters in Animal Farm, my favorite is Benjamin the donkey. This wise and elderly animal possesses the ability to read, which is a rarity among the other animals. Benjamin is known for his skepticism, moody temperament, and cynicism. His famous quote, “Life will go on as it has always gone on — that is, badly,” is a testament to his negative outlook on life. Some have even speculated that Benjamin is a representation of Orwell himself. Despite his age, knowledge, and apolitical stance, Benjamin manages to survive the purges and avoid persecution, which is noteworthy given the potential threat he poses to the ruling pigs.

Initially, Orwell faced challenges in getting Animal Farm published due to concerns that the book might strain the alliance between Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Despite one publisher initially accepting the manuscript, four others rejected it. The one publisher that initially agreed to publish the book later backed out after consulting with the Ministry of Information. Even today, it continues to face sanctions. There are reports that it is banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates for references to practices or actions that defy Arab or Islamic beliefs, such as pigs or alcohol. And while Animal Farm continues to be sold in stores in China, the government has censored all online posts related to or mentioning the book.

But censorship in some jurisdictions has not stopped the novel from being loved in other places. Time magazine chose Animal Farm as one of the 100 best English-language novels. Animal Farm was ranked the UK’s favourite book from school in a 2016 poll. It’s been adapted into many plays and films, including the 1999 “Animal Farm” adaptation in a live-action TV version reflecting the collapse of Soviet communism.

Animal Farm is a remarkable piece of literature from an educational perspective. In a concise fable about rebellious farm animals, it effectively conveys the dangers of dictatorships and the ease with which good intentions can be manipulated. It is a brilliant yet harrowing read as it reminds us of what has been happening in Nigeria since 2015 (the year of Change), especially on the propaganda front. I recommend its reading, it’s only 120 pages.