Even before its publication in 1945, George Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’ was met with controversy. In this lesson, we’ll discuss why there was hesitation to publish the book and why the book has been banned.

A Quick Plot Summary

Animal Farm by George Orwell explores the theme of absolute power and how too much power leads to corruption.

Orwell tells the story of Mr. Jones and his neglected farm. An old pig named Old Major gathers the animals together and decides to overthrow Mr. Jones. His plan is for everyone to then be equal. Unfortunately, Old Major dies and chaos begins.

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The pigs do rise to leadership, but two main pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, argue about which one of them should be the leader. Napoleon has his dogs drive Snowball off the farm and then blames Snowball for everything that goes wrong on the farm.

The pigs then become even more powerful, and they move into the farmhouse, wear human clothes, and begin to walk on two feet. As the farm falls apart and the animals are treated even more cruelly, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish the pigs from the humans.

An Allegory

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegory, which is a story in which characters and situations represent other characters and situations in real life. Orwell’s story of the fall of Mr. Jones’ farm represents the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the early stages of the Soviet Union. Most people believe that Mr. Jones represents Old Russia, Old Major is Vladmir Lenin, Snowball is Leon Trotsky, and Napoleon represents Stalin.

Just as in the novel, Russia in 1917 was falling apart. The people were poor, hungry, and angry. Lenin, inspired by Karl Marx, took control in 1917. Like Old Major, he believed that everyone should be equal. He encouraged people to rise up against their rulers and take control.

Trotsky, like Snowball, believed in Lenin, but wanted to have a more solid plan for trying to take over the rulers. Stalin eventually exiled Trotsky, just as Napoleon does to Snowball. Like Napoleon, Stalin wanted power. He used his secret police, just like Naploeon’s dogs, to kill or exile anyone in his way. And, just like Napoleon, Stalin eventually became one of the world’s most feared leaders.

Before Publication

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm during World War II. Initially, British publishers worried that publishing the book during the war would offend the Soviet Union, who were allies with them. However, even after the war, publishers worried that the book would create too much controversy.

There were also rumors that the publishers did not want to expose Stalin. There was even one publisher who agreed to publish the book, but changed his mind after the Ministry of Information encouraged him not to.

As more publishers rejected the novel for political reasons, George Orwell wrote a response to them stating: ‘Any serious criticism of the Soviet regime, any disclosure of the facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable’. Orwell argued that while he was allowed to criticize his own government, for some reason no one would let him do the same to the Soviet government.

The book was eventually published in 1945, but not without controversy. After Orwell refused to change the pig characters to something less offensive, he wrote the preface to his novel A Freedom of the Press, in which he criticizes those who rejected the book, claiming that they tried to censor his opinion.

The Banned Book

Unlike other books which may be banned for several reasons, there’s really only one main reason that Animal Farm has ever been banned: the critique of Communism. Communism is a an ideological view, often in the form of a political party, that holds that all property should be publicly owned and each person paid according to his/her needs.

Not shockingly, the book was immediately banned in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China, which are all communist countries that didn’t want their government to be criticized. While the book was not banned in the United States, there was some reaction to it. Most critics were able to quickly identify the allegory, and the novel has been used in the classroom as a cautionary tale of too much power.

The only example of the book being banned not for reasons not related to Communism happened in 2002, when the United Arab Emirates placed the book on their banned list because it contains imagery that are against Islamic values.

Lesson Summary

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is an allegory, or a story that represents something in real life. This novel represents the rise of Communism in the Soviet Union. Published in 1945, Orwell’s novel tells the story of animals that rebel against their neglectful farmer. When their first leader dies, the pigs are divided by two leaders, Napoleon and Snowball. After Napoleon drives Snowball off the farm, he gains too much power and eventually becomes more evil than the humans they drove away. The novel represents the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the characters represent their leaders. The story warns against the corruption of power.

Initially, George Orwell had a difficult time even publishing the novel. Many British publishers worried that the novel spoke out against their allies in World War II. Once Orwell did get the book published, he included his own preface called The Freedom of the Press that told his story of censorship. After its publication, the novel was immediately banned by the Soviet Union and continues to be banned in Cuba and China. The novel was also banned by the United Arab Emirates in 2002 because of imagery they felt was against Islamic values.