Animal Farm Historical Context

George Orwell’s 1945 novel ‘Animal Farm,’ is a political fable that satire’s on communism that turned out to be a dictatorship. The novel is based on the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The major cause for the revolution lies in Czar Nicholas II’s failure to solve his country’s economic suffering caused by his mismanagement and decision to go to war with Japan and communism’s promise to do justice.

Orwell, being a socialist himself, believed that for the well-being of the people the government should be on top of everything and ensure that everyone is provided equally. Having spent much of his time with the working-class people of England, along with his experience of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell believed that socialism is the key to fight against capitalism. Thus, he writes “Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism” in his essay “Why I Write.”

Animal Farm Historical Context

History behind Animal Farm

Orwell conceived the idea of ‘Animal Farm’ when he was thinking of a way to best communicate his opinions on socialism and Stalin. The concept of Socialism is examined in many nonfiction works of George Orwell. On contrary, in this allegorical novel, he satires the false notion or belief the Russian Revolution of 1917 created among the people.  They believed that Russia was stepping towards socialism for millions of poor and oppressed Russians, but he felt that the U.S.S.R. was progressing towards the opposite: the totalitarianism. 

The novel presents subtly, how a group of Animals (citizens) of a farm (nation), eventually led into a terrible life ruled by a totalitarian regime, when they had the promise for freedom and equality. He has given a model for a “socialism gone wrong” for the animals in the novel reflect different kinds of humans and their struggles for freedom and power.

Initially, in 1917, it looked as if Karl Marx’s dreams have become a reality. For, after a politically complicated civil war, Tsar Nicholas II, the monarch of Russia, was forced to give up his throne and Vladimir Lenin, a Russian intellectual revolutionary, seized power in the name of the Communist Party (Snowball being on top after Mr Jones was overthrown). The new regime brought the land and industry controlled by the private under government supervision.

As a first step in restoring Russia to prosperity and to modernize the nation’s primitive infrastructure, electricity was brought to the countryside (Snowball’s idea of building the windmill). After Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin, gained power and banished Trotsky. He accumulated power by exercising brutality on his perceived political enemies and overseeing the purge of approximately twenty million Soviet citizens. Gradually, his desire for power turned him into a dictator than a communist leader, as depicted through the character Napoleon in the novel.

Publication – Earlier Rejection

In the beginning, Orwell faced a lot of issues getting the manuscript published. Mainly, it was because of the fear that the book might upset the alliance between Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Since the book was written towards the end of the Second World War, it became clear to Orwell that anti-Soviet literature was not something which most major publishing houses would touch that includes his regular publisher Gollancz.

Four publishers refused to publish ‘Animal Farm‘ before it was published by Secker and Warburg in 1945. Finally, on August 17, 1945, ‘Animal Farm‘ was published in England, followed by a year later in the United States by the Harcourt Brace & Company.

Frederic Warburg also faced pressures against publication, even from people in his own office and from his wife Pamela, who felt that it was not the moment for ingratitude towards Stalin and the heroic Red Army, which had played a major part in defeating Adolf Hitler. When Orwell submitted the manuscript to Faber and Faber, where T. S. Eliot was the director, he rejected stating that they would only accept it for publication if they had some sympathy for the viewpoint “which I take to be generally Trotskyite”. Though Eliot praised the book to be of “good writing” he declared that he found the view “not convincing.”

Preface to Animal Farm

In his “The Freedom of the Press,” proposed preface to ‘Animal Farm,’ Orwell indicates that despite the number of published books in the U.K. was quite low due to the war, and people were yearning for more books, his book was still rejected by publishers. He describes how the British press was controlled by wealthy men and the government. “I can see now ….Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable.” By expressing his concerns, he asserts that writers and novelists have the right to defend themselves and their Ideals, just as Russia has the right to defend its own belief in communism.

Illustrated Editions of Animal Farm

Following the first edition, in 1945, Orwell wrote to Frederic Warburg expressing his interest in pursuing the possibility of the political cartoonist David Low illustrating ‘Animal Farm.’ In spite of David Low declaring the book to be “an excellent bit of satire … it would illustrate perfectly,” nothing came out of this. Also, a trial issue produced by Secker & Warburg in 1956 illustrated by John Driver was abandoned. In 1984, the Folio Society published an edition illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Following this, in 1995, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first edition of ‘Animal Farm’, an edition illustrated by the cartoonist Ralph Steadman was published by Secker & Warburg.

Lasting Legacy

George Orwell is often recognized as a leading exponent of twentieth-century English prose and one of the most influential satiric writers. Even after decades, wide ranges of his works are within the reach of the general reader, and they are read and analyzed by scholars and critics from different approaches.  One of the reasons for the lasting appeal of his work lies in the qualities of its prose. Though he is recognized more as a political writer, his mastery of style cannot be denied, for they testify for his excellent quality.

Despite all the odds, George Orwell faced before publishing ‘Animal Farm,’ it still remains one of the best political tales of all time. Since its publication in 1945, the novel retains its freshness in the realm of time which can be read generation after generation. In 2005, Time magazine chose it as one of the 100 best English-language novels. Also, the book ranks at 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th Century Novels.

Miz Alb
About Miz Alb
Miz Alb is a passionate reader of literature. She loves to look deep through the nuances of a literary work. She has secured her post-graduation in English Literature. With her learning as a background, she is analyzing the literary works down the ages.

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