Modeled on a relatively simple premise, the novel begins as the animals of Manor Farm unite against farmer Jones to overthrow his tyrannical rule. Understandably ecstatic over their sudden and rather unexpected good fortune, the animals create a new order for the future based on equality and equity. The paint is hardly dry on their barnyard manifesto, however, when the hated forces and attitudes that triggered their revolt begin to reemerge, eventually to destroy their dream of emancipation. Orwell undoubtedly passes judgement on the fate of revolution by comparing ideological promises with their practical application.
In essence, Orwell does not condemn revolution but agonizes over the betrayal of its ideals. Possessing superior knowledge, the pigs assume leadership of the farm, taking a first step to replace the tyranny of the past with a new and more terrifying threat for the future. The pigs learn to control the means of communication and literally create their own truth to dispense to the inhabitants of the farm; this is perhaps the most pessimistic aspect of the novel. In the end, pigs are indistinguishable from farmers and the ideals of the revolution seem distant in the face of terror, manipulation, and despair.
Appearing in a dream, the birth of revolution was the inspiration of old Major, a pig renowned for his wisdom and benevolence. But as the dream becomes reality, the responsibility of the revolution falls on the two most “preeminent” pigs, Snowball and Napoleon. Thinly disguised, these represent the principals behind the emergence of Soviet Russia-Major and Snowball are Lenin and Trotsky, and Napoleon is Stalin.
Although a clear distinction is made at the beginning of the novel between Jones, as the representative human, and the community of animals inhabiting the farm, the focus quickly shifts to the animals once Jones is overthrown and specifically to the rivalry that develops between Snowball and Napoleon.
The novel follows the ruthless Napoleon in his quest for individual power. Driving Snowball into exile, Napoleon imposes his oppressive authority on the animals through his manipulation of language, as demonstrated by Squealer, the voice of the revolution who is capable of turning “black into white,” and the menacing presence of a private army of fierce watchdogs capable of enforcing adherence to his regime.
The failure of the revolution is largely the result of self-defeatism, cynicism, and the inability of the animals either to recognize or resist the oppression imposed on them by Napoleon. Even the basic goodness of the animals, as characterized by the horse Boxer, the symbol of strength, self-sacrifice, and trust, cannot overcome the demise of idealism into blind allegiance and delusion