Totalitarianism and Old Major

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L I T CHA R T S

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Animal Farm
Climax: The pigs appear standing upright and the sheep bleat “Four legs good, two legs better!” Antagonist: Napoleon Point of View: Third person omniscient

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Background Info
Author Bio
Full Name: Eric Arthur Blair Pen Name: George Orwell Date of Birth: 1903 Place of Birth: Motihari, India Date of Death: 1950 Brief Life Story: Eric Blair was born and spent his youth in India. He was educated at Eton in England. From 1922-27 he served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. Through his autobiographical work about poverty in London (Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933), his experiences in colonial Burma (Burmese Days, 1934) and in the Spanish Civil War (Homage to Catalonia, 1938), and the plight of unemployed coal miners in England (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937), Blair (who wrote under the name George Orwell) exposed and critiqued the human tendency to oppress others politically, economically, and physically. Orwell particularly hated totalitarianism, and his most famous novels, Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), are profound condemnations of totalitarian regimes. Orwell died at the age of 47 after failing to treat a lung ailment. Related Historical Events: In 1917, two successive revolutions rocked Russia and the world. The first revolution overthrew the Russian Monarchy (the Tsar) and the second established the USSR, the world’s first Communist state. Over the next thirty years the Soviet government descended into a totalitarian regime that used and manipulated socialist ideas of equality among the working class to oppress its people and maintain power. Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the Communist Soviet Union. Many of the animal characters in Animal Farm have direct correlations to figures or institutions in the Soviet Union.

Historical and Literary Context
When Written: 1944-45 Where Written: England When Published: 1945 Literary Period: Modernism Related Literary Works: Orwell subtitled Animal Farm “A Fairy Story.” Characters in fairy tales tend to be two-dimensional stereotypes used to reveal some broad observation about life. As the critic C.M. Wodehouse wrote in a piece on Animal Farm in 1954, a fairy tale has no moral. It simply says, “Life is like that—take it or leave it.” Animal Farm uses the format of a fairy tale to expose the evils of totalitarian exploitation. Rather than attack totalitarianism directly, the book shows its offenses plainly and clearly and lets the reader deduce the dangers posed by totalitarian governments. The literary work most often mentioned alongside Animal Farm is 1984, another Orwell novel. 1984, published in 1949, envisions a future in which a dictatorship monitors and controls the actions of all of its citizens. Like Animal Farm, 1984 depicted the horrific constraints that totalitarian governments could impose on human freedom.

Extra Credit
Rejection. Though Animal Farm eventually made Orwell famous, three publishers in England rejected the novel at first. One of those who rejected it was T.S. Eliot, the famous poet and an editor at the Faber & Faber publishing house. Several American publishing houses rejected the novel as well. One editor told Orwell it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” Outspoken Anti-Communist. Orwell didn’t just write literature that condemned the Communist state of the USSR. He did everything he could, from writing editorials to compiling lists of men he knew were Soviet spies, to combat the willful blindness of many intellectuals in the West to USSR atrocities.

Key Facts
Full Title: Animal Farm - A Fairy Story Genre: Novel / Fairy Tale / Allegory Setting: A farm somewhere in England in the first half of the 20 th century

Plot Summary
Manor Farm is a small farm in England run by the harsh and often drunk Mr. Jones. One night, a boar named Old Major gathers all the animals of Manor Farm together. Knowing...
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