Boxer is the strongest and probably the most admired animal on the farm. He is first introduced as “an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high, and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together [...] he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work” (1.3). As the story moves on, we’ll quickly see that Boxer is a hard worker, but that “his steadiness of character,” which all too often means unquestioning loyalty, will get him into trouble.
In his initial speech, Old Major warns Boxer, “the very day that those great muscles of yours lose their power, Jones will send you to the knacker, who will cut your throat and boil you down for the fox-hounds” (1.10). Boxer appreciates Old Major’s words, but once Jones is forced off the farm, he imagines that the threat is gone. His mind is not subtle enough to see that the pigs, the supposed descendants of Old Major, are actually beginning to resemble Jones more and more.
After the rebellion, Boxer amazes everyone with his work ethic; he makes his personal motto, “I will work harder” (3.3). In the Battle of the Cowshed, he fights bravely. The narrator tells us, “the most terrifying spectacle of all was Boxer, rearing up on his hind legs and striking out with his great iron-shod hoofs like a stallion” (4.8). Though he is normally a gentle giant, one begins to sense how powerful Boxer can be when his fury is unleashed. It’s likely that the battle could not have been won without him.
As things begin to become strange on the farm, Boxer experiences a vague sense of worry. Yet he’s not intelligent enough to understand exactly what is going on, and in place of thinking for himself, he resolves to remain stubbornly loyal to the cause of Animal Farm. After Snowball is sent into exile, Boxer tries to think things over for himself. Yet all he can conclude is “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right,” and he takes up a new personal motto: “Napoleon is always right” (5.22). The horse is well intentioned, but he is far too eager to have someone else tell him what to think. With the cunning pigs running the show, there’s little doubt that they're going to take advantage of Boxer.
As time goes on, the other animals continue to look up to Boxer. They are much more inspired by his work ethic than by Squealer’s clever speeches, and because Boxer remains loyal to the pigs, everyone else follows suit. When Napoleon begins executing other animals, Boxer can only say, “I would not have believed that such things could happen on our farm. It must be due to some fault in ourselves. The solution, as I see it, is to work harder” (7.28). One realizes that the reason Boxer adopts personal mottos is because he needs simple slogans to live by. When things become too complex, all he can do is fall back on them.
After the windmill is destroyed in the Battle of the Windmill, Boxer makes it his one remaining goal to have a new windmill under way before he retires. Yet in the process, he over-strains himself and it is then that Old Major’s prophecy comes back to haunt him. The pigs have come to replace Mr. Jones, and their solution for a tired old horse is the same. Yet the pigs need to at least appear to be faithful to the animals, and so they lie and say that Boxer is being taken to the hospital. By the time Benjamin and Clover cry to Boxer that the van belongs to a horse slaughterer, it is too late. The narrator tells us:
The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer’s hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! His strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away. (9.23)
As an allegorical figure, Boxer is meant to stand for the Russian proletariat, the powerful but often simple-minded working class. Though the pigs that are objects of Orwell's harshest satire, at times you can't help but wonder just how much Orwell holds the proletariat responsible for what happened in Russia. It was, after all, their strength that allowed the Russian Revolution to take place in 1917. Through characters like Boxer and Clover, it becomes clear that the narrator has little respect for the average working man’s intelligence and regards him as a pawn of the Soviet regime. After all, as admirable and good-spirited a character as Boxer is, without his stupidity and strength, the pigs could never have come to power.Boxer (a horse) Timeline