Study Guide

Animal Farm Religion

By George Orwell

Religion

Chapter 1

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.
Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o'erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone.
Rings shall vanish from our noses,
And the harness from our back,
Bit and spur shall rust forever,
Cruel whips no more shall crack.
Riches more than mind can picture,
Wheat and barley, oats and hay,
Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels
Shall be ours upon that day.
Bright will shine the fields of England,
Purer shall its waters be,
Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes
On the day that sets us free.
For that day we all must labour,
Though we die before it break;
Cows and horses, geese and turkeys,
All must toil for freedom's sake.
Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken well and spread my tidings
Of the golden future time. (1.19)

Hm. This sounds a lot like some version of paradise. It's no Sugarcandy Mountain, but it is a vision of peaceful harmony and leisure. Is Old Major's dream just another form of religion?

All the animals were now present except Moses, the tame raven, who slept on a perch behind the back door. When Major saw that they had all made themselves comfortable and were waiting attentively, he cleared his throat and began: (1.5)

Orwell starts us off with a bang: the raven is "tame" and absent when Old Major lays out his dream. Notice the emphasis on "tame"—as though religion is just a subset of the corrupt power structure that Mr. Jones heads.

Chapter 2
Mr. and Mrs. Jones (humans)

Mrs. Jones looked out of the bedroom window, saw what was happening, hurriedly flung a few possessions into a carpet bag, and slipped out of the farm by another way. Moses sprang off his perch and flapped after her, croaking loudly. (2.12)

Without the Joneses around to feed him bread and beer, Moses has no reason to stay on the farm. It's not like the pigs are going to let him get away with lying to the animals and getting fed for doing nothing. Right? Well. Not at first.

Moses (a raven)

The pigs had an even harder struggle to counteract the lies put about by Moses, the tame raven. Moses, who was Mr. Jones's especial pet, was a spy and a tale-bearer, but he was also a clever talker. He claimed to know of the existence of a mysterious country called Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died. It was situated somewhere up in the sky, a little distance beyond the clouds, Moses said. In Sugarcandy Mountain it was Sunday seven days a week, clover was in season all the year round, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges. The animals hated Moses because he told tales and did no work, but some of them believed in Sugarcandy Mountain, and the pigs had to argue very hard to persuade them that there was no such place. (2.8)

Lump sugar and linseed cake? We want to go to there! But seriously: why are the pigs trying to convince the animals otherwise? Even if it's not true, there's no harm in believing it—right? Or is there?

After this they went back to the farm buildings, where Snowball and Napoleon sent for a ladder which they caused to be set against the end wall of the big barn. They explained that by their studies of the past three months the pigs had succeeded in reducing the principles of Animalism to Seven Commandments. These Seven Commandments would now be inscribed on the wall; they would form an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after. (2.21)

Just add another three commandments, and you'll get all the way up to ten. Ten Commandments, and one Rule: animalism is looking more and more like a religion every day.

These three had elaborated Old Major's teachings into a complete system of thought, to which they gave the name of Animalism. Several nights a week, after Mr. Jones was asleep, they held secret meetings in the barn and expounded the principles of Animalism to the others. (2.3)

Secret meetings, an "ism" name—yep. Sounds a lot like a religion to us. All it needs is a charismatic leader, and… oh. It has that, too.

Now, as it turned out, the Rebellion was achieved much earlier and more easily than anyone had expected. In past years Mr. Jones, although a hard master, had been a capable farmer, but of late he had fallen on evil days. He had become much disheartened after losing money in a lawsuit, and had taken to drinking more than was good for him. For whole days at a time he would lounge in his Windsor chair in the kitchen, reading the newspapers, drinking, and occasionally feeding Moses on crusts of bread soaked in beer. (2.10)

LOL, Orwell. We're pretty sure—like 99% sure—that the "crusts of bread" and "beer" are a little dig at the Christian rite of communion, when (according to Orthodox tradition) bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. From this perspective, the sacred meal is just a crust of bread soaked in beer. Nice.

Chapter 3
Snowball (a pig)

After much thought Snowball declared that the Seven Commandments could in effect be reduced to a single maxim, namely: "Four legs good, two legs bad." This, he said, contained the essential principle of Animalism. (3.9)

Like with political philosophies, we're pretty sure that reduction of a religion into six words is—well, not wrong, but probably not really getting at the subtleties of theological thought. (Although, to be fair, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" seems to work pretty well for a lot of religions. Too bad it's eleven words.)

Chapter 8

Friend of fatherless!
Fountain of happiness!
Lord of the swill-bucket! Oh, how my soul is on
Fire when I gaze at thy
Calm and commanding eye,
Like the sun in the sky,
Comrade Napoleon!
Thou are the giver of
All that thy creatures love,
Full belly twice a day, clean straw to roll upon;
Every beast great or small
Sleeps at peace in his stall,
Thou watchest over all,
Comrade Napoleon!
Had I a sucking-pig,
Ere he had grown as big
Even as a pint bottle or as a rolling-pin,
He should have learned to be
Faithful and true to thee,
Yes, his first squeak should be
"Comrade Napoleon!" (8.5)

Every religious leader needs a song, right? Quick Brain Snack: Stalin's department of propaganda commissioned a lot of paintings of Stalin that drew on the conventions of Russian Christian iconography—paintings that glorified a saint. In other words, they made Stalin out to be a religious figure. Looks to us like the same thing is happening here.

Chapter 9
Moses (a raven)

In the middle of the summer Moses the raven suddenly reappeared on the farm, after an absence of several years. He was quite unchanged, still did no work, and talked in the same strain as ever about Sugarcandy Mountain. He would perch on a stump, flap his black wings, and talk by the hour to anyone who would listen. "Up there, comrades," he would say solemnly, pointing to the sky with his large beak– "up there, just on the other side of that dark cloud that you can see– there it lies, Sugarcandy Mountain, that happy country where we poor animals shall rest for ever from our labours!" He even claimed to have been there on one of his higher flights, and to have seen the everlasting fields of clover and the linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges. Many of the animals believed him. Their lives now, they reasoned, were hungry and laborious; was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else? A thing that was difficult to determine was the attitude of the pigs towards Moses. They all declared contemptuously that his stories about Sugarcandy Mountain were lies, and yet they allowed him to remain on the farm, not working, with an allowance of a gill of beer a day. (9.8)

Weird. The pigs are still convinced that Moses is lying—but they also get why Jones kept him around. Turns out, it's fairly useful to have a talking raven convincing all your oppressed laborers that paradise is waiting for them on the other side if they just keep working hard enough. (You know, kind of like college is waiting for you after high school.)