Napoleon is the power-hungry pig who takes control of the farm. Under his leadership, the principles of Animalism are ignored until, by the end, Napoleon is more human than pig and holds complete power over the other animals.
‘Napoleon… large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar’
• Orwell deliberately chose the name ‘Napoleon’ to give the reader a clue about the pig’s power-loving personality, using the name of the French emperor who overthrew the government in the name of the people but who ended up a military tyrant.
• The adjectives ‘large’ and ‘fierce-looking’ give Napoleon a sense of formidable strength.
Context: Napoleon is the allegorical figure for Joseph Stalin, the strong, brutal dictator of the Soviet Union.
‘Never mind the milk, comrades,’ cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets’
• Napoleon takes the first opportunity to personally profit from the revolution by taking control of the fresh milk which is later mixed into the pigs’ mash. Even with the revolution only hours old, Napoleon’s self-interest is evident. Orwell meant this incident to be a turning point in the story, showing through the novel’s structure how the revolution is doomed from the beginning because of the ruthlessness of characters such as Napoleon.
• There is irony in the way that Napoleon addresses the other animals with the title ‘comrades’ which implies solidarity even as he plans to betray them.
• We are given a sense of his physical presence by the way he puts his body ‘in front of the buckets’. There is a sense of physical threat in his action, foreshadowing how he will use violence and intimidation later on in the novel.
‘nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars… dashed straight for Snowball’
• Napoleon uses the dogs as a way controlling the animals. Here, he uses them to get rid of his rival, Snowball.
• The adjectives ‘enormous’ and ‘brass-studded’ in the description help create a sense of violent brutality while the verb ‘dashed’ shows their speed. Napoleon has the dogs well-trained in his service and uses them ruthlessly throughout the novel to control the animals through fear and intimidation.
Context: Snowball represents Trotsky, Stalin’s rival in the newly-formed Soviet Union. Napoleon’s vicious eviction of Snowball reflects the way he deals with rivals- with contempt and ruthlessness. Stalin used a brutal secret police to control the Soviet Union; the dogs represent this police squad, the NKVD.
‘Napoleon is always right’
• Boxer’s words capture how Napoleon is revered by the workers.
• They also reveal how Napoleon allows no room for dissent, the adverb ‘always’ reflecting how absolute Napoleon’s power is. Arguably, Boxer’s faith in his leader indicates how charismatic Napoleon is, inspiring great devotion. Certainly, this devotion keeps the animals passive.
‘Smiling beatifically, and wearing both his decorations, Napoleon reposed… with the money at his side’
• Napoleon triumphantly displays the money he has received in payment for the timber.
• This victory celebration which he takes part in shows not just his love of power, it also shows a cunning understanding of how power works. Napoleon is creating a cult of personality which means that he is constructing a public image of himself as omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful).
• Orwell uses satire in the image of Napoleon ‘smiling beatifically’; the adverb ‘beatifically’ means saint-like but Napoleon is behaving in the exact opposite way, signalling to us that Orwell is making Napoleon a figure of fun. This is reinforced later when we find out that the bank notes are fakes.
Context: Stalin created a cult of personality that helped him maintain power through creating an image of himself as god-like.
‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess’
• Napoleon uses Squealer with his skill at twisting the truth to help control the animals, and here Squealer alters the fifth commandment to reflect the pigs’ new habit of drinking alcohol.
• Napoleon and Squealer wield power through deceit and manipulation. Their literacy and the other animals’ lack of education means that it is easy for Napoleon to exploit his power.
• The commandments are changed throughout the story, reflecting how Napoleon consistently erodes the principles of Animalism.
Context: Stalin used written propaganda to control the population through the government-controlled newspaper Pravda.
‘it was impossible to say which was which’
• At the end of the novel, Napoleon is walking on two legs, sleeping in a bed and is, essentially, a human; so much so that the watching animals cannot tell Napoleon and Mr Pilkington apart.
• Napoleon’s transformation reflects the cyclical structure of the novel and shows us that the failure of the revolution was a foregone conclusion.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the character in a different way.
Is Napoleon entirely to blame for the failure of the animals’ revolution?
Yes: Napoleon clearly sees Old Major’s speech as a way for himself to gain control and power in the farm, not as an ideology to aspire to. He loses no time in beginning to undermine the principles of Animalism and systematically turns the farm into a place of misery and tyranny. We do wonder what would have happened if Snowball had managed to gain ultimate control over Napoleon, and whether the revolution would have had a different, happier ending.
No: Napoleon gains power which corrupts him yet Orwell is making the point that any leader is susceptible to corruption. Also, there are plenty of factors that lead to Napoleon being able to take and keep control, not least the apathy and intellectual weakness of the other animals which made it easy for Napoleon to wield power.
Context: Orwell intended his novel to show how revolutions were almost inevitably doomed to fail with one master being exchanged for another if the working classes did not challenge their leaders. Orwell had actively participated in the Spanish Civil War and in the process had become cynical of revolutions, especially as he also observed the events unfold in the Soviet Union. We are given the impression that Snowball or any of the pigs who might have taken power in Napoleon’s place would have ended up just as corrupt.