Animal Farm

1. Plot: A series of specific conflicts and resolutions…for instance, one early conflict in the fairy
tale is lack of food. This conflict is resolved (briefly) by running Mr. Jones from the farm.
2. Symbol: A noun (in other words: a person, place, or thing) that represents an important idea.
For instance, major characters in the fairy tale symbolize actual historical figures.
3. Setting: Pretty much what it says…setting is simply the physical time and place in which a
story unfolds. The key in our case is: Why would Orwell choose a farm with walking, talking
animals as the setting for a critique of the Soviet Union?
4. Contrast: The difference between two things. The “things” could be characters, symbols, even
expectations and reality. Think, for instance, of the sharp contrast between what the animals
hope for and what they get!
5. Irony: A violation of our normal expectations that somehow makes sense. For instance: we
obviously don’t normally expect pigs to begin walking on their hind legs and talking…nor,
perhaps, do we initially expect the seven commandments to be boiled down to the idiotic “Four
Legs Good, Two Legs Bad.” However, such developments make sense in the long run because—
ironically!—the pigs turn out as bad, if not worse, than the humans.
6. Protagonist/Antagonist: The protagonist is the major character striving to achieve something
(and this “something” will change from narrative to narrative, of course). The antagonist(s) are
those characters who stand in the way somehow of the protagonist’s striving.
7. Satire: this is the use of ridicule (sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh) to make an ethical point.
For example, there are various humorous (though often sad) situations in the fairy tale, as when a
pig falls from a ladder while revising the seven commandments. In addition to simply ridiculing
the pig, of course, Orwell is making an important point: that self-serving leaders are interested in
high-minded “principles” only if the principles are convenient. Of course, if a principle is only
convenient, it’s no principle at all.

Terms 1 through 7 add up to something bigger: theme. A theme is an argument presented by a
text. For instance: one argument in Animal Farm is that leaders are often hypocrites. We can’t
help but see the truth of that when we read the fairy tale. Furthermore, this theme is true of “real
life,” too.
What all this leads to is our second essay. In essay number two, you’ll explain how three (your
choice) of the literary terms above help Orwell produce a theme. I recommend that the first step
you take is to select a theme from Animal Farm. The theme must be true of both the fairy tale
and real life. I must stress this point again: make sure your theme is true not only of the book but
true beyond the book’s covers.
Here’s a good statement of theme:
“One theme of Animal Farm is that leaders often abuse their followers.”
Here’s a not-so-good statement: “Animal Farm is about power.”
The second example is half-baked. To be complete, the statement would state what point Orwell
is making about power. Follow me? Now, take another look at the first example: you’ll see it’s
making an actual point, or argument, about leaders.
After you’ve got a theme you’re happy with, figure out which three literary terms (again, your
choice) are best for your approach. For instance, consider this: “One of Animal Farm’s themes is
that leaders often violate their own principles for personal gain.” How might Orwell’s use plot,
symbol, and setting help him make that argument?
Make sure to read and re-read the sample essay, which you’ll find in a PDF just down this page.
Note how the author illustrates, with clear examples, Orwell’s use of the selected literary terms.
Also, note how the student ends with a real life example of behavior we can easily associate
with Animal Farm. With just a bit of research, the student tracked down the story of Valentine
Strasser–an unfamiliar name to us, in all likelihood–and demonstrated how Strasser fits the
mold of Napoleon and Stalin. By ending your essay with a “real life” example, you demonstrate
that your theme is important–that it goes beyond the covers of a book.

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