In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the farm animals liberate themselves from the oppressive rule of their human master. The animals start a new system based on equality. However, the sly pig Napoleon slowly amasses power behind the scenes until he becomes a ruthless dictator over all the other animals, putting the other animals back in the same situation they were in before, if not a worse one. This essay will explore the question of what Napoleon the pig represents and symbolizes within the narrative and how he amasses and keeps his power.
Napoleon is described in the book as a “large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way”. Napoleon’s plan to get power works specifically because he schemes behind the scenes and keeps out of the way initially rather than stand in the spotlight and put it all out in the open like his rival Snowball does. Snowball constantly being in the thick of things and being public with all his plans makes him vulnerable. The answer to why Napoleon is able to amass and keep his power while Snowball is run out is simple: Napoleon is cunning enough not to put himself at risk, instead keeping himself safe and secure. He amasses power secretly with use of deception and subterfuge.
An example of Napoleon’s policy of keeping himself safe is how Napoleon is largely not involved in the initial rebellion, keeping out of the way, while Snowball is involved. Napoleon has a policy of only acting when he can be assured victory and security, while Snowball puts himself at risk. Napoleon is an opportunist and a schemer- he knows how to claim the fruits of another’s victory rather than risking defeat. It’s this caution that lets him keep his power.
Napoleon also knows how the secretly amass this power without others noticing as well. He takes some puppies on the pretext of caring about their education, but instead raises them to fight for him and guard them. He then uses the dogs to overthrow Snowball and deter any other animals from attacking him. Similarly, he uses propaganda to manipulate others into believing Snowball was bad. He uses others, like the pig Squealer, to communicate his laws and propaganda and rarely appears in public himself.
He maintains a façade of having the populace’s best interest at heart. He slowly changes the commandments of the farm to be more detrimental to the other animals over time, so that it’s too late when the animals finally notice. The fact Napoleon uses secrets propaganda to manipulate to populace, was able to secretly raise other people to do his dirty work for him while staying secure and out of danger, maintains a compassionate public persona and changes his policies so slowly the animals don’t notice are all the secrets to how he gains and keeps his power.
It is fairly obvious that Napoleon is a dictator and the dictatorship he established in Animal Farm represents real life dictatorships. In fact, George Orwell has stated that Animal Farm is meant to represent Josef Stalin’s Communist dictatorship. Orwell has described the book as “contre Stalin” (Wilks). This makes Napoleon a clear analog for Josef Stalin and his supremacy over the farm analogous to the Soviet Union Stalin headed.
The first obvious similarity between Napoleon and Stalin is that both of them disposed of their rivals. Stalin’s rival was Leon Trotsky. Stalin threw Trotsky out of the Communist party and exiled him from Russia (Schmoop Editorial Team). This is similar to how Snowball was exiled from the farm by Napoleon’s dogs. But ultimately, even exile wasn’t enough for Stalin, and he had Trotsky assassinated. The reader can infer that Snowball probably met the same fate at the hands of Napoleon, since we never see him again.
Both Stalin and Napoleon also amassed their power by working behind the scenes as well. Stalin had a “secret police” that he trained to take care of any dissenters to his regime. This could be compared to the attack dogs that Napoleon has protect him and kill any dissenters. He put them into action behind the scenes, just like Stalin did.
Napoleon’s reliance on propaganda is also very similar to how Stalin operated. Napoleon brainwashes the other animals with revisionist history several times throughout Animal Farm. He changes the Animal Farm’s commandments overnight when nobody is looking, pretends that the windmill Snowball came up with was his idea, and rewrites history so he was the hero of the revolution and Snowball was the villain. Josef Stalin rewrote Russian history in a similar way. He “fixed” history so he was a hero in the Russian Revolution and even claimed to have won World War II.
Napoleon forces many animals he considers rivals to falsely confess they were in league with former tyrant farmer that the animals rebelled against before executing them. This results in a pile of corpses. This is clearly is a references to Stalin’s “Great Purge”, where Stalin would force people who disagreed with his regime to confess to crimes they didn’t commit before executing them, send them to prison camps or kill them under the pretense they were “counter-revolutionaries”.
The final similarity between Stalin and Napoleon is that both dictators caused the populace to starve and ruined the economy while living a luxurious lifestyle. Napoleon drinks to his heart’s content and fills granaries with sand to hide how horribly low the food supply is. Similarly, there was great famine in Russia under Stalin’s rule while he was well-fed.
In conclusion, the question of how Napoleon was able to amass power and what the character represents has a clear answer. Napoleon amassed his power through fascist tactics of propaganda, secrecy and lies. Napoleon is obviously meant to represent real life fascist dictators, specifically Josef Stalin. Animal Farm is a potent allegory for Stalin’s Soviet Union.