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Compare and contrast the characters of Napoleon and Snowball in the

novel ‘Animal Farm’


Calum Isaacs

Napoleon and Snowball begin the novella in the same boat - they are both leading pigs.
Despite the revolution being based on the premise of equality and democracy, the pigs
quickly seize control due to their superior intelligence, devising the inviolable
commandments and giving orders. The milk produced starts to disappear and deceitfully
none of the pigs explain that it was they who were having what was meant to be equally
shared. When they are found out, they are united: “all the pigs were in full agreement”. The
close proximity of “all” and “full” emphasise this unity. Added onto to this sentence is that
“even Snowball and Napoleon” agreed. This addition is purposely made to show how both
of these characters are united in a corrupt act and so neither are free from sin or judgement
from the reader. Then the following sentence stating that “Squealer was sent” furthers this
point as the passive structure of the sentence means that no direct sender is identified and
so the reader can infer it was another collective decision, quite an automatic one at that. It’s
already quite worrying how all the pigs, including Snowball, are willing to use Squealer -
who represents Soviet manipulative propaganda - to calm the more stupid other animals.
This may be a message from Orwell that a leaderless society always tends toward class
stratification. He paints the few moments after the revolution hyperbolically positively so as
to show the unsustainability of that utopia. He could be trying to convey that when there is
a hierarchy of intelligence in a group, it is natural for that hierarchy to become more
entrenched in other ways and furthermore that that empowered intelligentsia tends
towards corruption - a common belief in political philosophy. Another clearer message is
that Trotsky, represented by Snowball, was not perfect. Even before Stalin’s (represented by
Napoleon) rise to power, the Soviet Union was being ruled quite despotically with
propaganda being pedalled and the grain of peasants being requisitioned - this is why
Orwell adds the story of the stolen milk.

However, as the novella goes on, there is certainly divergence between the two characters.
This is shown by the structure of the plot. The revolution opens the way to a new farm
based on the idealistic seven commandments and the general satisfaction of the animals.
Once Napoleon savagely expels Snowball, Squealer begins to one-by-one change the
commandments (instructed by Napoleon), in turn changing the core basis of the farm
dynamic from being based on equality and never resorting to the treacherous ways of the
humans to subservience to the pigs who act more and more like the previous tyrannical
human Mr Jones. The downward trend of this circular plot begins straight after Snowball is
exiled, with the sentence soon following: “Nowadays they did not sit all together as they
had done in the past.” Firstly, it is true that they do not literally “sit” together anymore. But
also they are much less “together” in general than they used to be. Sitting all together also
is an image that reminds the reader of Old Major’s speech where all the animals listened to
it united. Thus the idea of this sitting together being broken is also in a way a sign of
Napoleon breaking up the ideology that had brought the animals together.

In contrast, Snowball, in his speech immediately before exile, enthusiastically shares the
idea of a world where “sordid labour was lifted from the animals’ backs”. Firstly, he echoes
Old Major’s original complaints about “laborious” lifestyles which shows his inextricable tie
to the ideology of Animalism. Secondly, his reference to the collective “animals’ backs”
shows he’s always thinking about the community. Instead of trying to persuade the animals,
Napoleon just forces Snowball’s option out physically. This identifies a clear distinction
between the two characters. Returning to the historical context, Orwell thought Trotsky had
some ideological credibility and that he cared about his cause, which shows why Snowball’s
speeches are impassioned by such revolutionary rhetoric, akin to that of Old Major. On the
other hand, as the story goes on, it’s clear Orwell thought the only basis for Stalin’s actions
was power. This depravity being outlined by the descension from the exit of Snowball to
violence and the reconfiguration of the previously core commandments is what makes
Orwell’s circular structure so effective.

This distinction becomes more interesting when looking more specifically at how both
characters treat language and education. While all the pigs work on their own knowledge,
Snowball is the only one who also concerns himself with the abilities of the other pigs.
Orwell uses this to purposely single out Snowball’s care (which further explains why the
moment he’s removed, the other pigs submit to Napoleon’s despotism). He is described as
“indefatigable” at educating the others which shows his dedication and real care for this
work. A direct wedge is placed between Snowball and Napoleon when it is said that the
latter shared “no interest” in the former’s efforts and in the same paragraph Orwell
describes how Napoleon takes away the young puppies from the dogs to “educate” them.
The reader later learns that Napoleon turns these animals into his own killing machines and
instruments of power. Furthermore, Napoleon’s excessive use of Squealer shows his
eagerness to manipulate the animals with superior intelligence and language. A clear
example is when Squealer cries “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” while “skipping round”.
“Tactics” is a complex, quite meaningless word that the other animals don’t know so
Squealer can use his superior linguistic faculties to manipulate them. Moreover, “comrades”
is a typical wording for the pigs (linked to Soviet language) that make the animals feel as
though they are part of a friendly collective when they are not. And thirdly, “skipping
round” is one of Squealer’s signature moves and it shows how in Napoleonic control, the
pigs resort to hypnotic, patronising strategies to control the others. Orwell particularly
cared strongly about totalitarian manipulation of education and language. His exposure of
the abuse of language is considered to be one of the most compelling and enduring features
of Animal Farm. And it also helps define the true difference between these two characters.

Snowball, in reality, values the other animals. He further values the ideology of animalism
and its goals. His use of education and language shows this as he uses it as a tool to enrich
the animals and pull them closer to understanding the ideology they have already bought
into. He conspires in taking the milk and this is used to show that Trotsky was also not
perfect, possibly because the truth is society always tends to stratification and the
intelligentsia always to corruption. But he still has moral fundamentals and care for others.
In stark contrast, Napoleon (and so Stalin, in Orwell’s opinion) is depraved with the only
goal of power and control. This is demonstrated by his wielding of intelligence and
language as ways to enslave the others and to cement his rule. And considering Orwell’s
strong beliefs about language, this shows Napoleon has transgressed one of the most
heinous of all totalitarian acts (which Snowball has avoided). Thus Orwell creates a clear
line for us to see how onwards from the milk-stealing, what little the two characters had in
common diverges at a rapid rate.