Animal Farm - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on context in George Orwell's Animal Farm. A text’s context refers to the environment in which it was written. Context includes the political and social environment, as well as the time and geographical location in which the author was writing. If this combination sounds familiar, it is because these are the same specific elements which we discuss when we talk about setting, too. Where setting refers to these aspects of a text’s created, fictional world, context refers to these aspects of the author’s own world. Remember too that issues and events from the author’s past might have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. The personal beliefs of an author also contribute to the context since they are likely to have had an effect on the text.

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How to write about context

Learning about the context of a fictional work will enable you to develop an insight into many of the important influences which helped to shape the text. As you will know, the relationship between context and meaning is not simple and straightforward. Sometimes context provides useful information to bear in mind as you read and think about a piece of writing. At other times, context is much more important, and Animal Farm is a text which really benefits from a good knowledge of its context. George Orwell was a highly political author, as well as one who wished to educate and warn others about the dangers he perceived.

This text works on multiple levels. You can read it as a pure depiction of tyranny and the betrayal of hope. If you wish to understand the satire, however, you will need to know some history, so you will have paid close attention in lessons. How much do you know about historic dictatorships? What do you know about George Orwell’s life and times? The more you know about the events upon which the novella is based, the more you will understand this text. Some of the shocking things which happen to the animals, and which can seem unrealistic, had actually happened in more than one country and on more than one occasion.

Research the context of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, then try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. Orwell identified with which political ideology?
    Orwell described himself as "pro-Socialist" and viewed the Soviet Union as a betrayal of the socialist movement
  2. Which song was replaced by a new Soviet anthem in 1944?
    The Internationale focusses on the unity of workers across national boundaries. It was replaced by another anthem, just as Beasts of England is replaced in the novella
  3. Which one of the following is NOT true of Orwell?
    Orwell led a varied life. Born in India, he first experienced England and its class system when sent to public school. He was educated at Eton, spent some time later in the police force, fought against the Nationalists of Spain and produced propaganda during the Second World War
  4. Who was Eric Blair?
    "George Orwell" was Eric Blair's pen name
  5. Who does Napoleon represent?
    After manoeuvering for power following the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union until his own death in 1953. Napoleon is also, of course, named for Napoleon Bonaparte. Why might this name be appropriate?
  6. Squealer's official reports on the farm's productivity are directly related to which of the following?
    Squealer tells the animals that production of every crop is dramatically up, even while the animals go hungry. Parts of the Soviet Union suffered famine as a direct result of the first five-year plan
  7. Animal Farm is most directly aimed at which of the following?
    The structure of the text parallels events in the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Although as an allegory, the tale addresses the danger that any revolution faces as new leaders emerge, Orwell explicitly aimed the text at the Soviet Communists
  8. When was Animal Farm first published?
    The novel was published at the end of the Second World War
  9. Who wrote the The Communist Manifesto?
    In sharing his dream of freedom and equality for all animals, Old Major represents Karl Marx (although the reverencing of his skull refers to the pilgrimage-like processions to Lenin's mausoleum)
  10. Who do Boxer and Clover represent?
    Boxer and Clover both support the animals' revolution. Boxer's maxim is "I will work harder", while Clover retains some independence of thought

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