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Animal Farm - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at themes in George Orwell's Animal Farm. Any work of literature will have multiple themes, which can range from the very subtle to the glaringly obvious. An individual theme is unlikely to be presented in isolation, instead interacting with and commenting upon other themes in the same text. An author develops a text’s themes through the use of setting, character, plot and dialogue. Look out for related ideas and concepts in the text and see whether you can follow the development of the different themes you find. When writing about a text, carefully compare your final thoughts with those you held as you began reading. Have your ideas on any of the issues changed? If they have, can you explain why? When and where did your views on a key theme begin to change?

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When readers engage with the key themes, they engage with the author. Texts often encourage readers to interrogate their own beliefs or ways of looking at the world. Animal Farm depicts the awful destruction of reasonable and hopeful ideals and is absolutely clear about the correlation between its events and the Soviet state. Orwell wanted to encourage greater scepticism about the truthfulness of the official reports from the Soviet Union, thus his depiction of the insidious use of propaganda on Animal Farm is far from subtle.

Animal Farm deals with interrelated themes of the exercise of power, idealism, truth, justice and equality, education and the use of the intellect. As a satire, fable and allegory, this text aims to educate and to encourage the reader to action. Does the text merely apply to those who live under dictatorships or can you see elements of dictatorial behaviour, bullying, the rewriting of history and the use of propaganda anywhere closer to home?

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of Animal Farm.

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  1. Which of the following describes the text's presentation of language?
    Words are strictly controlled: the commandments are changed, animals' memories are replaced with new versions of history and some language is banished (including the censorship of "Beasts of England")
  2. Boxer nearly crushes the head of the dog who unexpectedly attacks him, looking first to Napoleon for instructions. To which of the following themes does this episode relate?
    Napoleon overreaches himself in attempting to get rid of Boxer as easily as he has the ringleaders of the hen rebellion killed. Nevertheless, Boxer is placid and is in no danger of leading a rebellion even against the dictatorial Napoleon
  3. Which of the animals models idealism?
    Snowball's idealism is very attractive for the other animals. His idealism falls, however, to Napoleon's willingness to use violence and intimidation in his pursuit of power
  4. How does Moses's story of Sugarcandy Mountain function?
    Promises of a better place to be found after death work as well under Napoleon's totalitarian regime as under Mr Jones's. Moses represents anyone who preaches religion as a means of controlling a population and making people content with injustice in life
  5. When the animals gather in the harvest after they successfully oust Mr Jones, the pigs "did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others". What does this statement indicate to the reader?
    Intelligence and laziness are shown to coexist quite comfortably both in pigs and in human beings. The pigs use their intelligence to guide and direct the other animals
  6. The behaviour of the pigs is motivated primarily by which of the following?
    The pigs always make choices determined by greed, whether in sleeping on comfortable beds, living in the farmhouse, drinking whisky or reserving windfall apples for themselves. They find ever more inventive ways to justify their choices to the other animals
  7. "I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility." Which of the following is true of Napoleon's pursuit of power?
    Napoleon reveals himself as ruthless and as a liar. His bid for power also demonstrates the influence he has over many of the animals, including Squealer
  8. How do Snowball and Napoleon differ in their views on the importance of education?
    Napoleon believes in educating particular groups for particular purposes. The dogs are trained to recognise and attack his enemies and the sheep are brainwashed into obedience and the repetition of simple phrases. Proper education is planned for the litters of piglets when they are born
  9. Which of the following characterises the relationship between Animal Farm and its neighbours?
    The existence of outside enmity allows Napoleon greater control over the other animals. The animals always have an enemy to fear, even when this enemy changes seemingly randomly according to the whim of Napoleon
  10. Animals on other farms begin to sing "Beasts of England". Why?
    Orwell presents an attractive vision of an idealised socialist state before those ideals are crushed by the leaders' desire to gather power to themselves

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