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SUBJECTS — Literature/England; World/Russia (Soviet Union);
Age: 6+; No MPAA Rating; Animated Satire; 1955; 72 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This is an animated version of George Orwell's classic novel that presents an allegory of the early history of the Soviet Union and, metaphorically, a story about the dangers and risks of the betrayal of any revolution.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Animal Farm provides a basis for understanding the problems of communism as it was attempted in Russia, China, and the countries under their influence during the 20th century. It is an excellent example of allegory in literature. The film is an accurate account of the story told by the novel.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students in English classes can use the story as an example of allegory as it reveals historical truths and as an age-old literary technique for communication of important themes. Both research and writing skills can be sharpened through assignments at the end of the film. In history classes, Animal Farm will enhance any study of the Soviet Union, international communism, and the dangers of revolution.

Possible Problems: None.

Enrichment Worksheets are a TWM innovation containing questions designed to get students thinking. Questions are focused on comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses or evaluation. Questions can be answered in class or as homework, as quick writes, journal entries, formal essays, or research papers. For a version of the Worksheet in word processing format, click here.
Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet for Animal Farm

Before 1991 the Communist ideology and the Soviet Union were considered major threats to the Western democracies. Billions of dollars were spent in what is generally known as "The Cold War" to both defeat communism and to establish capitalism as the dominating economic force in the world. Skirmishes erupted into actual warfare in this intense competition between the two systems of governing, most notably in Korea and Vietnam, and threatened nuclear confrontation in Cuba. But, in the end, the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own inefficiency and its endemic corruption. In Animal Farm, Orwell demonstrates the pattern of corruption seen in many well-intended revolutions around the world that eventually led to the demise of the Russian Communist system.

Communist social philosophy was developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century in response to the vast inequities of industrialization and the excesses of capitalism. Working conditions were terrible; factory workers were paid little, and their lives were harsh; many factory owners amassed great wealth and lived like kings. Communism became a potent worldwide force in 1917 when adherents to its theories, the Bolsheviks, took power in Russia and created the Soviet Union.

In brief, communism is an economic and political system in which all of the factories, farms, real estate and other means of economic production are owned and controlled by the community for the benefit of all. Each person is supposed to work according to his or her ability and to receive benefits from society according to his or her needs. Theoretically, in the ultimate stages of the development of society, government would become unnecessary as the community would govern itself. In reality, however, communism has been associated with dictatorial regimes that suppress individualism and civil liberties while concentrating power in the hands of authority, all at great cost to the masses of people.
Question 1: How would people have to behave for a society with no government to work?
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Communism has been abandoned by most governments and is no longer considered a threat to the Western democracies. China remains a communist country in name only, but capitalism reigns in its economy, and the country operates freely within the system of international capitalism. China is beginning to develop a strong middle class and allow its people to express their individuality is some ways. However, it is an open question of whether China will go so far as to allow Western style civil liberties.

Communism is in direct contrast in terms of values and mode of operation to capitalism, the economic system used by most of the world's democracies. Capitalism is a system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and are managed for profit. The exchange of goods and services takes place through a free market system governed by supply and demand. The United States and most countries in the World have modified capitalism by imposing government regulation on the production of goods and services and on the markets when necessary to ensure the public welfare. Examples of these regulations are the wage and hour laws, health and safety codes, antitrust laws, and product liability law suits.

Socialism is an economic system, used to some degree by democracies, in which the most important means of production, as well as the means of distribution of goods and services, are owned by the state and managed for the welfare of society as a whole. In a socialist state, for example, the natural resources, factories, large farms, the banking system, and the markets would be owned and operated by the state. Socialism, like communism, was caused in part by a reaction to the vast inequalities of wealth that existed in capitalist Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some aspects of the socialist system have been, to varying degrees, adopted in Europe and the United States to protect people from the excesses of capitalism. In the U.S., these include welfare which provides income assistance for the destitute; national retirement plans such as Social Security; medical care (limited to the poor and the elderly in the U.S. but provided for all members of society in most democracies); unemployment insurance; the U.S. Postal Service; the public school system; municipal electric power companies, and other special agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and stores in some states that sell liquor.
Question 2: What would your life be like without a public school system?
The consensus in the United States and western democracies is that the most efficient form of economic organization is a modified capitalism in which most of the means of production and distribution are privately owned but are also subject to government regulation to keep markets free, prevent abuses, and ensure public safety. A safety net is provided to redistribute wealth to those unable to provide for themselves, such as the poor, the handicapped, and the elderly.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell, a British writer who considered himself a democratic socialist, uses allegory to express his deep disdain for the corruption of the leaders of the Soviet Union, most notably Joseph Stalin, and promulgates the belief that it is this corruption that destroys revolutions rather than what may be the fundamentals of the revolution itself. Animal Farm was published in 1945 and addresses the period prior to World War II in the Soviet Union. It mirrors specific events in the years when Stalin, considered my most historians to be a brutal and ruthless leader, allied himself with western democracies yet betrayed the principles these countries represented as well as the principles of the revolution that established the communist system in the Soviet Union. Because it is such an excellent example of the use of allegory in fiction, Orwell's criticism of Stalinism has become required reading worldwide.
Question 3: What would it take for a communist country to keep its social and economic system and yet be democratic?
An allegory is an artistic device in which the characters and events of the story represent something more than what is directly stated. The literal content of an allegorical work is inevitably less important than its symbolic meaning. Allegory is employed in literature, visual arts, drama, and ballet.

Allegory uses an extended metaphor, a comparison made between two dissimilar things that have some attribute in common, in which objects, characters, and even events in the story refer to objects, characters and events in real life. Animal Farm, technically a novella, is one of the premier works of modern fiction that uses allegory.
Question 4: Write a brief summary of an allegory that you recall hearing or reading in which you can easily see the definition of the concept of allegory at work. You may want to consider fables, such as "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf", to answer this question, although you can use novels or films that are allegories.
[End of Worksheet]

At the end of the unit, consider telling students some jokes developed by people in the Soviet Union to help them deal with the adversity of living in that society. Two of the best are set out below:

  • What is the difference between capitalism and Soviet Communism? Answer: Capitalism is based on the exploitation of man by man. Under Soviet communism, it is the opposite.

  • A new prisoner arrives at a prison camp and is asked by another prisoner about the length of his sentence. "Seven years," he replies, "but there was no crime. I didn't do anything." The other prisoner responds, "You must be lying, the sentence for nothing is only five years."




    Rationale and Objectives
    Possible Problems
    Parenting Points
    Using the Movie in Class:
          Discussion Questions

    Review the worksheet for suitability for your classes. Modify as appropriate.


    Additional Discussion Questions:
          Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
          Social-Emotional Learning
          Moral-Ethical Emphasis
                (Character Counts)

    Additional Assignments

    Other Sections:
    Bridges to Reading
    Selected Awards & Cast

    WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

    Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

    Check out the trailer for this movie.


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  The film, just as the book, shows a process of change from oppression to freedom and back to oppression again. How is this revealed in the characters presented? Suggested Response:The unhappy animals follow the leadership of The Colonel and rise up against the farmer. Soon they forget his dictate: "We must remember when you have got rid of Jones, Don't adopt his vices . . ." The vices lead the pigs to exert control. The rules of Animalism are changed and Napoleon's leadership dominates. The animals of the farm are now oppressed by the pigs.

    2.  As an allegory to human behavior and an echo of the rise and betrayal of the promise of the utopia that many Europeans thought that communism offered, this story is clear in presentation of its message. What serves to clarify the allegory and provide reference to the Soviet system? Suggested Response: Answers to this question will depend upon whether or not students have been prepared for the allusions to Soviet Russia. Students unfamiliar with the references may be able to evaluate the allegorical themes by their previous study of power struggles in any historical period or in any human situation. Be sure that student responses are backed up with direct reference to characters or events.

    3.  What correlations can be made between the story found in Animal Farm and various aspects of government and society today? Suggested Response: Answers will vary: Be sure students cite support for any belief they express. Some may suggest that the relationships between those in power and those who have no power can be seen even in classrooms and in friendship circles. Others may believe that Orwell's ideas are obsolete and that modern conditions in society have made the themes in the film no longer relevant.

    4.  Looking at the U.S. and Iran, make an argument that important aspects of the revolution of both countries have been betrayed or that the original spirit of the revolution has been maintained. Suggested Response: Answers will vary: One faction in the U.S. will argue that the U.S. government has become the handmaiden of corporations and special interests, something the Founding Fathers would have abhorred; others may argue that the Founding Fathers did not want the U.S. to have foreign entanglements or an imperial power like the Great Britain from which they fought so hard to be free and yet, the U.S. became an imperial power with colonies (the Philippines) virtual colonies (Cuba before Castro and many countries in Latin America) and a global hegemony, etc. Others may argue that the U.S. has become a massive welfare state, something foreign to the concepts of the founders; still others will argue that the founders believed in states rights (and some did) while in the modern day there are few limits on the power of an overreaching federal government. Any well supported answer will be sufficient. As to Iran, the people traded the oppression of the Shah for the oppression of the Mullas and the depredations of the morals police with their whips.

    For more Discussion Questions, click here.


    Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

    1.  Write a formal essay in which you compare the film to the novel. Focus on characterization and theme. Back up the points you make with direct reference to Orwell's book in comparison to the film.

    2.  Write an informal opinion essay on the subject of oppression in which you use examples from the film to show how power is gained, abused, kept, and lost. Seek to clarify what in human nature would cause some to become oppressors and why others would allow the oppression to exist.

    3.  Research the rise of the Soviet system and its betrayal of the ideals of many communists. Determine whether or not the comparison to Animal Farm is fair. Present your information in a well-documented essay or in a Power Point presentation to the class as a whole.

    For more assignments, click here.


    Stalin and Ballad of a Soldier.

    Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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    Parenting Points: Should your child be assigned to read George Orwell's novel in an English or Social Studies class, take care that the film is not seen prior to completion of the book. If your child is not reading the book, you may want to talk about what kinds of people are represented in the various animals. Should enough interest emerge, you may want to talk about the historical context of the film.

    Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

    Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

    This is Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden. This Guide was last revised on July 21, 2013.

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