Curriculum Vital

The Education Umbrella Guide to Animal Farm
Character profiles

Every character in Animal Farm represents a real person or group of people. Discover the facts behind the fiction with our guide, which also features a chapter-by-chapter summary and analysis, classroom activities and an introduction to Orwell's life and work.

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Old Major

The prize Middle White boar... He was twelve years old and had lately grown rather stout, but he was still a majestic-looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance in spite of the fact that his tushes had never been cut.

Old Major represents Karl Marx, the German philosopher, economist, historian and journalist who in 1848, with his friend Friederich Engels, wrote The Communist Manifesto. Marx's theories about society, economic systems and politics are known as Marxism. This theory gave birth to communism and socialism.

Just as the great enemy of the animals is Man, so Marx hated the exploitative potential of capitalism, calling it 'the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.' However, Marx would likely have been horrified that his theories helped give rise to Joseph Stalin and his repressive Soviet regime.

Marx believed in a free press — as a journalist and writer he was frequently censored by his native government and eventually exiled to London. He was opposed to slavery and campaigned hard for the Union (the North) and against the Confederates (the pro-slavery South) in the American Civil War (1860-1865); and he wrote about the positive effects British rule had on India, though while also criticising the use of torture and violence. He regarded the United States much more positively than he regarded Tsarist Russia, and even wrote for an American newspaper, The New York Tribune. 

As we shall see, Marx's theories formed the basis of the revolution, but once in power the revolutionaries, like the pigs of Animal Farm, betrayed Marx's principles.


Napoleon was 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 represents Joseph Stalin. Born Joseph Dzhugashvili in 1878, Joseph Stalin became one of history's most notorious tyrants. As effective dictator of the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from the mid 1920s until his death in 1953, Stalin was responsible for the death, torture and imprisonment of tens of millions of people throughout his own country and beyond. He also oversaw the USSR's rise from an underdeveloped nation at war with itself to an industrial juggernaut that defeated Germany in World War II and became a global nuclear superpower to rival the USA.

Joseph Stalin was born in Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire. As a young man he excelled in theology, but around the age of 15 he became enthralled by the works of Marx and Engels and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Between 1906 and 1912 he was arrested and exiled to Siberia numerous times, though always managed to escape. In 1906 he met the future leader of the Bolsheviks and Premier of the new USSR, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was very impressed by Stalin and appointed him to the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1912. Around this time, Stalin dropped his Georgian surname and adopted the name Stalin, Russian for 'man of steel.'

Stalin was, like Napoleon, 'rather fierce-looking' and 'not much of a talker', in part because Russian was his second language, after Georgian. He was 5'4" tall and had one leg shorter than the other, but he managed to appear very imposing. He also had a knack for remembering names and facts. In 1922, with the Communist Party (having changed its name from the Bolshevik Party) in control of the country, Lenin made Stalin the General Secretary of the Party's Central Committee, a position Stalin would hold until a year before his death.

The name Napoleon comes from Napoleon Bonaparte, better known as Napoleon I, Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814. Napoleon was a brilliant politician and military commander. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century he masterminded a number of impressive victories and greatly expanded the French Empire in Europe. In the end, though, he stretched his army too far. Ironically, it was his invasion of Russia in 1812 that most contributed to his eventual defeat and exile.

As well as a caricature of Stalin's character, the name Napoleon also reflects the importance that Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin and the other Bolsheviks attached to the French Revolution. This tumultuous period in French history began in 1789 and ended in 1799, when Napoleon launched a coup and established himself as dictator. In their speeches, writings and debates, the Bolsheviks frequently compared their own October Revolution to that of the French. Trotsky in particular often likened Stalin to Napoleon. In The Prophet Unarmed, part two of his three-part biography of Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher writes:

With the French precedent in mind, Trotsky [in 1928] spoke about the closeness of the 'Bonapartist danger', implying that the Russian Revolution might skip Thermidor [who was overthrown by Napoleon] and pass directly from the Bolshevik to the Bonapartist phase.

The Bonapartist danger, he went on, could assume two different forms: it could either materialize as a classical military coup d'état, a Russian 18th Brumaire; or it could take the shape of Stalin's personal rule.

Unlike the Napoleon of Animal Farm, Stalin drank very little alcohol. He also dressed in proletarian clothes, even when meeting foreign dignitaries for important meetings (see photo above). However, like Napoleon, Stalin, though frugal and modest in appearance, secretly enjoyed huge material luxury. In The History of Modern RussiaRobert Service writes:

Ordinary people were given no hint about the tables creaking under the weight of caviar, sturgeon and roast lamb served at Kremlin [government] banquets. Stalin himself lived fairly simply by the standards of several Politburo [inner circle] members; but even he had a governess for his daughter, a cook and several maids, a large dacha [country house] at Kuntsevo, an endless supply of Georgian wine and so few worries about money that most of his pay-packets lay unopened at the time of his death. Armed guards secured the privacy of the apartment blocks of the central political élite. Only the domestic servants, nannies and chauffeurs knew the truth about the lifestyle of the nomenklatura.

Read all the character profiles, along with an introduction, chapter-by-chapter summary and analysis, and classroom activities, in our guide.