To celebrate the release of our third study guide, QuickLits Guide to Animal Farm, we are sharing a free series of character analyses. Who better to start with than the dastardly Napoleon?
As we’ve mentioned before, Napoleon is an allusion to Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1952.
What you’ll also notice is that Napoleon shares his name with the eighteenth-century French general, Napoleon, who betrayed his democratic principles in order to take absolute power – just like our Napoleon.
So, we could say that Animal Farm’s Napoleon is representative of many tyrants from history.
Like all tyrants in history, Napoleon doesn’t start out that way. In Chapter One, for example, we are told that Napoleon has a “reputation for getting his own way” but in every other respect, he is no different from any other animal.
However, a turning point occurs in Chapter Two, just after Jones is expelled from the from. At first, it seems rather innocent when Napoleon mentions the milk:
“Never mind the milk, comrades!” cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets. “That will be attended to. The harvest is more important. Comrade Snowball will lead the way. I shall follow in a few minutes. Forward, comrades! The hay is waiting.”
However, by taking the milk for the pigs’ mash, we see just how self-interested Napoleon really is. Remember that this is just after the animals have taken control of the farm and already he’s thinking in selfish terms.
You’ll also notice that Napoleon doesn’t contribute to the formulation of the new ideology (Animalism), or to the animals’ establishment of a new society. In fact, he’s only interested in his power over the other animals and the resources of Animal Farm. Think about it, the only project he undertakes with gusto is the training of the puppies whom he takes from their mothers in Chapter Three:
“As soon as they were weaned, Napoleon took them away from their mothers, saying that he would make himself responsible for their education. He took them up into a loft which could only be reached by a ladder from the harness-room, and there kept them in such seclusion that the rest of the farm soon forgot their existence.”
Who do these puppies end up working for? That’s right, it’s Napoleon. Because he has isolated them from an early age, they are loyal to him. Just like Stalin used the NKVD, Napoleon uses these dogs as his own bodyguards to consolidate his power on the farm and to intimidate the other animals.
As the story progresses, we see a rivalry develop between Napoleon and Snowball, which comes to a head in Chapter Five when they disagree about the best way for the farm to develop. Snowball wants to build a windmill so as to unshackle the animals from work. In contrast, Napoleon believes that should increase food production immediately – just as Stalin did in the Soviet Union.
Napoleon and Snowball both develop political slogans. The two slogans are “Vote for Snowball and the three-day week” and “Vote for Napoleon and the full manger.” Just before the animals vote on the windmill, Napoleon releases his dogs and chases Snowball off the farm, therefore eliminating his political rival.
Shortly after, he decrees that there shall be no more Sunday-Morning Meetings and that all decisions about the farm will be made by a committee of pigs, presided over by himself. To quash any dissent, Napoleon keeps his dogs by his side. He is now morphing into a dictator.
By Chapter Eight, Napoleon has taken complete control of the farm and the flow of information. Through Squealer, for example, he manipulates statistics to show that food production has increased, even though it hasn’t. He also uses Squealer to help the development of his cult of personality. This cult transforms Napoleon from an ordinary animal into a sort of demi-god, as we see through this quote:
“It had become usual to give Napoleon the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen remark to another, ‘Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days’; or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, ‘Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!”
The animals are giving Napoleon credit for things that he hasn’t done. This is evidence of the control he has over them and the fear he has instilled in them. His violent methods, brainwashing and propaganda techniques have resulted in his absolute control.
Like this post? For more Napoleon analysis, check out our Quote Round Up: Napoleon and Power.
For more analysis, check out our brand new, quote-based, Animal Farm study guide here.