After Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, falls asleep in a drunken stupor, all of his animals meet in the big barn at the request of old Major, a 12-year-old pig. Major delivers a rousing political speech about the evils inflicted upon them by their human keepers and their need to rebel against the tyranny of Man. After elaborating on the various ways that Man has exploited and harmed the animals, Major mentions a strange dream of his in which he saw a vision of the earth without humans. He then teaches the animals a song — "Beasts of England" — which they sing repeatedly until they awaken Jones, who fires his gun from his bedroom window, thinking there is a fox in the yard. Frightened by the shot, the animals disperse and go to sleep.
Several of the novel's main characters are introduced in this chapter; Orwell paints their dominant characteristics with broad strokes. Jones, for example, is presented as a drunken, careless ruler, whose drinking belies the upscale impression he hopes to create with the name of his farm. In addition, Jones' very name (a common one) suggests he is like many other humans, and the tyranny of all mankind is an important theme of Major's speech. His unsteady gait (suggested by the "dancing lantern" he carries) and snoring wife mark him immediately as the epitome of all that Major says about mankind's self-absorption and gluttony. Indeed, the first chapter presents Jones as more of an "animal" than the animals themselves, who reacts to any disruption of his comfort with the threat of violence, as indicated by his gunfire when he is awakened from his drunken dreams.
The animals assembling in the barn are likewise characterized by Orwell in quick fashion: Major is old and wise, Clover is motherly and sympathetic, Boxer is strong yet dimwitted, Benjamin is pessimistic and cynical, and Mollie is vain and childish. All of these characteristics become more pronounced as the novel proceeds.
However, Major's speech is the most important part of the chapter, and through it Orwell displays his great understanding of political rhetoric and how it can be used to move crowds in whichever direction the speaker wishes. By addressing his audience as "comrades" and prefacing his remarks with the statement that he will not be with the others "many months longer," Major ingratiates himself to his listeners as one who has reached a degree of wisdom in his long life of twelve years and who views the other animals as equals — not a misguided rabble that needs advice and correction from a superior intellect. This notion that "All Animals Are Equal" becomes one of the tenets of Animalism, the philosophy upon which the rebellion will supposedly be based.
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