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Old Major is a twelve-year old Berkshire Boar who provides the political philosophy on which Animal Farm is founded. His philosophy of Animalism is a mixture of Marx and Lenin. Out of his philosophy come the original animal rebellion and Seven Commandments. As an idealist and visionary, he shows the animals how their lives are miserable, enslaved, laborious, and unhappy under the cruelty of Farmer Jones and inspires them to revolt sometime in the future. He wants to establish a utopian society on the farm, a heaven on earth, where the animals live happily in equality, freedom, and plenty. His dreams, however, are not concrete; he never has a plan for implementation.
Old Major has been a show pig for Farmer Jones. As a result, he has been pampered and has lived a life of ease. Unlike the other farm animals, he has not been expected to do hard labor or scratch out a meager existence for survival. Most of the time he has been isolated in a stall filled with clean hay and plenty of food, allowing him much time to think, theorize, and observe the other animals at a distance. As a result, he does not have a realistic picture of the nature of animals or humans.
Old Major dies at the end of the first chapter and is buried on the farm. After the animal rebellion, his skull is dug up and paid weekly tributes by the animals for a period of time. Even after the formal tributes have ceased, the common animals speak about Old Major and consider him their hero. Napoleon mentions him at the end of the book when Old Major's vision is a problem for him with the other animals.
Snowball is one of the pre-eminent pigs who is a contender for leadership of Animal Farm. He is more vivacious, quicker in speech, and more inventive than Napoleon. He is also much more concerned about the welfare of all the animals. He proves that he is a good thinker, strategist, and planner. He not only plans the 'Battle of Cowshed' in advance, but also fights bravely during the battle and is acclaimed a hero and decorated after the victory. Unfortunately, he is not considered to have the same depth of character as Napoleon and, therefore, loses out to him.
Unlike Old Major, Snowball acts as well as thinks. He corrects Mollie's mistaken ideas during the discussion on Animalism, devises the flag which symbolizes the animals' hopes, organizes various committees and classes, and physically changes the name of Manor Farm to Animal Farm. He also compresses the Seven Commandments to a simple maxim: 'Four legs good, two legs bad'. A persuasive speaker, he is also good at debates and discussions.
Like Major, he too is a dreamer, but with a difference. He dreams of a world of practicality and machines, symbolized by the windmill, which he believes will make life easier for all the animals. It is, in fact, the windmill, which becomes the bone of contention between him and Napoleon. In the end, Snowball is defeated by and sent into exile. Once off the farm, Napoleon makes the exiled pig his scapegoat, blaming him for all the ills on the farm.
On the satiric level, Snowball is like Trotsky, who was the planner and spokesman of the Russian Revolution.
Napoleon is a large and rather fierce-looking Berkshire Boar who is being bred for sale by Farmer Jones. Though not much of a talker, he has the reputation for getting his work done in his own way. He too is a thinker, but his thinking is usually manipulative. He outwits Snowball through a power play and quickly seizes the leadership role of Animal Farm for himself. To a large extent, the entire novel is the story of the rise of Napoleon to the position of an all powerful, dictatorial ruler.
Shortly after the animal rebellion, Napoleon's true nature is seen when he seizes the milk and the apples for his own benefit. He is not interested in creating a utopian society for the animals; his only interest is in seizing power for himself. He proves that he is secretive and scheming when he hides the dogs and trains them to protect him at any price. Unlike Snowball, he does not normally speak to the animals as a group; instead, he spreads his propaganda individually, intimidating the animals when they are isolated.
Napoleon is obviously a plotter. He knows that he must rid the farm of Snowball, his contender. He waits for the opportune moment and then sends his guard dogs to attack his enemy. Once he is rid of Snowball, he quickly sets himself up as the dictatorial ruler of Animal Farm and begins to shower himself with special privileges. He gives himself more food than the other animals, changes the Seven Commandments to meet his own wants and needs, makes all pigs into a special, ruling class, presents himself with titles and medals, and seizes the farmhouse for his own quarters. By the end of the novel, he is even using the barley from the farm to make alcohol for his own consumption, eating off of china dishes, wearing human clothing, walking upright on his hind legs, reading the newspaper, and talking on the telephone.
Napoleon knows he must divert attention away from what he is doing and uses several different tactics. He forces the animals to work harder than ever. In addition to their normal six-day work week, he insists that they do "voluntary" work on Sunday afternoons. He sets Snowball up as his scapegoat and blames any ill fortune on the farm on him. He purges the farm of any animals that cross him by holding public executions. He holds constant ceremonies and parades in which he is presented as the benevolent ruler. He uses Squealer to constantly spread propaganda that Napoleon is working for the good of all the animals.
At the end of the novel, he has become a total dictator who seizes whatever he wants. On the satiric level, Napoleon is intended to be a reflection of Stalin.