Who is Snowball in Animal Farm?
The Animal Farm by Orwell (whose more famous work is another dystopia “1984”) is a very descriptive portrayal of Soviet Union and its degradation from the utopia of equality to the oppressive state ruled by tyrannic Party that, while claiming that they still follow the initial principles of Communism, are not better than their predecessors. But still, despite the characteristics of Snowball from “Animal Farm” as historical person (Trotsky) is very interesting by itself, I’d like to focus on the character alone.
The first basic trait is very controversial. What animal is Snowball in “Animal Farm”? A pig. We know that the pigs are the main antagonists. Also we know that Napoleon and Squealer declared that Snowball is their enemy and the enemy of all the farm. Is he a rebel hero? An anti-hero? Or just a myth created by the ruling class to keep the rest of the farm at bay? I hope that this character analysis will answer this question.
The story of Snowball starts when he with Squealer and Napoleon listen to the Commandments of Old Mayor (an old wise pig, possibly a mix of Lenin and Karl Marx). They have just overturned the tyrannical and incompetent human regime and now are all euphoric about their future. The Commandments sound just and right. In general their purpose is to save Animal Farm from the ruler like previous farmer. All the animals should be equal, no one is allowed to do anything that resembles human behaviour (sleep in human beds etc).
For the less intelligent beings of the Farm (who represent the common folk not used to all the political and economic decisions) the pigs made a short version: four legs good, two legs bad. From the one hand this sentence is indeed easy to memorise, but from the other it distorts the main principles given by Old Mayor to the extent they can be easily manipulated. Instead of educating all the farm animals, so that they would be able to understand the meaning of Commandments, Snowball (the shortening is his idea) decides to go the easy route and just give to the others a simple slogan they can repeat without too much thinking.
We don’t know, are the sheep unable to be educated by default and Snowball’s racial prejudice is justified, or he just wants a quick solution. So this trait of his is left ambiguous. Still, Snowball’s intentions seem to be good enough and – what is more important – selfless.
He does take more resources than other animals, claiming that pigs need milk to fuel their brains, because they do the intellectual work. Here we see something alike the transition from Communism (with the main principle is that everyone give away everything they are capable of and receive everything they need) to Socialism (where everyone still give away everything they can, but receive the amount equal to their work). So we have a good real-life background here: the Commandments of Old Mayor (Lenin) are too utopic to be practical, so Snowball takes them more like the moral guidelines he should aim to.
Napoleon on the contrary starts to see the Commandments as simply the tool of propaganda. That is the main reason for their common work breaking apart: Napoleon is more focused at his present well-being when Snowball looks to the future too much. But still, there is a common and rather grim trait: both of them are ready to sacrifice the other farm animals for their goals. Snowball is sure that they will be glad to die for the greater good and the prosperity of the farm (and is ready to do this himself), but Napoleon doesn’t want to lay his life with the rest: he treats the animals on the farm… like his cattle, yes. He is a classical tyrant, when Snowball is more of a well-intentioned extremist.
As we touch the real-life examples and parallels, I should note that Snowball’s real life counterpart is much more complicated person (as is Napoleon’s), so please don’t take the book as a guideline to the real-life history. It can give a vague impression about what really happened in Soviet Union, but still, despite Snowball is heavily implied to be Leon Trotsky, he also adopts some of the Lenin’s traits (for example, his commitment to technical progress – in Soviet Union the slang term “Ilyich Light Bulb” (where Ilyich is Lenin’s paternal name) still means the old light bulbs that Lenin dreamt to place in every single home even in the poorest village. This is very similar to Snowball’s plan to build the windmill by any meals to ease the life of the farm animals.
In comparison to Napoleon Snowball is more intelligent and a quick thinker. But Napoleon knows very well how to present himself as a leader, with excessive pathos. Squealer joins Napoleon, helping him compensate the difference in his and Snowball’s speech writing skills. In general, the farm inhabitants consider Snowball less suitable for the leader role, because he is always friendly to everyone and has a cheerful, not pompous at all, personality. This gives us one of the first bitter lessons in the book (that is confirmed in extremely cynical work of Niccolo Machiavelli): the excessive friendliness to inferiors is often considered weakness by them.
We remember that Snowball considers pigs superior in a way (at least smarter), but now we can see that he still respects the working class. He just admits that he can’t work as hard as horse, so pigs and horses make the equal investment into the well-being of the farm, but in a different way. So he wants horses to have more straw and less work (cue the Windmill project) and himself and the other pigs to have milk for their planning job that cannot be substituted by any mechanism.
Napoleon knows that Snowball’s friendliness and respect to the other animals can be considered as his inability to stay above them, so, he uses it and becomes the informal leader of the Animal Farm, just by putting him above the rest of the animals and persuading them that it is the right course of events. Of course, all animals are equal, but mostly they are too used to give away power over themselves to someone else and consider themselves (sometimes rightfully) too dim-witty to be responsible even for their own life.
We can’t say that Snowball’s characteristics is outright positive from every side. He is the one to insist that pigs need more milk because they do the intellectual work. He also wants the revolution to spread to other farm, while Napoleon was content with his new status. Snowball is too idealistic and his major mistake is that he considers everyone to be such an idealist themselves. It backfires, when he starts to spread his enthusiasm by his public speeches that are much more convincing than Napoleon’s due to their sincerity. After the Battle of Cowshed Snowball is given even more authority and decides to use it for fulfilling his idealistic plan.
Napoleon is conservative, he doesn’t want to do anything that doesn’t benefit him right here and now. But Snowball, as an idealist and strategic planner, wants the Farm to develop technically. He has the project he is so devoted to – the Windmill (alias to the electrification of the Soviet Union). The Windmill is hard to build and it won’t bring any immediate profit, but it will lift the burden from the working farm animals, because the power of the wind will do the job for them. This idea sounded too good for everyone on the farm and Napoleon starts to lose his ground.
Snowball, despite his strategy talent, don’t see it coming. He doesn’t consider a personal Napoleon’s army of dogs a threat for him, just a security measure, and believes that Napoleon is much better with army issues, so everyone should do their own job. But the raw man- or dogpower appears to be more useful than ideas. When Napoleon is fed up with Snowball’s speeches, he orders his dogs to chase him away. No one on the farm protected him – as it is in real life, mostly people are too ignorant to raise for the revolution – even more so when their basic needs are met.
But Napoleon doesn’t stop here. He, with the help of Squealer’s eloquence, transforms Snowball into an enemy within, a cunning traitor who is guilty of every misfortune of the Farm. Using an imaginary enemy is extremely useful for condemning anyone who stands on the way for collaboration with him. No one can check the facts because there are no facts at all (Stalin and “the enemies of the people”, anyone?). So even when Snowball is either dead or missed in action, Napoleon continues to use his image as a scarecrow, to threaten any other farm member into obedience.
Snowball isn’t a saint by all means. He still feels the pigs are superior species and uses the rest of the farm to spread his ideas further. We don’t really know if he cares more for the wellbeing of the farm inhabitants or he just uses the farm as a playground for testing his ideas before the start of the world revolution. But what is clear – he isn’t like human farmer at all, he doesn’t have the desire for profit and he isn’t pleased by the obedience of the inferiors. Still he is too detached from the reality, thinking mostly about utopic constructions, but not taking into consideration any intentions of real life. But in comparison with the rest of the pigs, Snowball is the best possible ruler that could indeed bring the Farm as close to the Commandments as possible.