Is Napoleon a Good Leader in "Animal Farm"?

... John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Comrade Napoleon, the persona for Stalin, Mussolini and numerous other totalitarian leaders in George Orwell's allegory "Animal Farm," is considered an archetypal corrupt leader in numerous commentaries. However, even the corrupt exhibit admirable qualities; A reader carefully examining Orwell's text is forced to conclude that Napoleon is unquestionably a good leader in his charismatic, albeit Machiavellian, energies, despite where they are directed.

1 Napoleon's Charisma

Upon Napoleon's entrance, Orwell immediately emphasizes his charisma: In Chapter 2, he describes him as "the only Berkshire ... with a reputation for getting his way"; the animals admire his "depth of character." He actively debates his swinish foil, Snowball, in favor of the "education of the young"; as his power grows, he proves adept at "canvassing support for himself" far more than his adversary. His voting platform is a master stroke: "Vote for Napoleon and the full manger." Politicians who promise pie in the sky at every election could not have brought it off so well.

2 Napoleon's Machiavellian Energy

Napoleon's energy, while directed in Machiavellian ways, is admirable; his rout of Snowball in Chapter 5, while terrifying, is effective in winning him the vote. Napoleon solidifies his power and institutes the daily singing of "Beasts of England" to maintain morale; his leadership, while darkly motivated, is still directed toward outward benevolence. Whatever discomfiture the animals may feel, Napoleon's bravado keeps them loyal: "Napoleon is always right" joins "I will work harder" as the dual mottos of the farm.

3 Napoleon and Iago

The literary character most analogous to Napoleon is Iago in Shakespeare's "Othello." An excellent leader in war, Iago is possessed of boundless energy and invention, despite a nihilistic outlook on life; Napoleon is similarly detached philosophically from Animal Farm in the book's later chapters, and evinces the same inventive and energetic streak. He continues to work for the farm's economy in contracting for egg production with other farmers, even though he later gets "his own way" with the funds. Both Iago and Napoleon can be admired for the sheer strength of energy they bring to their microcosms.

4 Napoleon Still Good

The fun of "Animal Farm," according to Thomas C. Foster, is that Orwell's allegory is writ large; even young adults understand his point about the corruption of power. And, despite the later collapse of Animal Farm, capped by the Circe-like transformation of Napoleon and his cohorts into men-pigs, readers can admire Napoleon as a leader. His earlier goodness is compromised, but he is still being genuinely good to himself.

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.