This chapter represents a time before the revolution, when revolt was in the air perhaps, but had barely been thought of by most of the animals.
One night on Manor Farm, Mr Jones, the farmer, goes to bed without properly shutting up the animals. They gather in the barn to listen to Old Major, a wise old pig, who speaks about the wrongs that they suffer and the abuses that man imposes on them. He points out that "man is the only creature that consumes without producing". However it is not just that but his cruelty and neglect that causes the animals to suffer unjustly. Old Major says he does not know when the rebellion will come but he urges the animals to be ready for "the overthrow of the human race", and promises that "sooner or later justice will be done". The meeting comes to an abrupt end because Mr Jones hears the animals singing "Beasts of England", the song of animal freedom that Old Major's mother taught him and which came back to him in his dream.
Old Major represents a blend of Karl Marx, one of the originators of the principles of communism, and Lenin, the first Bolshevik leader. The principles Old Major expounds in his speech are later enshrined in the doctrine of Animalism. Mr Jones represents the Tsar of Russia. As the other animals file into the barn for the speech, we meet different animals who clearly represent the various types of people that make up a typical society.
It is worth comparing what goes on here with what happens later. The animals debate the matter and decide that rats are comrades. They come up with a clear principle: "Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend." The pigs later corrupt their ideology and twist that precept to accommodate the abuses of power they enjoy. In this way, Orwell fictionalises the distance he sees between ideals and the rottenness of the political reality.
After the death of Old Major, his work is carried on by the pigs, who emerge as the cleverest of the animals. At the forefront are Napoleon and Snowball, plus a very persuasive pig called Squealer, who, it was said, "could turn black into white".
Old Major dies in March and the teaching goes on after that with no real expectation of when the rebellion might come. Then in June, on Midsummer's Eve, Mr Jones neglects the animals for 24 hours. Eventually the animals are driven by hunger into action. A cow knocks down the store-shed door and they help themselves. Mr Jones and his men come in with whips and the animals turn on them and drive them out.
The animals destroy everything that reminds them of Mr Jones: whips, nose-rings and knives, for instance. They change the name of the farm to Animal Farm. They decide to preserve the house as a museum…