After the drunken farmer Jones has gone to bed, all the animals of the farm assemble for a meeting. The meeting has been called by Old Major, a boar who is the oldest and wisest animal on the farm. The pigs, cows, horses, ducks, hens and dogs all assemble in the big barn, thinking that they are going to be told about a dream that Old Major had the previous night.
When they have all settled down, Old Major addresses them. Before telling them about his dream, he says that, as he is coming to the end of his own life, and he wants to share his wisdom with the other animals. He reminds them about all the work that they have to do for their human masters, how little they are given to eat, how they own nothing but their bare skin. He describes how the humans steal everything produced by the animals, with the animals receiving in return only enough food to keep them alive. He tells them that their children are taken from them almost as soon as they are born and that when they come to the end of their useful lives, they will be cruelly slaughtered.
He goes on to tell them that all the animals are comrades, they are brothers, and that their only real enemy is humans. Man is the root cause of all their troubles, he tells them. He urges the animals to fight the humans at every turn and tells them that rebellion is the only possible solution to their situation. In the middle of the speech, a few wild rats enter the barn, and the dogs chase them. Old Major calls a vote on whether or not the rats should be considered to be comrades. A large majority agrees that the rats are comrades, the only animals to vote against are the dogs and the cat, who, we are told, “was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides.” Old Major then concludes his speech by advising them on how they should conduct themselves. They must recognise that whatever goes on four legs or wings is a friend. They must on no account ever come to resemble man, and must never live in a house. He tells them finally “All animals are equal.”
Old Major finally gets around to telling them about his dream, but the first thing he tells them is that he cannot describe the dream, except to say that it reminded him of a song that he learned in his youth called “Beasts of England.” He sings the song, which tells of the day when Man is finally overthrown, when there is no more slavery or cruelty, and when the animals are finally free. The animals in the barn respond rapturously to this and sang it through together five times in succession until they are interrupted by a blast from the farmer’s shotgun. The farm quickly returns to normality.