By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
The character of Mollie, in George Orwell’s 1945 fable Animal Farm, may not be as familiar to many people as the pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, but she plays an important part in Orwell’s satire on the Russian Revolution (and the way its ideals were subsequently betrayed).
But who is Mollie in the novel, and what makes her role so significant to the book’s message?
Who is Mollie?
Mollie, the mare used to draw Mr Jones’s ‘trap’ or carriage, is one of the ‘horse characters’ in Animal Farm, along with Boxer and Clover. However, she is distinguished from both of those other characters. Boxer is a hard worker who slavishly devotes himself to the animal-led revolution (the ‘Rebellion’) and the doctrine of ‘Animalism’ (i.e., Communism).
Clover, who is a female horse or ‘mare’ like Mollie, is also devoted to the pigs’ doctrine of Animalism. Along with Boxer, Clover is its most enthusiastic supporter.
Mollie is not like them. She is vain and frivolous, a ‘foolish, pretty white mare’, as Orwell’s narrator describes her. She likes to show off the red ribbons she wears in her white mane, even when she is chastised for this.
Mollie is described as vain and not especially bright. When she first appears, she has a sugar cube in her mouth, and when Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer outline their political ideology known as Animalism to her, which involves ridding the farm of Mr Jones and taking control of it themselves, her first question is to ask whether there will still be sugar on the farm.
She is also emotionally attached to her ribbons, and asks the pigs if she will still be able to wear them once Mr Jones has gone. In a famous quotation, Snowball asks her the rhetorical question, ‘Can you not understand that liberty is worth more than ribbons?’
When the animals take over the farm, Mollie is found in the bedroom of the farmhouse, admiring herself with Mrs Jones’s blue ribbons in the mirror. She is told off by the other animals for her ‘foolish’ behaviour.
She also has a habit of sleeping in late during the mornings and leaving work early, claiming some excuse or other (such as that she has a stone in her hoof). She is a shirker who tries to avoid working too hard – in contrast to Boxer, who works himself into the ground for the cause of ‘Animalism’.
Her vanity is further evidenced by the fact that, when the animals are learning to read, she shows no interest in any of the letters except for M, O, L, I, and E – the ones which feature in her own name. The narrator tells us, ‘She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them.’
During the Battle of the Cowshed, when Mr Jones and the other farmers ambush Animal Farm, Mollie flees at the first sound of gunfire, hiding in her stall in the stable, with her head buried in the hay. She is found after the battle by the other animals.
Shortly after this, Clover spots Mollie talking to one of the men from Mr Pilkington’s farm on the other side of the hedge, with the man stroking Mollie’s nose. When she confronts Mollie over this, Mollie denies it, but Clover finds sugar and ribbons concealed under Mollie’s pile of hay, and deduces that she has been accepting gifts from the man.
Three days after this, Mollie disappears from Animal Farm and is later seen on the other side of Willingdon, when some pigeons from Animal Farm spot her outside a pub. She seems happy at having defected from Animal Farm, and her name is never mentioned again.
What does Mollie represent?
Mollie is usually interpreted as a symbol for the Russian middle-classes living in the Soviet Union in the wake of the October Revolution of 1917. She represents the bourgeoisie who are reluctant to give up their nice things – their material possessions, their finery, and their luxuries – under the new Communist regime.
This is symbolised in Animal Farm by the fact that Mollie chooses to leave Animal Farm and live in the world of humans, where she will still be able to enjoy the things which she is reluctant to give up. In this respect, Mollie represents those middle-class Russians who fled the Soviet Union to live elsewhere, because they were not prepared to relinquish the comforts they had enjoyed prior to the Revolution.