All of the animals in George Orwell’s allegorical novella Animal Farm come in groups: the pigs, the dogs, the cows, the horses, the chicken, the sheep—but there’s only one cat.
While she may not have a name or any spoken dialogue and only appears six times in the book, the cat manages to be one of the most curious and mysterious characters in Animal Farm.
She’s generally shown to be apathetic, elusive, and somewhat manipulative, but also kind of amusing. Most mentions of the cat read almost as punchlines, like, The dogs did X, the pigs did Y, the horses did Z, and meanwhile the cat did whatever TF she wanted. And, since Animal Farm is a pretty bleak book, the cat, bless her, adds a little bit of fun.
Her first appearance in the story shows her personality right out of the gate: All the animals are gathered in the barn for a meeting, and the cat is the last to arrive. She looks around for the warmest place to sit, finally settles, and purrs contentedly throughout Old Major the pig’s speech “without listening to a word of what he was saying.”
The 1954 animated film shows the cat in this scene, too, only she makes even more of a grand entrance as all the animals go silent and wait for her to strut across the barn and find a seat. She then immediately takes a nap. (The cat is not featured in the 1999 live action film adaptation, but we don’t talk about that one anyway because it’s—how do you say?—bad.)
Throughout the story, the cat is seen to be shirking off work, though conveniently returning in time for dinner, and once when the animals take a vote, she votes on both sides. She makes clever excuses and purrs her way out of things, and the other animals can’t help but be taken in.
For only a few days, she joins the Re-education Committee to teach other animals about human-less society, telling the sparrows that all animals are equal so they should come right over and perch on her paw. She actually does help defend the farm once by attacking a human with her claws, but notably only joins the fray after seeing that all the other animals are fighting.
Almost every character in Animal Farm represents a figure from the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, so who is the cat supposed to be?
I’ve read a lot of different interpretations of what the cat represents: the Russian elite (who lived luxuriously and didn’t care about the plight of the working man); the educated (who didn’t believe communism was the right path but were also wealthy and did not work); the thieves and criminals of society (who freeload without contributing anything themselves); and opportunists (who are only interested in what will serve them most)—the one I tend to agree with.
Cats are self-sufficient, independent creatures. The Animal Farm cat doesn’t want to be tied down to any kind of society, but she’ll also take what she can get from it, if it doesn’t cost her. She’s intelligent, but self-serving. Her attitude and work ethic I think can best be summed up by something lawyer Jeff Winger says in the TV show Community: “The funny thing about being smart is that you can get through most of life without ever having to do any work.”
And the behavior of the cat was somewhat peculiar. It was soon noticed that when there was work to be done the cat could never be found. She would vanish for hours on end, and then reappear at mealtimes, or in the evening after work was over, as though nothing had happened. But she always made such excellent excuses, and purred so affectionately, that it was impossible not to believe in her good intentions.—George Orwell, Animal Farm