Old Major (also called Willingdon Beauty, his name used when showing) is the first major character described by George Orwell in Animal Farm. This "purebred" of pigs is a kind, grandfatherly philosopher of change.
Old Major proposes a solution to the animals' desperate plight on Manor Farm under the Jones administration and inspires thoughts of a rebellion. The actual time of the revolt is unsaid; it could be tomorrow or several generations down the road. Old Major dies three days after delivering his speech and the animals, stirred up by this speech, set to work immediately on the bringing about of the Rebellion.
Shortly after his death, the animals rise in revolt and oust the humans from power. This rebellious act is so quick that many do not realize it has happened until it is over. The animals drive Jones and the farmhands off the farm and remove many of the implements of his rule.
The Seven Commandments that Snowball transcribes, that are supposed to encompass Old Major's general philosophy, are gradually altered and deformed under Napoleon until they have entirely different meanings from those originally intended. "Beasts of England", the song that came to Old Major in his dream, is later banned on Animal Farm by Napoleon, at which time it is replaced by "Comrade Napoleon", a hymn composed by Minimus the pig that pledges allegiance to Animal Farm and to work to protect it.
In both film adaptations, Major dies while provoking the animals into rebelling. In the 1954 adaption (voiced by Maurice Denham), he dies suddenly while the animals are singing. In the 1999 version (voiced by Peter Ustinov), Farmer Jones slips in mud while investigating the sounds coming from the barn, which sets off his shotgun, and indirectly hits Major in his backside, killing him.
Major's skull is dug up and saluted by the animals every day, even after the rebellion, as a sign of respect that the animals remember their roots and the roots of the Rebellion. Napoleon, who later decides to accept the humans and strike bargains with them, announces that the remains are to be disposed of because they represent the old days when Animal Farm was "violent and primitive" towards humans; towards the end of the story, Napoleon announces that he has reburied the skull.
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