George Orwell – Animal Farm

17Apr09

An anthropomorphic anti-Soviet social satire, this book stirred up a fair bit of controversy, and initially, a multitude of publishers refused to print it, fearing the repercussions of the act.

The book focuses on the animals of Manor Farm, and how they go the full circle, from being owned by men and working for them, to being an animal democracy, and then the balance of power shifting again, to one of the species…

In the opening chapter, the Old Baron summons all the animals of Manor Farm one evening, after the farmer – Mr. Jones – has retired for the night. He then tells the animals of a dream where the animals are independent, and working for themselves, and not man. He then encourages them to plan a revolution to overthrow man, and take their fate in their own hands.

And that is exactly what these animals do, by running Mr. Jones out of the farm, and creating a democracy, with seven commandments:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend
  3. No animal shall ever wear clothes
  4. No animal shall ever sleep in a bed
  5. No animal shall ever drink alcohol
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal
  7. All animals are equal

This is the new improved farm – the Animal Farm – where the animals join forces and work for themselves. Pigs, deemed the most intellectual of all animals, are mutually considered to be the species who would educate the others, as well as plan out the best course of action for the farm. All in all, the animals were ecstatic that they had achieved this utopian dream, and news of their success spread far and wide.

However, soon enough, the pigs became the ‘rulers’ of this utopia, and started setting down the rules, often overriding the commandments, or adding an exception clause, without informing the other citizens. Napoleon, the elite ruler (who was meant to represent Stalin), with the help of Squealer (supposedly Molotov) started slowly brainwashing the other animals, and confusing them greatly; so much so, that, eventually a totalitarian regime emerged, but the animals didn’t even realize what was happening. The final commandment was altered by the pigs to

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

No animal was informed of this change, and none of them realized what was actually going on – be it because of their inherently trusting nature, or because of the pack of lies they were fed by the pigs-in-charge. I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but suffice it to say that the last line pretty much sums up the book in a nutshell.

This book explores the failure of communism, and how, while in theory it’s utopian; in practice, it just ends up being a totalitarian dystopia (in the context of the Stalin rule, at least). It shows naivety of people, and how easy it is to muddle their thoughts by stretching the truth, or talking so confidently that they start doubting their own memories. For example, when the pigs moved into the Jones’ house, and started sleeping on the beds, one of the animals was sure that there was a commandment that denounced this. When he went to the ‘wall’ where all the commandments were details, what he read was

No animal shall ever sleep in a bed with sheets.

Of course, the pigs denied using sheets.

What is really scary, though, is that the book is so convincing; that the animals are so quick to believe everything. Even when their food rations are decreased, their working hours increased, and the pigs are getting all the apples, they do not revolt against the pigs, for, they believe that it’s better than working for the Jones’. Of course, no one quite recalls what that was like, and whether that was a better life, or worse.

While this book sounds political, it’s not, really. As in, one can easily read it as a piece of fiction (a fairy tale, as one of its alternate titles suggest), and contemplate on some of the many points raised without matching up the main characters with their corresponding historical figures. Of course, the matching makes the book more interesting, but… I only ended up looking into who each character was after I finished it; more out of interest in the history of the Soviet Union, as opposed to because the book demanded it.

This book is a classic, and I think a definite must-read. It’s practically been on every ‘list’ of must-reads and best books, and there’s a reason why.

An 8 on 10, with my only complaints being that the book is overtly simplistic, and, not the reader is not completely clear as to who each character of the book is. Of course, if it was abundantly clear, the reader would complain that little is left to the imagination….  Also, I can’t help but wonder how would things have materialized if the pigs were capitalists, not communists… any ideas?

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One Response to “George Orwell – Animal Farm”

  1. I don’t think there is supposed to be a one-to-one correspondence between the animals and historical characters. The story is a parable. Orwell hated all forms of totalitarianism and thought control, whatever the official ideology of the powerful. The ideology serves power, not the other way around.


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