Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I’ve crossed yet another novel off my 5 Classics I Really Want to Read list! After 1984 became my favorite book of last year, I knew that I had to get my hands on more of George Orwell’s work. Animal Farm (1945) was an easy choice, given how popular it is in the Western canon. Plus, I had already seen the 1999 film version in high school, so I was not new to the story.
But for those of you who still are, I’ll summarize the tale: One day, a boar named Old Major shares his harsh thoughts on the human race. He passes away soon after, but the rest of the farm animals create a philosophy called Animalism based on his beliefs.
Unhappy with their master, Mr. Jones, the animals decide to revolt. They run the farmer off Manor Farm and rename it Animal Farm. They also establish the Seven Commandments of Animalism, which forbid them from imitating humans by wearing clothes, sleeping in beds, and drinking alcohol. The most important commandment was that “All animals are equal.”
In need of leadership, two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, are quick to take charge. At first the animals enjoy their freedom and autonomy, but soon the pigs become power-hungry. Napoleon turns the farm against Snowball, then proceeds to overwork and underfeed the animals, killing those who he deems as threats.
The years go by, with Napoleon changing the commandments to suit his own desires. The uneducated, brainwashed farm animals are easily manipulated into submission, even when the pigs move into Mr. Jones’ house, drink his beer, and start walking on two legs. “All animals are equal” gains an amendment, “…but some are more equal than others.”
I guess that was more than just a summary, but of course it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegory for the Russian Revolution. Animalism is analogous to Communism, with Old Major as a representation of its philosophers Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Therefore, Snowball and Napoleon are Trotsky and Stalin, respectively.
As seen with 1984, Orwell is a master of intertwining literature and history, telling a fantastic story while conveying strong political messages of his time. He was extremely critical of Stalin’s regime–how the tyrant corrupted socialist ideals and oppressed his people.
However, Orwell’s novels remain in the echelon of literature because their themes are timeless. The never-ending cycle of working class and elite is not merely seen in Communist nations. Orwell demonstrates that people with the best intentions often get so consumed with greed that they become the very enemy that they revolted against in the first place.
Call this struggle what you will–proletariat vs. bourgeoisie, the 99% vs. the 1%–but take heed of Orwell. Our politicians may say that they have our interests in mind, but are they really serving their constituents, or are they just pigs in suits?
Favorite Quote: “No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”