Sunday, May 13, 2012

Animal Farm by George Orwell (7 down, 93 to go)

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

Technically, this was the first time I’ve read Animal Farm. A grade school teacher read it to my class, but that hardly counts. It is the second work by George Orwell that I’ve read [1984]. Animal Farm is an allegory and dystopian novella. It tells the tale of a group of farm animals that form a revolution and take over the farm from their human master. 

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

My sixth-grade teacher read this to our class. At the time, it was just a whimsical fantasy. I didn’t understand or care about the meaning. I was certainly more aware of the satire this time. It added a great deal to my reading.

I’ve often heard that Animal Farm is Orwell’s indictment of communism, but I don’t believe that was his intent. Orwell was himself a socialist. I find it much easier to believe this was an indictment of the Soviet corruption of the communist ideal.

In that regard, it was brilliant. The characters of Stalin and Trotsky are fairly obvious in the pigs Napoleon and Snowball. I imagine other characters are also mapped to specific persons, but I am too ignorant of Soviet history to recognize them. I’m not even sure if Old Major is supposed to be Lenin or Marx.

Aside from the indictment of the Soviet experiment, I think there is at least one very strong warning contained in the satire: the danger of revisionist history.

In the beginning the animals, led by Napoleon and Snowball, enact the seven commandments; the seventh reads:
All animals are equal
Later it is amended to:
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
which really means some are more privileged than others. And though the reader knows this is a revision, it is politically incorrect for the animals to avow it was ever anything different. Eventually, the first six commandments disappear, and again, none of the animals dare suggest there were ever any others.

I enjoyed Animal Farm, which seems a bit odd, as once again, there is no hero. Boxer, the powerful but unintelligent horse was admirable and pitiable. His friend Benjamin the fatalist old donkey is…well I don’t know how to describe him. He understands what has happened and it makes him somewhat admirable, but his resigned acceptance is detestable. I think the mare Clover is the most likable, but also pitiable, and certainly no heroine.

To quote Benjamin: 
life would go on as it had always gone on—that is badly.

Orwell would not live to see the failure of the Soviet experiment; he merely envisioned it 

Film Renditions: I watched the 1954 animated version as well as a 1999 version with live animals and voices of a few pretty big stars (Kelsey Grammer, Patrick Stewart, et al). The animated version was awful, truly awful. The 1999 version was a bit better, but added a cheery ending that was not at all true to the book, and misses the point entirely. Admittedly, it is a difficult story to do justice via film...and IMO no one has done so yet.



  1. I like your thoughts about how there is no hero. The thing is, what would a hero look like in this context? They could not act alone - they would need to be persuasive. Sway the sheep, perhaps, and it doesn't help that the pigs have those guard dogs at their disposal, keeping the other animals in a state of fear (and a constant fear like that doesn't really allow for steady contemplation).

    I also like your observation about revisionist history. So true. I wonder some times if people want to know what happened in the past, or if they're content with making up their own very simple version of it.

    1. You're right of course...there could be no hero, especially since it is an allegory of early Soviet History. The farm commune would have to struggle along miserably for a half century....and then a pig named Gorby could be the hero.


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