Title: Animal Farm
Author: George Orwell
Genre: Fiction, satire, political satire
Where I got the book: I purchased this book at Norli.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: On a farm in England, the lazy and incompetent farmer Mr. Jones completely neglects his livestock. This cruelty spurs on a rebellion after the pig Old Major’s dying vision. Under the leadership of the pigs Snowball and Napoleon, the animals drive Mr. Jones away and proceed to take over the farm, which is promptly and fittingly renamed Animal Farm. The animals are now completely in charge of running the farm and learn that “all animals are equal.” However, as time passes internal disagreements within the leadership arise and soon it undergoes drastic changes. Following these changes the farm rules are constantly altered in favor of the new leadership, and it soon becomes clear that “some animals are more equal than others.”
“The only good human being is a dead one.”
– Animal Farm, George Orwell
If you’re by any chance unfamiliar with this book it might strike you at first glance as a quirky story with talking animals where the animals win. What it actually is however is an allegory written by Orwell as a critique of communism. I won’t go into detail about which character represents what historical figure, but generally this book represents the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. The vision that is put forth in the beginning is a glorious one, a socialist ideal where everyone’s lives are promised to be better, an ideal which after the revolution becomes corrupted by the brutal dictatorship of a few select powerful people – or, in this case, a few select pigs.
“Animal Farm” is very simplistic in its plot, quite neutral in its narration, and overall a short, easy read to get through. It’s easy to follow the turns and changes of the socialist ideal, how the reign of terror eventually takes hold, how the uneducated masses are taken advantage of and constantly submitted to propaganda, and how the leader/dictator eventually turns capitalist. At the same time, I find the allegory to be both powerful and effective. The characters are anthropomorphized animals after all, and the sympathy I felt for some of them was very real and immediate, a different kind of sympathy to the one I might have felt if I were to read the historical overview in a textbook. A character that especially stuck with me was the work horse Boxer, an obvious representation of the working class, or the proletariat if you will, and his heartbreaking fate. Same thing with the newborn puppies, who were taken away and not seen again until they emerged as specially trained, vicious guard dogs that were to blindly follow and protect the leader. In relation to this, I personally liked how well written the animal characters are. They have very distinct personalities that go well with the animal in question, and some of them I couldn’t help but find charming. On the other hand, this is an aspect that might be annoying to some readers. If that is your general feeling about talking animals then it probably will be difficult to connect with the story.
This is an old critique of communism but it can still find relevance today. Simple-minded but powerful ideals can be very dangerous if they take hold, in which case ignorance is all but bliss. Although this was my first time reading “Animal Farm” I was familiar with it and already knew what the story represented. I kind of wish I’d read this when I was younger, when I would really have no idea, just so I could re-read it as an adult and see the change in my reading experience.