Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Title: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company

Genre: Allegory, Satire

First Publication: 1945

Language: English

Major Characters: Snowball, Napoleon, Clover, Boxer, Old Major, Muriel, Jones, Squealer, Moses the Raven, Benjamin

Setting Place: A farm somewhere in England in the first half of the 20th century

Theme: Revolution and Corruption, Totalitarianism, Power, Soviet Union

Narrator: Third Person narration

 

Book Summary: Animal Farm by George Orwell

As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published.

As we witness the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, we begin to recognize the seeds of totalitarianism in the most idealistic organization; and in our most charismatic leaders, the souls of our cruelest oppressors.

 

Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell captures the themes of oppression, rebellion and history repeating itself. Animal Farm begins like an ambitious children’s tale: After Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, falls asleep in a drunken stupor, all of his animals meet in the big barn at the request of old Major, a 12-year-old pig. Major delivers a rousing political speech about the evils inflicted upon them by their human keepers and their need to rebel against the tyranny of Man.

Shortly after, when Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and Jones and his men are chased off the farm. Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the Seven Commandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall, the most important being “All animals are created equal“, which is later changed into “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Through the revision of the commandments, Orwell demonstrates how simply political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Animal Farm by George Orwell maybe not really children’s book material! There’s some heavy stuff. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. He believed, the Soviet Union had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror.

“I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves.” – George Orwell on Animal Farm

In his essay Why I Write (1946), he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole“. In my humble opinion, he mastered that with flying colors.

The revolt of the animals against Farmer Jones is Orwell’s analogy with the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Battle of the Cowshed has been said to represent the allied invasion of Soviet Russia in 1918. The pigs’ rise to pre-eminence mirrors the rise of a Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, just as Napoleon’s emergence as the farm’s sole leader reflects Stalin’s emergence. The pigs’ appropriation of milk and apples for their own use stands as an analogy for the crushing of the left-wing 1921 Kronstadt revolt against the Bolsheviks, and the difficult efforts of the animals to build the windmill suggest the various Five Year Plans.

“The only good human being is a dead one.”

I am not a history buff and I wasn’t acquainted with all of the historic events mirrored in Animal Farm, nonetheless, Orwell’s narrative remained accessible, since it can not only be coined to the Russian Revolution but to revolutions and change in leadership in general. Animal Farm by George Orwell details the history of humankind on this planet. History repeating itself. People being driven by money and profit.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Animal Farm by George Orwell closes with the pigs and men in a kind of rapprochement, reflected Orwell’s view of the 1943 Teheran Conference that seemed to display the establishment of “the best possible relations between the USSR and the West“—but in reality were destined, as Orwell presciently predicted, to continue to unravel. The disagreement between the allies and the start of the Cold War is suggested when Napoleon and Pilkington, both suspicious, “played an ace of spades simultaneously“. Of course, only one of the two is technically cheating, but Orwell does not indicate which one because such a fact is unimportant.

Another theme of Animal Farm by George Orwell that also strikes a satiric note is the idea of religion being the “opium of the people” (as Karl Marx famously wrote). Moses the raven’s talk of Sugarcandy Mountain originally annoys many of the animals, since Moses, known as a “teller of tales,” seems an unreliable source. At this point, the animals are still hopeful for a better future and therefore dismiss Moses’ stories of a paradise elsewhere. As their lives worsen, however, the animals begin to believe him, because “Their lives now, they reasoned, were hungry and laborious; Was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else?

“Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.”

Here, Orwell mocks the futile dreaming of a better place that clearly does not exist. The pigs allow Moses to stay on the farm — and even encourage his presence by rewarding him with beer — because they know that his stories of Sugarcandy Mountain will keep the animals docile: As long as there is some better world somewhere — even after death — the animals will trudge through this one. Thus Orwell implies that religious devotion — viewed by many as a noble character trait — can actually distort the ways in which one thinks of his or her life on earth.

In conclusion, Animal Farm by George Orwell is a novel that completely shook me. A novel that will haunt and accompany for the rest of my life, and that I will continue to dread and look forward to picking up again and again and again.


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