Monday 24 October 2011

Orwell October: Animal Farm

I first read Animal Farm when I was 13 or possibly 14 years old, and actually wrote my very first essay on it- for that reason it's close to my heart, but this is more likely down to the fact that it's So. Freaking. Awesome. I mean, really. Anyway, reading it at 13/14, I didn't really know anything about Communism, Russia, Stalin, that whole revolution thing that happened, I could go on but I won't; and I was probably better informed than a lot of other people in the class. So, usefully, our teacher created a little sheet that contained explanations of what all the things in the book related to in real life (for example, Napolean=Stalin, Snowball=Trotsky, Boxer=the Worker and so on) which really made the book a lot more interesting to me because it related to real things that happened.

And boy, does it relate to real things that happened! I mean, so closely that it Orwell couldn't find a publisher for it while Britain was still friends with Stalin in WWII, which in itself is an indication of it containing truths that nobody wanted to face up to. Because really- an idealistic pig (literally, not insulting him!) dreams up a society where animals are all equal and have vanquished their evil overlords the humans, who take what they produce and produce nothing themselves, and then some other pig takes  these ideas and subverts them into something so closely resembling the old regime that it's impossible to tell them apart? Hello Marxism being f'd in the a! It's a genuinely so perfect satire/allegory that I can't even begin to describe it to you, you just have to read it to believe it- I can even make you a little cheat sheet if you like!

What I think is really great about it though, is that even if you take it as 'A Fairy Story' (which is what Orwell calls it on its front page) you can still see within it that the pigs are utterly wrong to do what they do, that Boxer is great and noble, and that, while the ideas behind 'animalism' (geddit?) are great and worthy, once they are subverted by the pigs, they become worthless, and, quite frankly, a sham. It's great, therefore, to be able to see these things in terms of a fairy tale, and then to be able to apply them to real things that happened, and is part of Orwell's amazing ability to connect with and appeal to such vast numbers of people (put another way, I LOVE ORWELL! Just in case you didn't know that yet...)

So, my reading of Animal Farm this time round was entertaining as ever (and took about 2 hours, if that, so you really have no excuse!) and I actually found quite a lot of things in it that I hadn't fully realised before. Here's just a short list of them:

  • There's this raven who hangs around talking about this animal heaven that animals apparently go to when they die- even though animalism is basically against religion, the pigs let him hang around and even feed him, obviously because, if the animals believe that something better is waiting for them when they die, they'll work harder because they will be rewarded in the end. Since the pigs want more work done, they let the raven stay, even though they know what he's saying in utter bull. Taking Marx's opium of the people and twisting it around for their own uses by any chance?
  • It's really sad to me that, because the animals truly believe they are working for themselves, they work as hard as they possibly can, and sometimes even harder; when actually they are absolutely not equal, the pigs have total control of everything, and, quite frankly, the regime is the same, it's just the leaders who are different.
  • There's this donkey, Benjamin, who refuses to get enthusiastic about animalism in any way, he says because he's lived a long time. I feel like this is an indication of the fact that political systems always benefit the same kind of people and short-change the rest, and if you live for a long enough time, you'll get to know that nothing is ever done to change this. It's a completely cynical way to look at the world, but unfortunately, I think that Benjamin might actually be onto something.
  • I really really really want to take Napoleon and make him into bacon. Then he'd at least be good for something, although I'm not sure I'd want that much evil in me!
And then there's Boxer. This paragraph is going to be pretty spoilerific, so look away now if you haven't read the book. I love Boxer so so so much, and he is really the epitome of the worker- not necessarily terribly bright, but so strong and with more bravery and determination in one hoof than Napoleon has in his entire big fat pig body. Orwell clearly admires and respects him, and it is clear that these are his feelings for actual workers as well. So, Boxers death (and his fall comes, quite rightly, within work) is so awful, so tragic, that I definitely have a little cry at it. Because, you see, Boxer is the person who is supposed to most benefit from the revolution, but actually, he gets the shoddiest deal of all- looking forward so longingly to his well-earned retirement where he will be taken care of for once, he instead gets sold off to the glue makers so the pigs could have more whiskey (which they weren't even meant to have anyway). It's the moment where all hope of something better goes out of the story, and it's just about the point where you wish the pigs were just bacon already! END OF SPOILERS.

So that's Animal Farm for you- brutal, mean, and exactly the same as it was before, only with pigs in control instead of men (although, you know, what's the difference?) Actually, in many ways it's worse than it was before, and I think this is Orwell's way of saying that, even if a political system sounds so wonderful in theory (equality for all) in practice, someone always gets too consumed with a lust for power so that everyone but that person and his special friends (ie security forces) actually loses out. In other words: actual socialism good, totalitarianism bad. Seriously though, read this book- it contains so much in so few pages, and is really worth the few hours of your time that it'll take to read. 


  1. Somehow I missed Animal Farm through school but right before I started my blog Boyfriend convinced me to read it and man was it good! Why was this kept from me through school? Well not kept from me, there was no ban on it or anything. I guess it's more "why was this not placed into my out stretched hands and instead I had to go find it myself, except actually someone else did make me read it and now my rant makes no sense". That didn't go the way I expected.

    Anyhoo, I loved this one and I have to agree with you on Boxer. He was so sweet and so sincere that what happened to him was extra cruel.

  2. Ha, your rant was totes amazing :) also, go boyfriend for having good taste! And yeah, poor Boxer. And poor workers! Just sadness all round.

  3. I love animal farm. It is my favorite Orwell novel. The last lines are pretty amazing as well.