“Rumours of a wonderful farm, where the human beings had been turned out and the animals managed their own affairs, continued to circulate in vague and distorted forms, and throughout that year a wave of rebelliousness ran through the countryside.” [IV, 39]
George Orwell subtitles the novel a fairy story—a question lingered in my mind that begs to be answered. If a fairy story is deprived of magic, contains no sentimental interest of any kind, yes—Animal Farm is really stretching the traditional notion of a fairy story.
It all begins with a dream of old Major, a boar in the Minor Farm. An uprising that rids men out of the farm is the only solution to rescue the animals, underfed and overworked, out of their misery. After a series of secret meetings taken over months, they do, almost without much effort, capture the farm from the drunken farmer, change the name, and establish a model community in which all animals were (supposed to be) equal.
The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. [III, 35]
The two pigs that assume leadership role quickly become factious and quarrelsome. They fight one another for the mastery, and with uncanny tricks, Napoleon ousts Snowball, declaring him a traitor, attributing to him everything that has gone awry in the farm. To the shock of all the animals, Napoleon has evolved to be indistinguishable from what they fought in the first place, the cause of the rebellion: human beings. The leader now modifies the commandments to suit his purpose. The animals begin to realize, and remember—or think they remember that happenings around the farm do not square with what the commandments originally decree. As befit to any dictator and totalitarian, Napoleon receives all the credit for everything achievement and stroke of good fortune. He is not to be questioned and all dissident voices shall be silenced. He is more than God.
These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity . . . [VII, 86]
So there it is. A fairy story without a moral, in fact, not even a morality. The animal farm is a realm beyond good and evil. The novel neither judges nor labels the good guys from the bad ones. It’s simply a transcription of a view in life into terms of highly simplified symbols, so strong that it leaves us a deep indefinable feeling of truth. Most importantly, without even mentioning Communism, the book provokes in us a sense of rebelliousness.
141 pp. Signet Classics. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]