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[285] Animal Farm – George Orwell

“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]

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12 Responses

  1. Can you believe I managed to get out of high school without reading this book? Someday I really should but, for some reason, it’s never appealed to me.

    • Neither have I read it in high school! The only Orwell I read was 1984, first in tenth grade and again in 12th grade. I am amazed at the sheer simplicity of the story, and how far fetched its meaning is.

  2. I’ve come across mentions of this book twice in the last week. Laura Miller evokes _Animal Farm_ in a discussion of allegory in her book on C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, which are frequently labelled allegory but are not properly allegorical. I also came across it in a discussion of required reading in high school. It seems that many think that high school is not the time to read this book, although I certainly think that the book is enriched with the supplementary discussion of the parallels to the communist revolution in Russia. Even without that, I think that the pigs’ maxim that “some are more equal than others” is line that rings true.

    • That maxim is timeless. Even in a democratic society, when all races and gender should be equal, you still see these invisible inequalities. Some people are meant to be treated differently, with privilege.

  3. It’s been a long time since I read this but I’m going to disagree with you about it. First, I can accept it as fairy story even without magic. I think it fits in with stories like Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and others which feature talking animals but no magic.

    And I think there are clear morals to the book. Isn’t it an attack on Stalinism in particular and on communism in general? Perhaps even more generally a critique of all social/political revolutions? The way the law passes from “all are equal” to “some are more equal than others” without fuss or controversy applies to far too much of our own life and times.

    I should re-read Animal Farm sometime soon.

    • The book marks out its moral very clearly at the beginning, although it doesn’t read like a fairy tale to me. I feel more like an allegory, a lesson to be learned.

  4. I love Orwell. I read Animal Farm in college but I re-read it every now and then.

    • I do too. I always thought Orwell takes his word very seriously. If he means it to be a fairy tale, it is, even though I still think Animal Farm is more an allegory.

  5. I haven’t read this since high school and that was a long time ago. I need to put this on my reread list.

    • I never read Animal Farm in high school, nor did I read Of Mice and Men! My school must have adopted an alternative reading curriculum!

  6. I read this in secondary school and although I enjoyed reading it then, I didn’t get to fully appreciate many things until I was an adult. The communism theme has never really jumped out at me but the other themes of friendship, loyalty, doing what is right, peer pressure, etc. continue to be the main focal point for me each time. I have used this book with a couple of my secondary students and although we did did talk about communism and made parallels to the real world, the other themes were far more engaging. Or was/ am I too naive?

    I also actually enjoyed the film that was made too.

    • All the points you mention about Animal farm are valid. Loyalty and friendship especially. Sometimes I think secondary school/high school students might not appreciate fully the implication of the book. The language, though, is very simple.

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