A guide to the classics: Animal Farm
|August 30, 2011||Posted by Jess Kadow under guide to the classics|
Whilst I could have picked the more obvious choice of 1984, the novel that made George Orwell truly famous, Animal Farm is a short and succinct book which seems to have formed the building blocks of its better known successor. Written four years earlier, in 1945, Animal Farm is a metaphorical journey into the realm of revolution and Communism in an altogether different avenue then many have tried before and since. Taking the rather innocent world of the farm animal, Orwell shows the good intentions that began the Communist, or, as termed in the book, Animalist, regime and how it can be twisted and corrupted by the trappings of power, a topic which comes into its own when combined with the strange environment of the farmyard.
The plot of Animal Farm is simple; a farmyard full of animals grows increasingly discontent with the conditions that they are forced to suffer at the hands of their uncaring farmer, Mr Jones. The pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, lead a patriotic march against Mr Jones and drive him off the farm, establishing their own dominance and a free regime where the animals can flourish and lead happy lives. They draw up a list of rules, known as the Seven Commandments, to protect their rights and well-being, including that no animal should kill another animal and that all animals are equal. The pigs take the lead in establishing a work rota and all the animals help each other, also attempting to better themselves by learning the alphabet and basic writing and reading skills. It becomes clear, however, that not all of the animals have as good memories or as high a degree of intelligence as the pig. Boxer the horse is unable to remember further than the first four letters of the alphabet and the sheep have to rely on the simple phrase “Four legs good, two legs bad” because they fail to understand anything more complicated.
The power of the metaphor is certainly more revealing and a more original idea than if the book had been centred as a localised, human fight against Communism and it is difficult to resist falling for the simple ideals and good nature of the animals. It makes it hard to bear when you see the atmosphere on the farm gradually changing as the pigs rise to power under the guise of “organising” affairs and improving the animals’ lifestyle, introducing scapegoats to avert blame for their mistakes onto others. The acceptance and trust that is placed in the supposedly more intelligent species is saddening and deeply misguided by lies and trickery, but humans have repeated this admiration for the ruling class of Communist regimes throughout history, despite the fact that Communist ideals do not include a ruling class. The people remain trapped under the illusion that because they are fighting for themselves and for equality, their suffering is for a better cause and therefore more extremes can be endured: less food, harder work, fewer privileges. And yet on Animal Farm, the animals suffer further merely for the advancement of the pigs and their grand ideas.
It is interesting how closely and accurately the parallels to the human world and the Soviet Union are reflected within in the small environment of the farmyard, and Orwell supposedly chose this setting because of the parallels between the strong but repressed proletariat and the animals who humans also exploit for their own gain. But Orwell goes further than just setting up a similar background. Snowball the pig is ousted from the farm for constantly contradicting the ideas of Napoleon, just as Stalin denounced the figure of Trotsky, who served as a scapegoat and an example in the Soviet Union. Napoleon trains a litter of puppies to be his faithful guards, who act as the secret police and put fear into the hearts of the other animals so that they dare not fight back, especially because Napoleon sets upon his own campaign to purge the farm of resistance. The animals all toil to build a windmill to help further the technological advancement of the farm and to serve as a pillar of their achievement, yet the windmill is destroyed and a battle develops over it against the vengeful farmers. This may be meant to mirror the Battle of Stalingrad in the Second World War, which would have just occurred before the time of writing, as Communism took on Hitler’s fascist regime and won due to superior morale and hardiness. This was considered a turning point in the war, and is also seen as a major victory in the book, used to highlight the great achievements of the animals over the humans and increasing the strength of the pigs, as they show that they can effectively lead and sustain a rebellion.
Animal Farm is not meant to be realistic in every sense however. For instance, the fact that pigs and horses can’t actually construct a windmill, write with a pen or stand on their hind legs are known by everyone reading it, but this is overlooked because the emphasis is on studying the ideals and progression of the characters and not on creating a real life environment. It is more of a case study, or perhaps a hypothesis, which seeks to prove that Communism is not a viable way of running a country, or even a farm, as it cannot be successfully achieved due to human nature. And it is human nature, as all the animals take on human personalities, which is essential to the meaning behind the text. It is also then easy to observe how the animals become more like the human farmer they overthrew, the fascist dictator of the countryside, and how easy it is to step into his shoes as he has left the central elements of his control behind, such as the farmhouse with its luxury beds, superior food and alcohol.
The ideas that Orwell set down in this book went on to provide a base for 1984, a thrilling novel which presents the story of Winston Smith, a captive of Big Brother and the twisted regime. This may be easier to identify with as a reader, as Winston is a human and the society built up around him is again based on the Soviet Union and the injustices of its rule, which people were all too familiar with at the time. Yet the simple ideas and parallels that exist in Animal Farm form what for me is a perfect example and portrayal of Orwell’s views on the matter. There is no room for ambiguity, despite it being a book written entirely in metaphor, and his clearly expressed opinions shine through to make it a powerful, compelling read as well as an infuriating one. The complete injustice of the system labelled ‘Communism’ but which abides by none of its own rules does seem to highlight that one rule in Animal Farm which is so true of our human society: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”