This wasn’t part of my high school curriculum, so I finally decided to give it a try. I knew going in that it’s an allegory of the Russian Revolution, but I think even if you know embarrassingly little of that, like me unfortunately, the message of this and the conclusions drawn would be the same, which I suppose proves how well it was written.
This will include spoilers.
This is the story of a revolt gone wrong, of a successful revolution that ends with a government more oppressive than the one that was overthrown. This happens gradually. The farm is thriving at first, after the animals drive the humans out. They have goals for the future, such as a plan to build a windmill to provide running water and electricity, and food is plentiful. A pig on the farm, Snowball, takes initiative and begins teaching some of the animals to read and write, while also establishing Animalism. This is an ideology with seven written commandments to preserve the values they hold dear, such as ‘All animals are equal’.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long, as another pig on the farm, Napoleon, vies for power. Democratic meetings are replaced with a ruling committee, extra food is set aside for all pigs to enjoy, Snowball is driven from the farm, and the other animals are manipulated, over time, to forget Snowball’s achievements and the initial dreams of the revolution. By the end, the seven commandments are replaced with a singular phrase, ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’, and as the animals of the farm watch the ruling pigs interact with the humans, their original oppressors, they can hardly tell the difference between them.
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.
It always feels a bit silly to read such a widely known classic as an adult, one that most high school kids in the west are forced to read, and give an opinion on something that has been analysed to death. I will hazard to say that I thought this was very well written and entertaining, half expecting the earth to shake with a resounding ‘no shit‘ from everyone in the world who read this years ago. It’s so well written that it seems almost a simple endeavour to take a revolution, pull out the key characters, turn them into anthropomorphized animals and have them play out what happened on a farm, but to do that and have it not turn out as trite nonsense is a testament to Orwell’s skill as a writer.
I always find it fascinating to read how entire populations of people are manipulated like this. It’s easy to feel immune to this sort of exploitation, but it does seem very effective. A common approach is to cut off access to outside information, feed lies to the society, and to use their fear to manipulate them. That’s how Napoleon turned the farm against Snowball, and it’s the same approach Malala Yousafzai describes the Taliban using to recruit new members. With our access to uncensored Internet, you would think, and hope, that such a tactic would be ineffective in a lot of the world now, but who knows with the strange things people come to believe. Educated adults with working Internet connections have been voting for Trump and not vaccinating their children, so I suppose anything is possible.
I should mention that this is still, unsurprisingly I suppose, banned in a few communist countries around the world, as well as in the United Arab Emirates for violating Islamic values (talking piggies), but I was surprised to see that Orwell had a difficult time getting it published in the first place, due to Britain’s alliance with the Soviet Union during the second world war. Four publishers refused it, one of which initially accepted it but later declined after speaking to the Ministry of Information, and it was apparently found later that the ministry agent believed to have persuaded them to reject the work was actually a Soviet spy.
As an aside, this was my first e-book! I thought a shorter novella would be a good place to start, so I borrowed my girlfriend’s Kobo and tried it on there. I thought not having a physical copy with a bookmark sticking out to gauge my progress would bother me, but the chapter and overall progress percentage was quite satisfying. The estimated time to finish the chapter was handy as well. I love stats and will take any I can get. I have such a backlog of physical books, and I don’t really read away from home that often, so I don’t think I’ll be switching any time soon, but there are a few slightly obscure novellas that I think I’ll be picking up on there soon.
Great little book. I can’t wait to read more from Orwell. I have my sights on Down and Out in Paris and London next, I think.