Book review: Animal Farm

by pegleghippie

During my trip, I borrowed Animal Farm from my friend Kelly.  I just now finished it, so it’ll be returned to her at some unknown future date.  Hopefully.

Anyway, if you’ve never read Animal Farm, you probably should.  Even if you’ve already read Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Yes, Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell’s opus, and covers most of the themes of Animal Farm quite well, but it’s more academic and less novel-ish.  In other words its less fun, and I’ll go so far as to say Animal Farm is better written.

The reason it’s better written is because Orwell focused on simplicity here.  It really does read like a children’s story, so much so that I’ll probably read it to my kids someday.  The animals talk, not only to each other, but to people as well.  It’s all sort of cutesy, and has a very innocent feel to it.  Of course, things don’t stay cutesy, as life on the farm goes to hell as corruption gets worse, but it never leaves the fairy-tale ethos, never becoming one of those “twisted” style ironic children’s tales.

It’s also simple with regards to the moral of the story.  Where Nineteen Eighty-Four examined the nature of authority and totalitarian politics, the role of censorship, torture, propaganda, the nature of the individual, the theory and worth of history, and (most importantly) the impact of language on how we think, Animal Farm is content to fill its allegorical role.  The farm is obviously Russia, Napoleon is obviously Stalin, the other adjacent farms are obviously Nazi Germany and the capitalist west, etc.  Orwell actually does a really good job with representing various people and groups and ideas in the forms of his characters.  He manages to cover everything from Trotsky to religion to the working class/russian economy, all with just one character each.

In Animal Farm, Orwell does actually touch on some of the above mentioned Nineteen Eighty-four themes, most notably authoritarianism. However, the focus of this Novella is how the revolution was betrayed by that authority.  Things start out so promising, near-Utopic, but Napoleon’s ego (and greed) eventually take the conditions on the farm right back to where they were when humans were in charge, except with even fewer resources.  The overall point that Orwell makes (and I read this elsewhere, it’s not immediately apparent reading the book), is that revolutions will always be betrayed, that any lasting socialist improvements need to be gradual, and reached through more reasonable (democratic) means.  Otherwise, a leader can justify nearly anything as being ‘in the spirit of the rebellion,’ including capitalist ownership of the nation itself, and drag the disempowered population along.  We see this rather blatantly at the end of the book when Napoleon tells humans how the pigs own the farm, with an actual title deed, and the other animals cannot distinguish between pig and man.

So it’s short, it’s direct, it’s humble, and it’s satisfying.  Really, you have no reason not to read this book.

2 Responses

  1. I think I saw some cartoon about this when I was a kid. I didn’t get it at all. I liked the idea of pigs being in charge.

    An interesting animal for Orwell to choose.


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