World status quo/the book
Astonishing, disarming and simply mind-blowing – these are the perfect words one can use to describe the „Animal Farm” experience. First published in 1946 by Secker and Warburg, a local publishing house originating in London, England, George Orwell’s dystopian and allegorical novella has seen the daylight in a troublesome time in history, in which freedom of speech as far as political matters are concerned was intimidated by the current state of affairs in Europe and beyond.
The book was initially banned and received numerous harsh reviews, only to now be considered one of the 100 best English-language novels (according to „Time” magazine) and actually become study material in English Literature classes all over the world. Making use of an unmistakable style, a fascinating use of allegorical techniques and extensive knowledge in the field of history and politics, George Orwell provided humanity an undeniable masterpiece, now ingrained in the collective culture.
The action of „Animal Farm” is taking place beneath the fences of the Manor Farm, where the animals are summoned together by Old Major, the oldest and cleverest of the pigs, who describes the threat that humans pose for the animal population of the farm. His sudden death means that two younger pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and continue the Rebellion, which results in Mr. Jones being banished from the farm. The animals now left to take care of themselves, adopt a set of rules, the Seven Commandments of Animalism, and start organising their society according to the principle that „All animals are equal”. As the story unfolds, Snowball and Napoleon start different initiatives for the sake of the Animal Farm, but seeking particular objectives; Napoleon’s demagogy and violent politics result in Snowball’s banish from the farm and, therefore, a major change in the farm’s organization and rules. The revolutionary anthem of the farm, „Beasts of England”, is replaced with a song glorifying Napoleon, the farm is purged by Napoleon’s trained dogs, the recurring fails in building the windmill drive the animals to exhaustion, Napoleon himself picks up a human behaviour and the rules change thus that now „All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. The book’s ending, extremely sad, yet fascinating and eye-opening, will take the reader aback with cruel, cold sincerity.
George Orwell, a visionary author
„Animal Farm” is a short and entertaining read that can easily be crammed into one sitting. At the same time, in order to be understood properly and, of course, enjoyed until the very last page, the book ought to reveal its complex historical background and sources of inspiration. „Animal Farm” is an allegorical novella faithfully presenting the rise of Communism in 1910s Russia, as well as the USSR’s quick and confident reach to the European status of political power. Each and every detail introduced by Orwell in the book is an ingenious symbol for particular elements belonging to Russia’s Communist history chapter. For example, the revolt of the animals against Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm, is an analogy with the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The horn and hoof flag described in the novella appears to be based on the hammer and sickle, the well-known Communist symbol. Particular events in the story are also allegorical representations of actual historical events. The analogies stretch to the characters themselves: Old Major is an allegorical combination of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, Napoleon is an allegory for Joseph Stalin, while Snowball is mainly based on Leon Trotsky. Even the book’s ending scene reflects the political and military situation worldwide at the end of World War II, slightly anticipating the complex circumstances of the Cold War. The list of analogies can continue, as political theorists still struggle to read beneath the story told by Orwell. As far as I am concerned, though, the author’s call for the reader’s own knowledge in history and politics is intriguing and a relevant representation of his own extensive political and philosophical views.
Published four years before „Ninety Eighty-Four”, Orwell’s other magnum opus, „Animal Farm” is an accurate representation of the author’s own political conceptions, born and developed under the circumstances of a difficult time in the 20th century. Showing an outspoken support of democratic socialism, Orwell harshly criticized the form of Communism developed in Soviet Russia, denouncing it as an inaccurate and abusive interpretation of the original Marxist theory. It can be claimed that „Animal Farm” built an invaluable bridge between political sciences and literature, bringing theoretical ideas into art and, after all, outlining significant moral values, almost completely neglected during the hard times of the Cold War.
Orwell’s legacy via „Animal Farm” is even more important if we take into consideration the fact that he has spoken out the truth during times in which this particularly bold gesture was heavily discouraged, if not completely impossible. World War II had just ended when “Animal Farm” was published and the book was immediately banned in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the book was still available through the effort of clandestine Samizdat networks (dissident movements across the Soviet bloc providing censored and underground publications by hand). Readers from both sides of the Berlin Wall read the book and united spiritually through the message Orwell has tried to send. As far as the field of literature is concerned, Orwell’s outstanding work was supported by authors who touched similar political topics (an example recommended by yours truly is Ray Bradbury’s „Fahrenheit 451”). Therefore, even though the freedom of speech was almost inexistent, art survived and writers like Orwell and Bradbury offered the people the truthful stories that they needed.
As someone really interested in history and political theory, I really enjoyed reading „Animal Farm”. The story compelled me from the very first pages, keeping me hooked until its stunning ending. More than anything, I was fascinated by Orwell’s original style of story-telling and by how easily one can actually read this book; the story felt surprisingly natural to me, as if I’ve already known it from another lifetime. It took some time to realise that, eventually, beyond its political meanings and symbols, „Animal Farm” is actually an accurate allegorical representation of mankind. In the novella, Orwell tells the story of people, regardless of their political views and social approach, and reveals the true face of human nature. Regardless of how much they know about the rise and fall of Communism, readers will leave „Animal Farm” with a few very important lessons learnt, deeply ingrained in their self-conscience. After you finish the book, you feel the utter need to change something about yourself, you feel ashamed of whom you are and you are afraid of what you can become. After you finish „Animal Farm”, you basically feel like a pig yourself.
In a 1946 review of the book, The New Republic critic George Soules wrote: „It seems to me that the failure of this book arises from the fact that the satire deals not with something the author has experienced, but rather with stereotyped ideas about a country which he probably does not know very well.” Surprisingly, in „Animal Farm”, George Orwell foresees the most significant events of the next half of century, almost anticipating the system’s inborn tendency towards dysfunction. Full of diverse meanings forming an accurate description of political practice and human profile, „Animal Farm” remains one of the most important and eloquent experiences of the English literature.
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