Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published in 1945.
Synopsis: While the owner of Manor Farm is in a drunken stupor, his farm animals revolt, overtake the farm and rename it Animal Farm. Grounded in Seven Commandments, Animal Farm initially becomes a sort-of utopian community where animals rule and everyone is equal. But feudalistic pigs create a hierarchy where one pig is ultimately banished and the head pig, Napoleon, creates a system where everyone must work harder for less.
About the Author: George Orwell (the pen name for Eric Blair) was an English writer who lived from 1903-1950. While his early writings focused largely on his service in Burma and wanderings in Paris and London, he is most well-known for his later-in-life allegories on the dangers of totalitarian rule – most notably Animal Farm and 1984.
My Initial Reactions to the Book
I had read this book in 7th grade English class, and not surprising, at that time I had no understandingof the political undertones. I hate to admit it, but in my young mind, I had a difficult time distinguishing Animal Farm from Charlotte’s Web, as both stories contain scheming animals. Before re-reading this novella, I began by reading Russell Baker’s 1996 preface to the version that was reprinted by Signet Classics. One of the most interesting things that I hadn’t realized before is that this novel was initially published the same month that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While Animal Farm is an allegorical critique on the then-Stalin-led Soviet Union, at that time they were considered an ally to the USA and Britain, so this book was perceived as controversial. I therefore tried to imagine the book from within the timeframe when it was written, as well as within its supposed-relevance to today’s society.
While the main themes that are oftentimes recounted from this story are”all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” and the totalitarian nature of the pig Napoleon, I found myself to be especially interested in some of the minor characters. For example, there’s Mollie, who was not keen on giving up her sugar rations and hair ribbons for the greater good and managed to escape the farm early. I wonder, did she fare better than the others?
Then there’s Boxer the horse whose motto was “I will work harder,” who continued to work hard until he could no longer manage. At that point he was anticipating a relaxing retirement, but in actuality was sent to a slaughterhouse to be turned into glue. It kind of makes you think of all those baby boomers who worked hard throughout their lives only to lose their pensions at the hands of greed…
But I think my favorite character was Benjamin the donkey. Benjamin was the picture of neutrality and refused to take a stand on pretty much everything. He also seemed to be the oldest character, and it was almost as if he had no faith in any form of revolution ever creating reform. He was perhaps the wisest of all.
Reading Animal Farm makes you question if anything is really ‘truth’ and whether things ever really change, and like 1984 raises the issue of leaders re-writing history and the rule books to suit their current needs. While Animal Farm was a great read, I think I ultimately enjoyed 1984 better (click here for me review of that book).
Have you read Animal Farm, and if so, what did you think of the book? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section below.