Friday, 6 November 2009

Animal Farm


These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them into rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major's speech. Instead-she did not know why-they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.

I didn't read Animal Farm by George Orwell at school nor did I manage to fit the novella into my reading in the ten years since so when Nineteen Eighty-Four was chosen for this month's book group, and I had an opportunity to re-read it, I seized the opportunity to read Animal Farm at the same time as a companion piece.

The satirical allegory of Communism and the scathing attack on Stalin in literary form is an intelligently crafted piece; it is also blackly humorous in parts, which I did not expect. Like Nineteen Eighty-Four it is dystopian fiction at its finest but I would say that Animal Farm is better done. Where Nineteen Eighty-Four is terrifying in its nighmarish future imaginings, the totalitarianism of Animal Farm is brutal in its portrayed corruption of the greedy, myopic leaders of Animal Farm, the pigs.

The Manor Farm run by the cruel farmer Jones is subject to rebellion when the farmland animals rise up against their dictator. Upon the success of their revolt, the farm is renamed Animal Farm and the animals live in harmony for a little while working the farm under the leadership of two of the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon (Trotsky and Stalin, respectively) but with the philosophy that all animals are equal. Napoleon overthrows Snowball with the help of the army of dogs that he has raised from pups and quickly becomes tyrant of the farm. Napoleon has the support of the other pigs, notably Squealer who acts as propagandist and manipulator; Squealer's twisting of the truth are the parts that I found most alarming and yet conversely also the most amusing as he is a typical political spin-doctor.

This is an intensely clever novella and I am glad that I finally read it. Until now I knew the premise of Animal Farm and its cultural significance but did not fully appreciate its historical -as well as literary- importance. This is a skillful and powerful political satire and I urge you to read it if you have not already.


20 comments:

Steph said...

I remember picking this up on a whim as a teenager and then devouring it in a single day. It just completely absorbed me and I thought it was so clever and interesting. This is another one that I would like to re-read, though 1984 has priority as it's been longer since I last read it!

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read this, but I don't enjoy reading two books by the same author in a row - perhaps I'll get round to it next year! I'm pleased that you found it a satisfying read.

fleurfisher said...

I read both Animal Farm and 1984 at school, but you may just have tempted me into a re-read.

Jeane said...

It's a book I've always admired, although the satire sometimes goes over my head a little. I read it as a teen, but I can't recall if it was a classroom assignment or one I approached on my own.

mel u said...

I love Animal Farm-I have read it maybe 4 or 5 times listened to the audio book several times also-to me it is a universally applicable parable of the corrupting influence of power, not just a satire of communism-no more than Gulliver's Travels is just a satire of English Politics-
I enjoyed your post a lot

verity said...

I found this hugely absorbing as a child, but think that I would get a lot more out of it now - it is such a clever allegory. Have you seen the cartoon?

Paperback Reader said...

Steph, it is so absorbing, accessible and easy to devour in single day. I would definitely recommend this now to politically-conscious and inquiring teenagers. I wish I had studied it at school. I enjoyed the reread/first read.

Jackie, I don't often read work by an author consecutively but every so often - especially when it's a series! It was very satisfying but also enjoyable even in its brevity.

Jane, I hope you do reread them! They are certainly books whose reading experience will change with perspective.

Jeane, I doubt that I fully grasped the satire and think it was more transparent (and hence controversial) at the time as it was relevant.

Mel, thanks for yuor insightful comment. The satire itself is dated and applicable to the time of Stalinism but the parable of the corrupting influence of power is timeless and universal.

Verity, I think that as and adult you would appreciate it more. I haven't seen the cartoon but know it from some book covers.

savidgereads said...

As I mentioned yesterday I hated this book at school, but I think actually its one that I shoudl re-read as an adult as maybe the timing at school just wasnt right?

savidgereads said...

As I mentioned yesterday I hated this book at school, but I think actually its one that I shoudl re-read as an adult as maybe the timing at school just wasnt right?

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I think it is most deserving of a reread - perhaps for the November Novella challenge?

anothercookiecrumbles said...

Oh, I read this earlier on this year, and absolutely loved it (just as I love everything Orwell).

It's an incredibly clever book, and the anthropomorphic references of Stalin, Molotov etc. makes it so much better.

My favourite bit was:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others (or something like that).

Julia said...

I can't even think about Boxer's fate without tearing up...

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookie, that was my favourite part too! The anthropomorphism was exceptionally clever.

Julie, Boxer's fate was tragic and by far the saddest part of the book.

Pam said...

Oh, I just LOVE this book! I read it when I was way too young to "get" it...like ten? and then in school around 15 and then again in college and then AGAIN a few years ago. It changes for me every time. Glad you got your first read of it in! :)

Jenny said...

I read this ages ago, and what stuck with me was that I thought in middle school that it was very, very funny. Now that I am grown up, I do want to reread it - there are obviously more layers to it than my twelve-year-old self was recognizing. :P

Paperback Reader said...

Jenny, I think that there are multiple layers to be stripped back in this clever novella, no matter your age! I also found it very, very funny and hadn't expected that.

Jess - A Book Hoarder said...

This is one of my favorite books. When I was in college I decided it was finally time I read it and remember sitting outside Starbucks, completely engulfed in the story. It amazes me how relevant it is even today.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Jess, thanks for commenting. It is entirely relevant, shockingly so at times. There have many times I have devoured a book at Starbucks!

Teresa said...

I read this on my own back in high school and then went right on to 1984. I haven't read it since, but it made a tremendous impression on me at the time. Such a great book for understanding allegory and symbolism, and it's funny and suspenceful!

Paperback Reader said...

Teresa, I think it is probably one of the best allegorical and symbolic literature there is! It definitely impresses.