Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 8/10
One Sentence Verdict: Darkly humorous allegory highlighting the surprising closeness between communism and fascism, Orwell at his best
I’ve read Animal Farm before, but I think you usually appreciate a book like this more and more, the more times you read it. After having reread 1984 last month, I remembered that I’d always preferred Animal Farm, despite its disappointingly small size. Nonetheless, the story which Orwell tells is more than adequate and to make it any longer would probably have been to detract from the quality and blunt humour it contains.
The plot, in its most basic, surface-level form, centres on a group of animals who eject the owners of Manor farm from the farmhouse and establish a system solely run by the animals themselves, living by the “Seven Commandments” which promote values of equality and hard work. However, the initially ideal society created by the animals soon becomes an authoritarian regime run by the pigs who violate the commandments by amending them to suit their own aims, and eventually the renamed Animal Farm returns to its previous state.
The book is a representation of Communism and its eventually descent into fascism. The initial overthrow of the ruling class, here the farmers, by the working class proletariat, here the farm animals, is at first a successful regime.
Some animals have clear historical counterparts, but I’m sure that someone better versed than me in the history of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath would be able to see more parallels than I can see off the top of my head. Mr Jones the farmer is naturally Tsar Nicholas II, overthrown by the workers. Old Major, the white boar idolised by all the animals, who instigates the rebellion, represents Lenin. The Cult of Lenin survives to this day, and his leadership in the Russian Revolution is mirrored in Major’s in the book.
Snowball and Napoleon, the two pigs who emerge as leaders after Major’s death, are allegories for Trotsky and Stalin. Snowball, after his initial help in the revolution, is eventually pushed out by Napoleon, and once the latter has turned the rest of the animals against him, he is sent into exile and henceforth blamed for nearly all the ills on the farm in spite of his absence. Napoleon becomes more and more corrupt and authoritarian, putting “traitorous” animals to death and assuming a human-like role, eventually dressing in the farmer’s clothes, and sleeping in the farmhouse, before allying with neighbouring farmers.
The book is an amazing satire on fascism, and remains relevant in the present day, when authoritarian regimes are still present across the world. Though published in 1945, the modern reader will be more than able to grasp its message of the futility of dreaming of a truly egalitarian society, and the circular relationship between communism and fascism.
Again, I greatly preferred Animal Farm to 1984, because even though barely any of the main characters are human or portrayed as anything other than caricatures of their real-life counterparts. Nonetheless, I found this more entertaining and naturally somewhat lighter reading than 1984. I would heartily recommend it to anyone; it’s an important and relevant read, and not one which will be an enormous drain on anyone’s time, although a little side research may be useful to those who haven’t studied modern European history.