Thoughts on Animal Farm


The adjective that comes to mind when describing Orwell is powerful. The first time I read 1984, I felt struck by the words, and the sting of them lingered long after I put the book down. My reaction upon reading Animal Farm was much the same.

Power and Corruption

horn and hoof flag

The omniscient narration allows us to get a sense of the general mood of the animals throughout the story. We sense their optimism for Animal Farm at the beginning of the story and slowly watch as Napoleon corrupts the ideas of the rebellion and the other animals fall under his tyrannical rule. Unlike the animals, however, we can understand what is happening and see clearly how the pigs become more and more like the humans. Despite the rather awkward mental image of animals writing, climbing ladders, raising flags and other such tasks, the emotional payoff at the end of the novel when the pigs are sitting around the table with the men far outstrips the mild ridiculousness.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Parallels to 1984

One of the most memorable aspects of the dystopia in 1984 is the way the Ministry of Truth rewrites the past to create the government's version of "the truth". In Animal Farm, the pigs revise three of the Seven Commandments to legitimize their behaviour, and Squealer frequently retells stories about events in the past according to the pigs' agenda, insisting to the other animals that they have misremembered.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

Animal Farm is many things: a dystopian novella, an allegory, a political roman à clef - but is it a fairy story? Orwell subtitled it that way, but that subtitle is almost always omitted (though it remains in the edition I have, published by Penguin Books in the 1980s). I don't know if I would call Animal Farm a fairy story per se, but it definitely qualifies as an animal fable. It is simplistic and tells a clear moral story. Also, despite the fact that the story is an allegory for a particular political time, the message is timeless. The desire for equality and the inevitable corruption that arises out of want for power are universal themes, just as relevant today as in 1945.

"There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE
EQUAL THAN OTHERS"

- January 11, 2015