I recently finished the much acclaimed classic, Animal Farm by George Orwell. ‘Classic’ is a loose term and definitely better when it isn’t assigned. It’s a fact. You don’t have to be consistently considering the ‘deeper meaning,’ ‘thematic arcs’ or ‘literary significance.’ You can read it simply as it is. And what a breath of fresh air that is. (However, for the record, I loved reading for those things and would have happily read this book for those things.) Because this classic was a horror story fairytale. Yes, and is considered one of the classics.
This book was one of the most brilliant, scariest things I’ve read in a long while. Seriously, so scary. you have to read it.
Cheers to you Orwell
It’s funny when I look at the books that are considered classics, because when they are first published they usually aren’t merited as classics. Authors write as a response to something or to share a new idea. Animal Farm here by George Orwell is definitely a response. And a pretty heavy-handed one at that. I’m not exactly sure what made me pick it up, but it was one of those books that I missed on the school circuit and was curious about.
I have read Orwell’s 1984 in high school and some essays by him in college, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with his work. He excels at satire. However, I’m glad I waited until now to read Animal Farm because I have a greater understanding of Russia’s World War II and resulting revolution. Also, this book was the single scariest book I think I’ve read in my entire life. And it’s about pigs. Napoleon is one BAD dude. And by dude I mean pig. A pig that had my heart racing in fear. That’s talent.
So what’s with World War II?
This isn’t so much about World War II, but the resulting communism that emerged in Russia at the end of the war. Big names you’ve probably heard like Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin led to the rise to communism, a turn to totalitarianism and ultimately resulting in the Cold War. We associate communism as bad (here in America), but in theory the system has merit and actually has some intriguing ideas. Working together as the people for the people is a novel concept. Nobody owes anything, so everybody owes everything. It’s the Utopian ideal.
For those history inclined- here’s a brief video that should start at the important part [Note: not necessary to watch. Simply some added background]
Welcome to Animal Farm
The story takes place on a small farm in England. Encouraged from a vision by a boar, the animals with the leadership from the pigs, rise up and drive the humans from the property. Renaming Manor Farm forevermore Animal Farm. A farm independently run by the animals for the animals. They grow their own food, begin building a windmill and make plans for a sustainable income. A true utopia. Snowball and Napoleon emerge as the leaders and guide the rest of the animals on their new path. Rules are established, songs are sung, meetings are held, all animal voices are heard and considered. And things are good, of course until they’re not. The moment that Napoleon steps forward as the undisputed leader is truly terrifying. Particularly if you’ve been on the receiving end of a snarling dog.
Power corrupts absolutely
Look, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s in that ridiculousness that Orwell makes his point. Yes, we’re talking pigs, horses, geese and sheep. But this is a fairytale right? Animals are allowed to talk and be rational. The true terror of this book is quieter and slower to see. It is in the slow tide of absolute control that Napoleon demands and exacts among the animals while he consolidates and strengthens his power. It’s in how Squealer (easily my least favorite pig ever) re-spins every story so that Napoleon reigns supreme. It’s in how he lightly admonishes the animals on their memory and corrects them on what actually happened. It’s in the naivety of the animals and such hope they hold in the promise of Animal Farm. Boxer, the most loyal follower of Animalism, ultimately falls to his destruction because of it. And it is devastating. Devastating. Napoleon and the rest of the pigs are power personified. A true reflection of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And what makes this story ever more poignant? The sick realization that this has happened before, but not to animals, to humans. To us. This happened to us and that this is how it happened. A whole people were trapped under the power of one tyrant who made his own rules and rewrote history to make sure his decisions were law. And this wasn’t an isolated incident. It has happened before and most likely will happen again.
Now, Orwell does not do this perfectly. To be fair, Animal Farm is a little too on the nose. It’s too much tied to Stalin, Lenin and the government that emerged. Nothing new is necessarily said and no solution is given. However how he shows and depicts this inevitable failure is absolutely tough to swallow. At the end, like the animals, we’re left looking through the windows at a reflection of ourselves. Because, while this may be a fairytale about animals- this is a truth about humans. Ouch.
Bottomline: A wrenching novel that makes a big point. It kept me engaged and my heart pounding. Pick it up- it’s a quick read.