George Orwell’s classic “Animal Farm” is the pessimistic view people’s sheep-like, conformist mentality and their animalistic tendencies.
A group of farm animals band together after realizing their master Mr. Jones mistreats them by giving almost nothing in return for the work they have done for him.
One night a prize-winning boar, Old Major, gathers the animals and describes a vision he had of a new world where animals live in harmony without mistreatment and overworking. The animals are inspired and believe they can achieve this ideal world.
Old Major dies soon after, unable to communicate more about his ideal world. Three pigs, Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer, take his ideas and put them into a philosophical doctrine. They name this political philosophy Animalism.
After Mr. Jones forgets to feed the animals in his drunken stupor, they decide enough is enough. After a battle, the animals run Mr. Jones and his farmhands off the land and redub the farm “Animal Farm.”
The animals paint the principles of Animalism on the wall of the barn, which include: “Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend,” “No animal shall kill any other animal” and “All animals are equal.” The animals can’t remember all of the commandments, nor can they read, so they simplify it to a mantra they repeat: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
The farm starts out fine. However, a rift forms between Snowball and Napoleon as they struggle for power and influence.
After Napoleon takes charge, the commandments are read again. There have been small but insidious alterations made to the commandments, where additions are made at the end to allow Napoleon more wiggle room. The sheep bleat the new version, repeating it until the animals believe it was the original commandment.
The commandments are changed and the laws become “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause” and “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The goal of Animal Farm was to create an egalitarian society where all were equal in worth and social status, but the principles of animalism quickly changed.
Squealer becomes a propaganda machine for Napoleon. He spreads false information and statistics to the animals, made up on the spot to make Napoleon appear heroic to other animals. Orwell examines the deceitful and powerful use of rhetoric and language by those within power. Squealer constantly and elaborately justifies everything done by the pigs.
Benjamin the donkey is the only animal who really understands the slow circle of Animal Farm back to Manor Farm, but is too apathetic and bitter to take a stand. He is pessimistic but can actually read. “Life will go on as it has always gone on – that is, badly.”
The naïveté of the working class is shown through Boxer, a horse dedicated to Animalism, which he doesn’t completely understand. The two mantras he repeats are “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.”
Animal Farm quickly becomes a police state, where any animal who contests the leadership will be killed. Four pigs, who complain about Napoleon’s takeover, are quickly executed.
Napoleon and his cronies start using human clothing and beds and begin walking on two feet, mimicking the leadership they destroyed. Finally the mantra of Animalism changes: “Four legs good, two legs better.”
Published in 1945, “Animal Farm” was a subtle attack on Stalinism in Russia. Napoleon portrays Stalin and his violent takeover through bullying tactics and brute force. Snowball, Napoleon’s adversary, is based on Leon Trotsky, an eloquent orator who is run out of Animal Farm. Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party, deported from Russia and murdered by Stalin’s order.
While now a classic, Orwell had trouble publishing it at the time. British publications were unwilling to criticize the Russian government since Russia was an ally. The poet T. S. Eliot, who was a director of a publishing firm, rejected it, praising its “good writing” but saying he found the work “not convincing.”
It was written to specifically focus on Stalin’s regime, but in modern times still comments on many political structures around the world and the citizens’ ability to blindly follow corrupt leadership and declare that leadership is what they actually wanted.
A revolution can quickly be torn apart by ignorance and greed. Orwell shows how revolution can be as dangerous as a corrupt government and end with the same government they rebelled against. This sort of rebellion is dangerous because it uses words like “brotherhood” and “equality” to enslave and use the citizens.
“Animal Farm” is an important political commentary and a quick, thought-provoking read. It is an important book that can alter and affect the perspectives of many readers.