Friday 12 July 2013

Animal Farm by George Orwell

“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.”

I might be late getting around to finally reading George Orwell's Animal Farm but at the same time, it is highly doubtful that this famous literary work would have appealed much to me during my teenage years if it happened to be assigned during high-school. As an ignorant and absent-minded youth, Orwell's brilliant allegorical satire would have been lost on me. If only I possessed the maturity and knowledge back then to fully understand my disadvantaged status as a member of the lower-class; or, how the capitalist system was cleverly grooming me as a blue-collar worker to be exploited for my labor--there is the possibility that I would have  been more politically active and made different life choices. Marxist ideologies and social stratification are two issues that I find to be most fascinating. The level of inequality that exists in society, especially in relation to class, the distribution of power and the structure of society as a whole, is impossible to ignore. 

The plot of this novella is very well known: a group of farm animals unite together and form a rebellion against their tyrannical farmer in order to achieve a more egalitarian society. They decide on seven commandments that must be followed but the most important one states that "all animals are equal." Orwell is being quite explicit here; he is satirizing the Russian Revolution and many of the farm animals represent political figures that played a role during this radical moment in history: the overthrow of the aristocracy and the establishment of communism. The pigs are the brains behind the operation: The General is Marx, Snowball is Leon Trotsky and Napoleon is Stalin. The General preaches Marxist ideologies to the other farm animals (represented as the proletariat or working class) that quickly catches on. The eventually form a class consciousness and according to Marxist theory, it is only at this point when the entire working class realizes that they are being mistreated and their hard labor exploited for profit by the rich bourgeoisie, that they will rise to overthrow their masters and form a commonwealth. As key members in the revolution, Snowball and Napoleon take the leadership roles to guide their comrades to a brighter tomorrow where they can finally be treated like equals and no longer have to be slaves to a higher power. But wait a moment. If all animals are to be treated as equals as stated in the seven commandments, why do Snowball and Napoleon have governance over the rest of the other animals? Orwell is clear to point out one of the many contradictions often found in Marx: Social hierarchy is inevitable. This Utopian commonwealth envisioned by Marx is doomed to failure because of human nature's intrinsic desire for power. 

I believe Orwell is correct in his position that Marxist ideologies work in principle but once they are put into effect, corruption quickly takes over and a totalitarian state is formed. Although the pigs had good intentions to improve the lives of all the farm animals, Napoleon's lust for power turns him into a fascist dictator who rules with an iron fist. Snowball is a threat to his authority so he chases him off the farm using his guard dogs (representing the KGB). He then proceeds to instill fear in the other farm animals to maintain his position of power. He also uses propaganda to ensure that he has their best interests at heart. Of course, he is starving them to selfishly procure the majority of the harvest for himself; gives them even worse living conditions when under the authority of Farmer Jones; takes advantage of their labor to build a windmill. In essence, Napoleon has ascended up the social mobility ladder and now takes the role of Farmer Jones while the other animals are worse off than they were before. The sacred seven commandments are now altered by Napoleon and one of the most significant changes is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Orwell seems to take on the functionalist belief that social inequality is not only inevitable but absolutely necessary if society is to properly function. I agree with this ideology but only to a certain extent because this does not mean that the gap of inequality cannot be lowered. Even in a democratic society where unions and government assistant programs exist, the rich still possess much more power and prestige than those of the lower classes. That it is not to say that those born into the lower class are stuck here forever and have no chance of improving their social status but it will certainly be more challenging for them to succeed as opposed to those who come from wealthy families. Anyways, I digress.

George Orwell's Animal Farm is a powerful and important literary work that still remains relevant and powerful today. It will likely continue to enlighten readers of future generations.

 This novel is part of the Classics Club Challenge.


  1. It's often the case that important books read to early in life are a wasted opportunity. That happened to me many times. It's like classical music - you need to be ready for it. There is always an exception to the rule however.

  2. I completely agree! Had I read it in high school, it would have been wasted on me. But as an adult, I love it!