Sometimes the books we must read for school are also interesting.
“Animal Farm” is a satirical novel written by George Orwell, one of the most influential authors of his time. The novel was first published in August 1945 and wants to be an allegory of how the communist system failed under Stalin’s totalitarianism. I personally found the themes of this book very interesting and educational, especially as an anticipation of the topics that next year we will cover in history.
The plot is set in a farmyard where the animals decide to take hold of the farmer’s land and create a cooperative that brings in the benefits of their combined efforts. However, some animals see a bigger share of the rewards than others, and the animals start to question their supposed utopia. Little by little, the rules begin to mysteriously change, and the pigs seem to gain more and more power, making the animals question what society they were striving for in the first place and whether their newfound freedom is as liberating as they had hoped.
Animal Farm portrays a society in which democracy dissolves firstly into autocracy and ultimately into totalitarianism. From the Rebellion onwards, the pigs of Animal Farm follow the principle “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” which is supported by stating that the absolute power and the receiving of unlimited resources makes people corrupted. In fact, they end up using violence and the threat of violence to control the other animals. However, while the attack-trained dogs keep the other animals in line, physical intimidation is not enough to prevent some of them from questioning Napoleon’s decisions. To counter this threat to the pigs’ power, Napoleon relies on enthralling slogans, songs, and phrases to inspire patriotism among the animals.
In Animal Farm, it quickly becomes clear that language and rhetoric are much more effective tools of social control than violence.
The pigs rely on slogans, poems, and commandments to both inspire the animals and keep them subdued. The animals eventually use the pigs’ slogans to self-control. For example, in the passage where several animals protest Napoleon’s decision to begin trading farm products to humans. In fact, even though they are initially silenced by “a tremendous growling from the dogs,” the tension isn’t dissolved until the flock breaks into a chant of “four legs good, two legs bad”. In this key scene, Orwell explicitly contrasts brute force and the power of language, demonstrating that while the former may be effective in the short term, the latter has heavier and more lasting effects. On the other hand, we can see that political rhetoric is not categorically bad. For example, the rousing affect that Old Major’s song “The Beasts of England” has on the animals and how it prompts them to overthrow the tyrant farmer Jones and create their own government.
In my opinion, the simplicity of Animal Farm is the key to its brilliance. Political systems are usually considered complex and the academic understanding of them can lead tothe confusion of the students. Animal Farm though, from the start does not approach its complex topic with an academic point of view, but instead it simplifies it. We as a reader can understand what is happening because Orwell uses the most direct and simple metaphors.
While I think true appreciation of Animal Farm requires an understanding of the history of the Russian Revolution, the reader does not need to look up the historical background to comprehend the main message of the fable. The ending in particular is on point, because it reflects the flaws of a system that dares to state that every single one of us are equal, ultimately leaving the reader with a bitter smile.
Rachele Lualdi 4G