Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Manor Farm is home to a bunch of downtrodden animals, who one day gather together to hear the speech of an esteemed colleague, Old Major, a boar, who calls them for a meeting in the barn. He tells them of a dream he had in which animals live together with no humans to rule over them. He then teaches them the song, The Beasts of England, which feature many times throughout the book. Inspired by his speech, three pigs, Snowball, Napoleon and Squealor make a plan to overthrow their master, Mr. Jones, which they manage to do. Then follows what usually follows a revolution - a means to reconstruct their lives, with plans to be self-sustaining and strong. Several rules are laid out and an order maintained. And of course, the bad decisions, power-control and political bad-mouthing also follow.

I've heard so much about George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, but both sounded very academic to me, which made me not want to pick them while I was doing my Masters. And I was kind of right in assuming that they were of academic merit, but very wrong in implicitly taking that to mean that the books would be hard to read and understand - at least Animal Farm was definitely not that. I listened and devoured Animal Farm on audio, and just couldn't stop laughing so many times. The book was hilarious, but it was also a very clever take on human nature. It is satirical, and the resemblances made me chortle so many times.

So let's see, we have a bunch of animals, who succeed (of course) in overthrowing their farmer, and then the pigs come out as the natural leaders, because only they knew how to read. This was very interesting, because even in real world, the ones with plenty of degrees to their name (though not necessarily more intellectual or wise), were usually the ones who won the posts to control a whole group of people. The pigs used that cleverly even insisting that none of the animals could possible do a proper thing, because they weren't learned. Hence, knowledge = wisdom.

The leader pigs, Napoleon, Snowball and Squealor, laid out seven commandments, which are rules that have to be abided by the animals at all times. The basic motif was no association with two-legged creatures (yeah, that's us) at all, and no killing the four-legged ones. As in any government, the rules get twisted and contorted to suit the needs of the leaders, till in the end, they become of the opposite of what they started out as. Don't we see that always? But of course, the subjects do not have a way to protest, because 1. they can't read, and 2. the pigs as extra precaution, keep rewriting the rules on the wall where they were originally published. So, knowledge = take advantage of others.

Initially, the animals bonded well, but then the autocratic nature of Napoleon, the "nominated" though actually "self-proclaimed" leader started showing out. Napoleon's assistant, Squealor did most of the talking on his behalf. He was a smooth-talker who knew exactly how to influence his fellow animals. So, dump your dirty laundry on your juniors.

That's only a portion of the lessons from this delightful book. Since we see all such drama every day, it was quite funny to read about it. The interesting attribute of Animal Farm, was how George Orwell easily created different kinds of human characters in the animals - the one who looks for materialistic prizes, the one who wants power, another that blindly obeys the master, yet another who is willing to see the good in others, the smooth-talker who plants ideas in the subjects' minds, the spy, the bodyguards, and so on. Animal Farm is not meant solely for enjoyment. There are oodles of lessons in the quirky animals' interactions. It shows how revolutions rarely set in motion something much better. Although the rebels start off with a lot of just plans and hopes, slowly the corrupt way of living turns to be the easier path, till eventually, they become their old rulers.

I'm not sure why I never had this book to read in school. This is a great book with lots of valuable lessons, because of the parallels to human life. But of course, there is a bit of gore and violence, which is not gory to me at all, but I can see the censor board sniffing its way through. Oh right, this book, its introduction and several plays have already gone through the ritual of being banned several times, but it doesn't yet fall into the usual basket of banned books. This book wasn't hard to read at all. Or listen either. In fact, I never had to look at any annotated notes, though I'm sure doing that would give me more insights - whatever I missed. I can't wait to read 1984 now.

  

Check out this book @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this book from the library.

6 comments:

mummazappa said...

I had to read this in Year 9 for English at school, and to be honest, we analysed it to death and I have little internal shudders whenever I think about it. Maybe it's worth having another read now that I'm grown up, but it's going to take a lot courage!

bermudaonion said...

This is a great book that probably merit's a re-visit. Sometimes when I read a book like this for school, I didn't enjoy it as much because I was too busy searching for themes, etc.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I adore all the hidden messages in this book. Such a fantastic read.

Michelle said...

There is so much substance behind each sentence in this book. It's no wonder that it is included in school curriculums across the country! I, however, never had the pleasure of reading it in school and only just recently picked it up. I think it is one that is definitely suited towards an older audience, someone who has experienced how life/politics work and can appreciate the nuances behind each of the characters.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Great book with so many historical connections! I used to show parts of the 1950s cartoon to my world history classes when we studied Russia. It's a hoot!

4thguy said...

I think you mean 1984 in the final sentence as opposed to 1982 :P