Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
~George Orwell, Animal Farm

Plot summary

“One night on an English farm, Major the boar recounts his vision of a utopia where his fellow creatures own the land along with the means of production and are no longer the slaves of humans.

Before long his dream comes true, and for a short while all animals really are equal. But the clever pigs educate themselves and soon learn how to extend their own power, inevitably at the expense of the rest of the community.” More on Goodreads

On George Orwell

“Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

In addition to his literary career Orwell served as a a [sic!] police officer with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922-1927 and fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1937. Orwell was severely wounded when he was shot through his throat. Later the organization that he had joined when he joined the Republican cause, The Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was painted by the pro-Soviet Communists as a Trotskyist organization and disbanded. Orwell and his wife were accused of “rabid Trotskyism” and tried in absentia in Barcelona, along with other leaders of the POUM, in 1938. However by then they had escaped from Spain and returned to England.

Between 1941 and 1943, Orwell worked on propaganda for the BBC. In 1943, he became literary editor of the Tribune, a weekly left-wing magazine. He was a prolific polemical journalist, article writer, literary critic, reviewer, poet and writer of fiction, and, considered perhaps the twentieth century’s best chronicler of English culture.

Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the satirical novella Animal Farm — they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book Homage to Catalonia, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.

Orwell’s influence on contemporary culture, popular and political, continues decades after his death. Several of his neologisms, along with the term “Orwellian” — now a byword for any oppressive or manipulative social phenomenon opposed to a free society — have entered the vernacular.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Oppression
  • The fluid concept of equality
  • Slavery vs. freedom
Review
Illustration for Animal Farm. Photo: Taymaz Valley (CC BY 2.0)
Illustration for Animal Farm. Photo: Taymaz Valley (CC BY 2.0)

“Several of them would have protested if they could have found the right arguments.” ~George Orwell, Animal Farm

“The Seven Commandments:
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal.
All animals are equal.”
~George Orwell, Animal Farm

Animal Farm and I go way back, similarly to Camus’ The Stranger. It seems that the books one reads in their teens are more likely to make a lasting impression than those read later on. But I guess it depends. Maybe a younger reader is more susceptible to outside influence and only becomes skeptical with the years. I believe all school children have read the novella, or should have read it. I’ve been keeping up with George Orwell ever since Animal Farm and he is one of my favorite authors. I recently read Homage to Catalonia, a thrilling tale of war politics during the Spanish Civil War.

There is an aura of decency around Orwell, and he is best when he rather objectively reports on events, able to distance himself from the politics and to look at the matter at hand with such freshness and clarity that is seldom witnessed. One excellent feature about his more personal books is that he is able to overcome whatever at first got him going and to re-evaluate his standing and perspective he fought for or thought worth defending. This applies particularly to Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell has the skill to look beyond and read between the lines, thus enabling him to see things one would normally not see. I believe this trait is highly valued under observers and journalists in general, those keeping records of events and happenings for the readers of future generations.

In Animal Farm, the skill to observe nuances of the impossible comes to the fore as well. Orwell plays satirically with human folly of the 20th century. The novella is ultimately about systematic exploitation of the individual. There is always someone to capitalize the profits under whichever political ‘ism’ they happen to exist, and equality becomes a victimized concept. So, it is a question of the rulers and the ruled and the ability to remain critical despite hardship and tyranny.

Power. Photo: Bronson ABbott (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Power. Photo: Bronson ABbott (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Animal Farm, it boils down to the analysis of power, a frequent concept making wet dreams for any political scientist. The thin red line in Orwell’s works is the precise concept of the corrupting force of power status. There is a recent study on the corrupting force of power on one’s moral identity published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (further information below). In Orwell’s vision, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the 19th century British historian Lord Acton famously stated.

On a different note, the play FARMI by Ryhmäteatteri has been running this fall season until mid December. FARMI is “a funny play on contemporary confusion and past nostalgia, and about attempts to preserve something that was never there in the first place. (…) In the play one meets the less known animals of George Orwell’s (…) Animal Farm.” (Informally translated from Ryhmäteatteri‘s website)

I think the play was very fascinating: it was a twisted fairytale with pointy characters and dreamy music. The angsty cat was my favorite.

More information
Margaret Atwood: My hero: George Orwell, published in the Guardian on 18 January 2013, link retrieved on 17 November 2016
– DeCelles, DeRue, Margolis, & Ceranic: Does Power Corrupt or Enable? When and Why Power Facilitates Self-interested Behavior, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology 97, no. 3 (May 2012), p. 681–689, link from Harvard Business School retrieved on 17 November 2016
Alison Flood: ‘It needs more public-spirited pigs’: TS Eliot’s rejection of Orwell’s Animal Farm, published in the Guardian on 26 May 2016, link retrieved on 17 November 2016
– Stuart Jeffries: What would George Orwell have made of the world in 2013?, published in the Guardian on 24 January 2013, link retrieved on 17 November 2016
– John Sutherland: George Orwell and the stench of socialism, published in the Guardian on 13 August 2016, link retrieved on 17 November 2016

Other essays, reports, novels and stories by Orwell
  • Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1932)
  • Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
  • Burmese Days (1934)
  • A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935)
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
  • The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
  • Homage to Catalonia (1938)
  • Coming Up for Air (1939)
  • All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays (1941)
  • The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941)
  • Books v. Cigarettes (1946)
  • Decline of the English Murder (1946)
  • Politics and the English Language (1946)
  • Why I Write (1946)
  • 1984 (1949)
  • Shooting an Elephant (1950)
  • Such, Such Were the Joys (1953)
  • A Collection of Essays (1954)
  • An Age Like This: 1920-1940 (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol. 1) (1968)
  • My Country Right or Left: 1940-1943 (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol. 2) (1968)
  • As I Please: 1943-1945 (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol. 3) (1968)

“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.”
~George Orwell, Animal Farm

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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