I read Nineteen Eighty-Four this year as part of my English studies, I chose the book to discuss (I will post about it in the future) so I was quite interested to pick up Animal Farm recently, after all they work hand in hand (hence their frequent publication together). These are his two most well known works for good reason. Where Nineteen Eighty-Four was terrifying, Animal Farm was uplifting and innocent (well almost). Both were powerful warnings and serve as reminders to us all of oppression, greed, power and ultimately humanity.
The title of this quite short novel (more of a novella at around 100 pages) is a literal description. This is the story of a farm, which is overtaken by its animal occupants, who overthrow their evil human overlords. Of course with Orwell it has a much deeper meaning that just that. It’s not just written to open our eyes to the torment done to animals, oh no, this is not an animal rights story. This is a story about what happens after the animals are left to fend for themselves, and just whether “all animals are equal”, or if “some are more equal than others”.
It really does start out innocent enough with talk of a revolution from a dying boar, which eventually spurs action when the animals have had enough. They drive out the humans, and they create a community. And soon it becomes clear that even in this community there will be leaders: the pigs. The whole story brings up an interesting idea about equality, and also about communities. It becomes clear that over time the pigs start to turn into the humans (with the ending showing that they are no different at all), and start to reinstate the tough conditions they fought to remove. But how was the community supposed to move forward if it didn’t have leadership? Can teams/groups be successful without leaders? And is a leader always going to end up with power going to their head?
Obviously in this instance it is clear that power corrupts the pigs, so much so, that it becomes just like Nineteen Eighty-Four where things become unbelievable, as the lies and propaganda control the masses. The two pigs who were in charge, have a feud, where one survives, and then blames the other for every wrongdoing that occurs in the farm, even though we never see them again. They even alter the history of this ‘traitor’ pig, saying he was always working with the humans, and betrayed them from the start, which we know as readers is untrue. But these arguments are so convincing to the other animals that they believe it, and having the animals starving again, and vicious dogs, helps too.
And just like in Nineteen Eighty-Four the pigs also change their written commandments, since they’ve decided to start to behave like humans, and don’t want the other animals who follow these commandments to the letter to realise they’re doing the wrong thing. And it really does progress quickly, and it becomes I guess depressing. In the beginning you feel hopeful and a bit idealistic, just like the animals do, but, all that hope is quickly destroyed by the pigs. The pigs become greedy, and because they believe themselves above the other animals, because they are the ‘smartest’, they change the rules to suit them.
I found Animal Farm a lot more enjoyable and likeable to Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I think that partly it’s because of the size, and also because this story was more fanciful and with a lot less of the bleakness of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both of them do a tremendous job, in varying ways, of acting as dystopian warnings about power, greed and most certainly oppression. So it really is a must read, and it doesn’t take that long to do so!