“This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.”
Animal Farm has fascinated me for a long time. I first read it in high school. Since then I have read it twice more. And how many times I have read passages from here and there, I don’t know. It was written in another time when the world was very different from today. Still it sells like a hot cake because the central theme of the book resonates with the reader.
Animal Farm is an allegorical novella which uses animal characters to describe the power structure of a society. It tells us how power can be manipulated by those in position. The structure of Animal Farm revolved around the events of Russian revolution as they unfolded between 1917 and 1944. The novel was first published in 1945. In my opinion it is one the best as well as one of the most popular fictional political satire to be ever written.
Although the novel allegorically mirrors what was happening in Russian communism and relates specific events with the help of animal characters, the satire takes aim at totalitarianism in all its forms, be it communism, fascism or capitalism. Maybe that is the secret of the books longevity. It tells us that people are basically gullible. They can be easily tricked into believing anything if the information is presented in a palatable way and frequently.
The plot of the novella is very tight with hardly any loose ends. Orwell hits the ground running and holds the control over the plot till the very last. That makes the story a compelling read. The main character of the story is a pig called Major who calls a meeting of all the animals living on a farm called Manor Farm. Major shares a dream which he had previous night about all the animals on the farm living peacefully together. The pièce de résistance was that the farm was managed by animals without any human presence or interference. The Old Major passes away after three days of sharing his dream but three other pigs, namely: Napoleon, Snowball and Squeler use the death of Old Major as a rallying point for animals. The rest of the novella is about how the farm owner, Mr. Jones, is thrown out by the animals and they rename the Manor Farm to Animal Farm and run it themselves. Animals are constantly told how man is bad and how animals are good to rally them around the cause and to keep them committed. Some examples are:
“The only good human being is a dead one”
“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself””
“Man serves the interest of no creature except himself”
“Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever. “
After successfully getting rid of Mr. Jones, meetings are called and rules are agreed upon as to how the farm will be run. In the beginning the rules are not only fair but also implemented honestly. However, slowly Napoleon starts taking over the decision making process. Bit by bit the rights giving to the animals are chipped away without them realizing what was happening. By chance if any animal realised what was happening and protested, the argument given in reply is a masterclass in how communism worked:
“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourself. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
As the story progresses the slogan “All animals are equal” is changed to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other”
This is a classic example of how fascists come to power by promising the moon to the citizens and how slowly they change the rules of the game to improve their grip over the power structure. In the process the privileges for the ruling class are slowly increased at the cost of the citizens. By the time the people realise what has hit them, it’s too late. The damage is already done.
Whenever anything wrong goes on the farm, some or the other animal is blamed. Napoleon cannot do any wrong. He is always right. Napoleon and other pigs start wearing cloths and living inside the house. The pigs even start walking on their hind legs like humans. One by one the old animals who had seen the farm before the revolution die mostly due to overwork or age. Finally, a day comes when Napoleon invites a neighboring farmer to dinner to discuss possible business alliance. The proposal was to change the name of the farm back to Manor Farm. The most powerful image for me in the whole novel is when Pigs are talking to the farmer at the dinner table. Some animals manage to peer inside the house through the window and are unable to differentiate the two because the pigs have become too much like their former oppressor i.e. human beings.
“The creatures from outside looks 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”