History can be a touchy subject, and art is a risky medium. When George Orwell used a story about farm animals to portray the Russian Communist Revolution and Joseph Stalin’s bloody reign, he was considered brilliant; but when I put on a puppet show about the French Revolution (complete with miniature guillotine), I was branded an “idiot” and banned from ever again performing at my niece’s kindergarten. It’s a fine line.
Orwell’s allegory takes place on Manor Farm, and begins with an old boar, Major, inspiring his fellow farm animals with a vision of freedom. Major sees the farm’s current system as corrupt and unfair to the animals, whose existence seems to be solely for the profit of man. He dreams of a better life for the animals, free from humans, in which they can provide for themselves and even enjoy such foreign luxuries as rest and leisure.
After Major’s death, the other pigs assume leadership of the animals, and seek to implement Major’s vision. A surprise attack sees the animals overthrow the farmer’s rule of Manor Farm, and all humans are expelled. A power struggle soon ensues between two of the chief pigs, and it is Napoleon who emerges as ruler. He is cunning, deceptive and ruthless.
For a while things go well and morale is high, but soon enough the new system descends into the same corrupt and greedy rule that the animals endured under humans. The promise of plenty goes unfulfilled (except for the pigs), and instead poverty is rife. Napoleon’s use of crafty propaganda allows him to become a god-like figure, and retain the allegiance of most of the animals. Any rebellion against his authority or questioning of his law is dissuaded by the threat of his vicious attack dogs. In the end, the revolution that began with such hope turns out to be no revolution at all. The farm ends up exactly where it started; only now it is the pigs rather than the farmer who reap the rewards.
The main theme of Animal Farm is that totalitarian rule is a bad idea and communism is awful. The author obviously considered the Russian Communist Revolution to be a failure. Having not lived under Stalin’s regime, I cannot with any authority say how accurate George Orwell’s opinion is; but judging by conservative death toll estimates of twenty million, I’d say he was pretty close to the mark. Either way, I found the story both intriguing and entertaining. The corruption of the utopian dream, and the animals’ responses to it, are fascinating to observe.
Like Gandhi wearing a sandwich board, Animal Farm is short, compelling and fun to read. 9/10
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