George Orwell’s novella Animal Farm needs no introduction: its inclusion on various ‘Greatest Books of All Time’ lists and school curriculums means most people know of it. Manor Farm is run by the alcoholic Farmer Jones and has fallen into a state of disrepair. Encouraged and led by pigs Old Major, Snowball, and Napoleon, the animals stage a revolt and overthrow their incompetent farmer. Renamed ‘Animal Farm’, the property initially appears to flourish. However, Napoleon, power-hungry, wishes to run the farm a lot differently.
I was one such person to first read Animal Farm for schoolwork, though admittedly, at the time I knew very little about the Russian Revolution at the time. Looking back on the novella, (definitely) older, and (hopefully) wiser, it is interesting to see the parallels between the characters and key figures from this period. The dynamics between Old Major, Napoleon and Snowball are obviously meant to mirror Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky respectfully, but even secondary characters such as Boxer the horse and his idea of working harder to resolve problems on the farm, is modelled on Alexsei Stakhanov. It has been fun seeing how these historical figures have been reinterpreted by Orwell.
The narration as well is excellently done. It is quite detached, almost emotionless. This helps to create a distance between the characters and events and the reader. I read this in two different ways: the first one, that it reflects Orwell’s feelings of helplessness that he couldn’t discuss or critique certain aspects of the Soviet Union; he had been reduced to watching rather than being more involved, which is a similar position the reader finds themselves in. But also, having the narration quite simplistic means it is difficult to misinterpret Orwell’s intended meanings, specifically looking at how language is manipulated to suit a particular viewpoint or agenda. Napoleon in particular seems to do this – he twists words to suit himself, which stands in stark contrast to the narration which is much more honest.
There are some interesting parallels to be made between Animal Farm and the current political climate, making the novella all the more terrifying. Orwell’s writing is exceptional, from how he has taken famous figures, made them animals and fitted them into the plot through to the narration. Even the subtitle – mine is ‘A fairy story’ – seems deliberately and ironically chosen. A brilliant, horrifying, timely work from one of my favourite authors, and one that fully deserves its place on those Greatest Book lists.
Animal Farm is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.