Sunday, November 8, 2009

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Although written more than half a century ago, George Orwell’s stories have a remarkable ability of reflecting present day politics and culture, be it 'Animal Farm' or '1984'.

This is the story of Manor Farm – a farm consisting of numerous animals. The animals are overworked and the owner of the farm Mr. Manor is a drunkard who treats the animals cruelly. There is an old boar called Major who has a vision of a rebellion after which there would be no more humans on the farm and the animals would rule themselves.

The animals do manage to overthrow the humans, and have their farm to themselves. After Major’s demise the animals create their own constitution, and code of conduct for the farm. They make Major’s song ‘Beasts of England’ their anthem and define their own commandments. The farm is renamed Animal Farm, and all the animals take enormous pride in managing the affairs of the farm by themselves.

The pigs are the most intellectual of the animals and form the decision makers. Snowball and Napoleon are two most intelligent pigs, and they form the think-tank of the farm, but they have disagreements on every issue. Napoleon gets rid of Snowball from the farm and becomes the sole leader of the farm.

All the other animals are good workers, but not good when it comes to intellectual ability. They cannot differentiate between right and wrong, and are easily manipulated by the pigs for their gains. Napoleon uses violence, deceit and false propaganda in order to gradually transform Animal Farm into a new system of oppression. Old Major’s message is also distorted, and his commandment "All animals are equal" is replaced with "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

Orwell concludes the story with Napoleon’s coterie negotiating with humans on how to manage the affairs of the farm. The animals who are watching this argument realize that it is impossible to tell apart from the pigs and humans, and the rebellion to overthrow humans was in fact a futile effort.

There are several characters among the animals, which represent different sections of society:

Boxer: He is a horse who is loyal and dedicated to his work, and represents the working class of the society. He works hard all his life for the betterment of the farm, but when he is old and no longer useful, he is sent to a slaughterhouse by Napoleon.

Benjamin: He is an old donkey having a pessimistic view of life. His oft repeated words are: "Life will go on as it has always gone on - that is, badly".

Moses: A raven who tells tales of a place in the sky called Sugarcandy Mountain, where he says animals go when they die — but only if they work hard. Napoleon knows that the stories are false, but lets the raven stay on the farm so that the animals have their minds on a bright future and do not have thoughts of rebellion.

The sheep: They have no judgment of their own, and their minds are tuned by Napoleon according to his wishes.

The novel is essentially about the absolute power that Napoleon and the pigs command over the farm and how it corrupts them gradually. They deceive the animals on the farm by making amendments to the commandments in order to justify their actions. Finally, the commandments are abolished and the replaced with the classic line:

‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

Animal Farm was greatly inspired by real events that took place during the communist era in Russia, using animals as actual people. Whenever Orwell describes a vision of a society in which the conditions of life are characterized by poverty and oppression, it comes as a surprise to the reader that the situations described are so relevant even to this day. ‘Animal Farm’ is a classic, which tells us about the harsh realities of life and blends the narrative with satirical humor.


Smita said...

Have always eyed this book, picked it & left it because somehow I didn't feel I could read it.

Will check out few pages in the book store & if I feel I can read ti I will pick it :)

Nice review though :)

ZB said...

this is the first novel i read, when at school. It has had so much of influence on me, no other book has had.I started reading books, or hooked to reading after reading this. Every human should read this book. Its profound though simple. thanks for this review.

Rahul Anand said...

@Smita: Its an easy read; if not for the underlying theme, it can be read as a simple humorous story as well. TC:)

@ZB: Yes I somehow missed out on this before. This book is part of the school curriculum for American school children, or is at least prescribed for summer reading.

This book should be part of the Indian school curriculum too. Thanks for reading :)

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Thanks, Rahul, for this very good review and for reminding us about this significant work. George Orwell clearly had the communists in mind when he wrote this novella. I appreciated his deep insight decades after reading the book, when I saw the pig-headed communists destroying our state, West Bengal.

The deeper truth that the story conveys is that we humans are incapable of handling power, and it is true in all situations. For example, the financial sector meltdown of 2008 too was brought about by the arrogance of money power.

For this simple reason, democracy is by far the best system of governance that we have had so far.

Rahul Anand said...

Thanks for further explaining the meaning Mr Santanu. I recall an interesting point that Thomas Friedman makes in his book comparing the governments of India and China is as follows:

"If India and China were both highways, the Chinese highway would be a six-lane, perfectly paved road, but with a huge speed bump off in the distance labeled "Political reform: how in the world do we get from Communism to a more open society?"

When 1.3 billion people going 80 miles an hour hit a speed bump, one of two things happens: Either the car flies into the air and slams down, and all the parts hold together and it keeps on moving - or the car flies into the air, slams down and all the wheels fall off. Which it will be with China, I don't know.

India, by contrast, is like a highway full of potholes, with no sidewalks and half the streetlamps broken. But off in the distance, the road seems to smooth out, and if it does, this country will be a dynamo. The question is: Is that smoother road in the distance a mirage or the real thing?"

HaRy!! said...

guess i have heard abt this somewhere!! yep!

Smita said...

You are alive?