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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Orwell’s 1945 novella Animal Farm is a dystopian response to Soviet Russia in the mid-twentieth century but with applications far beyond its time. The animals of Manor Farm overthrow their human owner, Mr. Jones, and take over the running of the farm with the intention of equality and harmony. Prominent among their Seven Commandments of Animalism is that ‘all animals are equal. It does not take long, however, before some wish to fill the power vacuum that remains. A power struggle ensues between two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, often thought to represent Stalin and Trotsky respectively. Napoleon is quick to establish his position and it becomes apparent that any semblance of equality will not last long. Soon the animals are working long hours with less food than previously. The pigs separate themselves with far more provision and comfort until finally they move into the farmhouse, signifying the replacement of one dictator with another.
Napoleon’s aptly named PR pig, Squealer, constantly reassures the other animals that they are better off under the new regime. Mysterious amendments to the Commandments appear but the animals are led to believe they are merely mis-remembering the originals. Boxer’s repeated mantra of ‘Napoleon is always right’ clearly shows the blind obedience that will keep them down. Of course, the propaganda machine carefully controlled by the pigs goes a long way to aid this subservience through a regime of manipulation. Snowball’s reputation is destroyed with a series of incriminating ‘discoveries’, further reinforcing Napoleon’s position of power.
When the animals do begin to doubt that Snowball would have betrayed them to such an extent violence is used in order to maintain the subservience. Despite the harsh conditions they are comforted by the thought that at least they are free in a way they were not under the command of Jones. This naïve belief strikes a chord of sympathy in the reader and anger at the injustice. The final vision of the pigs enjoying the company of men, and the reverting back to the name of Manor Farm explicitly shows the circle complete. The animals were tricked into believing the coup would lead to a better quality of life and it is all too apparent that the reverse is true.

The length of this tale does not in any way diminish its power. It is clear to the reader what is happening long before the animals being to question the behaviour of the pigs. Their innocence makes their impending subjection all the more painful to witness. A perfectly crafted little book that succinctly demonstrates the power of fiction tackling politics.

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