Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Posted on May 14, 2010

Aarti Agarwal:

Glancing the cover and having flipped through a few pages, it appeared to me one of those children’s books talking about animals, farms, their fights etc. But as I entered deep and deeper into it, I realized that it was not just a ‘Tom and Jerry’ tale instead it had something serious to convey to its readers. George Orwell has used this allegory in a magnificent way to elucidate how communist utopia can convert itself into a totalitarian dystopia.

Story starts with the secret meetings of animals planning how to get rid of cruel tyranny of human beings. Such meetings were headed by Old Major who with his powerful oration and the song ‘Beasts of England’ moved the mob against Mr. Jones. This reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi and the national song ‘Vande-Mataram’ when India too was going through its struggle against the Britishers. Such meetings continued to be held until there was what the author named as ‘Battle of Cowshed’. This battle rendered the Manor farm in the possession of animals and human presence was completely ruled out. Now the animals were their own masters and had full freedom to decide their own path of progress. The first thing they did was to write a constitution for themselves which was known as ‘The Seven Commandments’. Manor farm was now renamed as Animal farm and it was honoured every Sunday mornings with flag hoisting and singing of ‘Beasts of England’.

Putting a farm under operation all on themselves was not a cake-walk. However under the capable supervision of pigs and unbeatable spirit of hard work of horses, they managed to produce even higher yield compared to earlier days. They used to refer to each other as comrades and worked in complete harmony. They learned self-reliance by devising simpler ways of harvest. But this egalitarian and communist framework was not sustainable! Pigs now started using ‘tactics’ to convince other animals that it was in their interest that pigs fed themselves on most of the apples and milk. One by one they amended every rule of seven commandments and interpreted it to their advantage. Making use of politically correct statements and poor literacy levels of other animals, they succeeded in converting the commandment ‘All animals are equal’ to ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’. Their leader Napolean had trained nine enormous dogs which gave them enough military power to pacify the crowd whenever there were any signs of protest. Animal farm ended up being a dictatorship of pigs, who were the brightest, and the most idle of all the animals.

Orwell has also criticized the church which is represented by Moses, a tame raven, who talks of ‘Sugarcandy Mountain’, a happy country in the sky where poor animals shall rest forever from their labours. It is interesting to observe that when old Major was first preaching revolutionary commission, Moses was sleeping in the barn, which satirizes the church being caught asleep by communism. He also mentions about the internal power struggle between Napolean and Snowball who war each other for the want of chair. They spread rumours and try to weaken the support for one-another using illegitimate means. And this is why politics is referred to as dirty by most of the youth today. It is the beauty of his writing style that such serious issues are also brought about in from of a fairy tale.

Orwell has covered almost all the aspects of how an economy functions and the impact of political framework on well-being of citizens. He has tried to emphasize on vitality of education by emanating the disadvantaged position of other animals being brainwashed by Squealor again and again. Squealor crams his speeches so full of vocabulary, jargon, and statistics that the animals are psychologically overwhelmed and, since they cannot understand what he is saying, tacitly consent to allowing the pigs to think for them. At times the justifications are so impressive that it was confusing for me too to judge whether or not pigs had malicious intentions! Orwell also talks about efficiency in production by modern techniques of division of labour and work-based compensation schemes. All these real life details are being narrated in such a fantastic style that keeps the reader hung up to the novel. His other novel 1984 also revolves around similar themes but animal farm attracts more readers. This book is equally appealing to children as well as adults. It is fun-read-for-pleasure book for children and for adults it is an easy-read but thought-provoking literature.

It is interesting to know that though the book was first published in 1945 and mainly attacked the Stalinism prevailing in then Russia, but it finds enough relevance in contemporary world. It rants the power corrupt political system by bringing about similar situations as we face in real world in a fancy symbolism. Orwell’s deep mistrust of political power comes shining through in this fable. ‘Animal Farm’ is a critical look at anyone who wants to keep us down ‘for our own good’. It does not have a happy ending rather it ends with a hair-raising warning to all its readers as to how devastating the state of affairs can be under a totalitarian government. It emphasizes on the often quoted Lord Acton’s saying “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It is often observed that even the one who has read very less has read at least this book. Though most of you would have already read this book but still I will insist read through it again and this time grasp the political satire in its entirety which you might have missed earlier thinking it to be a fairy tale. This short novel has a lot to say.

The writer is a Youth Ki Awaaz reporter. A student of Delhi University, she has recently completed her first year in B. Com (H) from SRCC.