Cannonball Read IV: Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm, at this point, is more famous as a concept than as an actual book. The title conjures up images and political ideas even to those who have not read it. Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s A Brave New World are likely chosen first in high school syllabi. Perhaps this is because 1984 and A Brave New World deal with simply rebelling against an authoritarian regime, not the messy, difficult politics of constructing a new order after overthrowing the old one; Perhaps it’s because The Crucible already occupies the “Allegory” section of the syllabus.
In Animal Farm, a dying pig named Old Major gives a speech to the other animals about how the humans who run the farm take advantage of and profit from the animals’ labor. This leads to a revolt against the humans, and the farm is re-christened “Animal Farm”. At first, the new order is idyllic; they are working less, and the work they do feels more important as they can directly see the benefits. Then, a group of pigs take on the planning duties, and soon begin making rules that benefit their group - they get all the milk produced, because their duties are more strenuous. Eventually, the animals notice they are working just as hard as they had been under human rule, and the pigs become indistinguishable from their former human oppressors.
Animal Farm was written as a direct indictment of Stalin’s rise to power after the Bolshevik revolution; however, the story it tells is more widely applicable. Social justice movements tend to harbor secret vanguardists and elitists, who range from those who find hierarchy more efficient, and gee they should just be on top of that hierarchy, to straight up fascists who just want to insert themselves on the top of the current power structure (think President Coin in Mockingjay).
Animal Farm works as an allegory and a cautionary tale, and also as a story. Orwell’s characters are fairly simple (being animals and all) but always consistent. As such, it is downright tragic at the end when the animals realize that they have worked so hard to change things, only to be in the same place with a different master at the top.
For more of Rebecca’s reviews, check out her blog, Rebecca’s Cannonball.
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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