I thought it was about time I talked about this rather well known classic.
Animal farm is one of those “must read” books that even the often broken school system recommends you read it. In fact, my Finnish language teacher (I was born and raised in Finland) suggested all the students to read this book, and we, or at least I, did. I’m guessing this happens in most schools around the western world. So, I’d say you must have at least heard of this book even if you haven’t already read it, and that should tell you something.
In this blog post, I’m trying to tell you why Animal Farm was a great book, and why you should consider reading it, or if you have already read it, then consider this a suggestion to give it another go. The book is short, so it won’t take much of your time.
When I read the book for the first time, I didn’t really get it. I thought of it as a book about animals in human roles, but that’s really nothing more than just the premise for what’s happening. The book is very much so about humans and human nature. I just hadn’t read enough books to understand it at the time. There is a reason why the pigs are the “main” characters in the book, as pigs resemble humans in many ways, like for example they have similar DNA to us among other small quirks. I should also say to the people that have read history, especially European / Russian history, that the characters in the book are based off of real historical figures. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out who is who, though.
I’ll go through the plot quickly.
The Plot Summary
The animals are gathering one night near Mr. Jones’ Manor Farm, in the barn, to hear old Major, a pig, talk. He talks about his dream of living in world where all animals live free from tyranny from humans. He also talks about his ideology “Animalism”, which is tied to his own beliefs..Old Major dies soon after the meeting, but he had successfully planted the idea in other animals minds, and this is when the animals start to rebel against Jones. Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, become leaders of this rebellion. When Jones commits his last mistake, forgetting to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and Jones and his men are forced to leave the farm. Manor Farm is then renamed Animal Farm, and the Seven Commmandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall.
At first, the rebellion proves successful. The animals completely the harvest and meet every Sunday to discuss policy. The pigs, who intellectually superior, become the supervisors of the farm, and so assume leadership ‘by default’. Snowball seems like the reasonable leader, but Napoleon on the other hand starts stealing milk from the cows and food to feed himself and the other pigs. He also employs other animals to do his bidding and spread propaganda which makes the pigs seem superior to other animals.
Later that fall, Jones and his men try to retake the farm, but fail due to Snowball’s tactics and strategy. Later this battle is talked about as “The Battle of the Cowshed”. In the winter one the horses is lost due to clever bait by another human, clever bait being ribbons and sugar. Snowball starts drawing plans for a windmill. The windmill would provide electricity for the animals, which would lead into the animals having more leisure time. Napoleon isn’t so keen on going through with this plan, arguing that building the windmill would take away time from producing food. The Sunday comes when animals are asked to vote whether to build the windmill, and Napoleon summons a pack of ferocious dogs to chase off Snowball from the farm. After this incident, Napoleon as the sole leader, announces that debates will no longer be held, and tells the animals that the windmill will be built, and that it was his idea all along. From this point on, Napoleon uses Snowball as a scapegoat, on which he blames all the ills of the animals.
After this starts the reign of Napoleon. Jones moves to another part of the country. The animals begin building the windmill, and it’s going well until a storm hits and topples the half-finished windmill. This is, of course, is something Napoleon blames on Snowball.
After a while, Napoleon becomes more and more power hungry and starts resembling a totalitarian dictator. He starts forcing confessions out of the other animals and executing them with his pack of dogs in front of the entire farm. The pigs move to the Jones’ house and start sleeping in beds, and they also start eating more food, meanwhile giving the other animals less of the grub. The farm is once again attacked, but this time by another neighbor, Frederick and his men, who end up blowing up the windmill before they are defeated. The pigs start breaking more and more Commandments of Animalism, and slowly, they start making changes to the originally sound ‘rules’ of the animals. This eventually leads to the complete revision of the Commandments, in which, all of the Commandments are no more, and one new law takes their place “All Animals Are Equal / But Some Are More Equal Than Others.”
During all this, the pigs start walking on two feet, as well as picking up other mannerisms from their old human oppressors. The book ends when Napoleon changes the name of the farm back to Manor Farm, and he is in the Jones’ house playing cards and quarreling with Pilkington (a neighboring farmer). In the card game, both of them try to play the ace of spades, which of course should be impossible. The other animals watch them play from outside the window, they can no longer tell the difference between the pigs and the humans.
This book is clearly a deconstruction of what happened with Communism, but it can also be used to see what would happen with Socialism (as they are not quite the same thing). Just think of the pigs as humans who are perhaps from a better social class than the other animals, aka other humans, or maybe the pigs can just handle social situations better.
The pigs have good and bad people among their ranks, too, but the ones who are interested in power and power alone, and not helping others, will eventually come out on top, which eventually leads to a dictatorship and totalitarianism. It has happened before in his history, and will happen again in the future if not kept in check.
I adore Animal farm for its simplicity. It takes a rather complicated idea, and makes sense of it using animals to deliver the point. Again, like I said I didn’t fully get it the first time I read it, but now having read it again years after the fact, I feel like I was much better equipped to understand what’s in the book. I recommend you do the same and see what you can learn from it.
George Orwell was a genius.