My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The following review has rough spoilers
I remember my high school teacher recommending Animal Farm as a sophisticated read, something that was thought-provoking and yet relatively short. It took me more than ten years to heed his advice, but I’m sure that I got more out of it now than I would have as a teenager.
Animal Farm is a novel written by George Orwell, best known for 1984 (this one I actually DID read as a teenager), and widely interpreted as an allegory for the Russian revolution as well as a critique on the Soviet Union.
It’s about an English farm, where the animals stage a revolution and take over the farm themselves, governing themselves and basically establishing a new order. It’s quite clear who’s meant as the now former owner Mr. Jones (the Russian nobility, especially the Czar), Old Major (Karl Marx), Napoleon (Stalin) and so forth.
As time passes on, it’s quite impressive how capable the animals show themselves to be. They successfully organize themselves and are even able to erect buildings. But of course, their dream becomes corrupted, as the pigs slowly brainwash the other animals into giving them all power, constantly going on about the revolution and how everything is better now. I have to say that in many aspects it’s a fascinating way to describe societal change and its players.
To see how the sheep are too dumb to even grasp the most basic guidelines and rules of the society and how therefore these teachings are simplified for them (discouraging deep thinking for simpler following of doctrine), rather than an effort made to actually educate them is quite impactful. You’ll quickly find yourself identifying much of what is happening at Animal Farm with your own world, not just necessarily the Soviet Union.
In this way, Animal Farm has a quite genius way of communicating its message, as well as serve as a sort of catalyst for critical thinking about society.
I hear that Animal Farm was, and maybe still is, required reading in schools in the Western world. It’s a very convincing piece of writing that will paint a picture of what the Soviet Union was like, but it carries with it an underlying agenda.
You see, I found myself uncomfortable with a lot of the message this book supposedly sends to its readers. Power corrupts, and ideology can turn into dogma when not checked and questioned by all. That I can see. But this story fails to provide a logical argument against self-governance of the people, a reason why these animals governing themselves is such a bad idea. Because someone, somewhere will unavoidably plot to consolidate all power for themselves? That’s merely an assumption. It happens in the world all the time, but that doesn’t mean that the core idea is at fault.
In the end though, I wouldn’t interpret Animal Farm to really be an anti-Socialist work. It makes much more sense to me as a cautionary tale against the dangers of being an apathetic, passive member of society and about the ways men seduce others into following them to their own detriment. This doesn’t only happen in Soviet Russia, but especially today, in all parts of the world.