Now that I am finished reading for exams it is quite nice to read for fun again. The pressure is off, there are little to no time constraints, I can just sit back, relax and enjoy turning the pages as slowly as I like. However if I a to finish Ulysses and then Anna Karenina any time soon I should probably get a move on.
Not like Animal Farm, I whizzed through that little novella like a boy racer down the motorway (not the M25 of course, nobody really whizzes down there…). Aside from the political aspect of the text which I will come to later, George Orwell has written a relatable story that can easily be transferred and understood by various audiences. Both adults and children can appreciate the songs, poems and the slogans that are used to create the revolution, regardless of the propaganda agenda they possess. But the story is simply about animals that decide to run their own farm. To a child that can be nothing but comical. How can a pig that likes to roll around in mud and walk on four legs possibly run a farm that would normally require a farmer and the rest of the family to do it well? To me, I can’t help but see Napoleon and Snowball as the character from one of my favourite childhood books The Pig in the Pond. Yes they are malicious and easily corruptable and seem to represent everything that is bad and tragic about the human condition, but at the bottom of it, they are pigs.
What I remember liking most about this book was Boxer. Boxer is the loveable character that tries to be his best, he is the ultimate hero and has the characteristics many people would like to possess. He is dedicated and loyal, perhaps to the point of his own detriment and ultimately his hard work goes unappreciated. But like most things in life, this remains pessimistically universal. He is the figure that holds the farm together, although nothing more than the epitome of the working class exploited labourer he is crucial to its’ success and development. While Boxer is present to work on the farm, rebuild the windmill and plough the field when the other animals are just too tired, Animal Farm effectively experiences the roaring 20’s.
Why I think this novella is most successful is because it transmits its’ message through animals. The story of the Russian Revolution is not a nice one, in fact most of it is pretty grim. Trotsky threatening men to sign up to the Red Army whilst he has their wives and children under threat, not an easy thing to narrate. Telling a story through images or animals somehow lightens the load, dulls down the harsh quality of it. Art Spiegleman’s Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of a family who survive the Holocaust and does so by depicting the Nazi’s as cats and the Jews as mice. Some may consider this derogatory, or demeaning but I disagree. By representing troubling but important issues through animals it takes away the direct human quality and makes them relatable. They are less likely to be judges; but as with the case of cat and mouse, animal instincts are implied intuitively.
Although the novel resembles the Russian Revolution and the changes that were implemented under Stalin and Trotsky’s rule of terror, the main characters can be seen as general symbols for authorial figures. Napoleon could represent his namesake, a political tyrant who at first used his power for the good of the public but then once he had declared himself Emperor and had supreme power, those ideals altered somewhat. Mao, Tito and Stalin are just a few more examples of despots who can be represented through Napoleon the pig. At the heart of Animal Farm is a socialist agenda, the novel critiques the corruption of the Soviet State and the impact that it had on the people. Similarly the novel contains a striking class division between the animals in power and those that work. The intellectuals and the physical labourers; which is a symbolic reflection of the Bourgeois/Proletariat relationship. The working class are naive and believe the animals in charge, with Boxer being a tragic example. The novel is a literary example of Marx and the Russian Revolution in action.
Unless you were aware of the history of Russia, then this becomes apparent. It is more than possible to read the novella without having any knowledge on that part, and it is more than possible to enjoy it as such. I read the text a few years ago before I had studied Russia in depth and loved it just for the characters that are lovable and the hope that they represent despite the gloomy circumstances. Plus the story is only 100 pages long and so can be read over a couple of lunch hours. Easy peasy.