I was scrolling through my GoodReads feed before writing a review of this book. And that’s when a major FOMO feeling came over me. Am I the last person in my friend / book reviewers circle to read Animal Farm? Why did I wait so long to read this masterpiece!? I had read 1984 last year and was amazed by its brilliance. I had planned to read Animal Farm right after 1984, but that plan never worked out.
But then, better late than never.
In the light of the fact that almost everyone I know has already read and loved and reviewed Animal Farm, I have decided to do a discussion post instead. I’ll discuss certain highlights of the book that I appreciated, from the point of view of a reader, writer and an almost-adult with a rising sense of political and social awareness.
I did a bit of research about the parallels drawn between the characters in Animal Farm and the leaders of the Russian Revolution and the various instances mentioned in the book which are very similar to actual historical facts. And I was pleasantly stunned by Orwell’s genius, thanks to which “Animal Farm” (a political satire) became suitable for academic curriculum and the minds of mature adults alike.
Note: I have refrained from airing my political opinions here. I don’t want to be disembowelled before I achieve anything in life, do I?
Highlight 1: The Introduction to the characters (hereon called animals)
Orwell hooks the reader right into the story from the first page. There’s no dilly-dallying, fancy prose, nothing. Simple prose, clear cut facts and we’re good to go.
The reader is introduced to Mr. Jones (a parallel to Tsar Nicholas II), Old Major (a parallel to Lenin) and all the animals at the Manor Farm in the first chapter.
A huge round of applause for the brief way Orwell describes the main animals and lays the groundwork for the other animals right at the beginning of the book. It’s like a writer’s dream come true: being able to introduce almost all the characters in the first chapter, without boring the reader at all.
Old Major’s speech has elements of a good one: he kicks off the speech by giving a brief idea about why he has called all the animals together, through which he establishes his authority and gains the trust of the animals. And need I say more about his speech? It simply roused all the animals to action, more than the fear of Mr. Jones’s whip ever could. And they even proved the efficacy of the speech by bellowing ‘Beasts of England’ with enough gusto to wake up a drunk Mr. Jones that night.
‘Beasts of England’ plays an important role in the book, in binding the animals together (pun unintended).
The dogs, Bluebell, Jessie and Pincher, and the pigs are described as arriving first and sitting close to the platform. In the later chapters, we understand how the pigs start taking charge (and undue advantage) and how the dogs help the pigs preserve their totalitarian leadership. So, the entry of the dogs first and then the pigs is symbolic. (Don’t bodyguards walk ahead of an eminent personality and enter buildings and crowds first? Yes, they do. That’s the parallel I drew)
Next, the hens, pigeons, sheep and cows are briefly introduced. Though they may seem insignificant (since Orwell didn’t give the animals names in the beginning) they do play an important role in the story. Which could be analysed as: even the faceless common people of the world play their constructive/destructive part in the larger narrative.
The reader is then introduced to Boxer and Clover, who enter together. Which is a strong foreshadow of their enduring friendship. They are also described as
walking very slowly and setting down their vast hairy hoofs with great care lest there should be some small animal concealed in the straw.
Orwell then goes on to describe Boxer’s personality, with his “white stripe down the nose” portrayal of Boxer’s outward appearance. However, the reader is not shown the true extent of Boxer’s single-minded, absurd fascination for hardwork so soon. So, the first impression that the reader has of Boxer is that he’s a good soul.
Moving on to Benjamin. Orwell wastes no time in establishing the cynical nature of this donkey. And does make an interesting point by saying that Benjamin and Boxer are grazing-buddies. Another noteworthy animal is Mollie, and here Orwell painted the picture of a narcissistic animal very well. Sugar cubes and red ribbons, ahoy!
Highlight 2: Napoleon vs Snowball. Who is the better leader?
This is a dilemma that most of us have experienced even in our lives. We tend to get swayed by people like Snowball: people with the gift of the gab, people who make distant possibilities seem like near probabilities. People who tend to have no much conviction in their own value system, but can persuade mountains to get up and relocate. And yet, we end up unanimously electing such people as team leaders in group activities and projects, just because it ‘seems’ right. Or maybe we see in them a reflection of the person we can never be?
On the other hand, people like Napoleon are very rarely liked, leave alone understood. Their tendency towards short, apt and carefully constructed sentences seems lacklustre to an audience who wants the whole adrenaline-pumped, fist-shaking reality of a rousing speech.
(Just clearing this out: This is only an analysis of the way speaking skills affect the audience’s perception of a ‘good leader’. Kindly do not read anything more into this analysis or extrapolate it as my views of Napoleon/Snowball in the remaining part of the book)
Highlight 3: Squealer, the Rabble Rouser
If there’s one character from Animal Farm who made me think a lot about the current scenario in the world, it would be Squealer.
Orwell used Squealer’s dialogues in moments where the animals were extremely doubtful about the policies and actions of Napoleon / Snowball / Mr. Frederick / Mr. Pilkington. Which could be compared to the modern day search engine / social media pages we frequent when we are doubtful about some issue and wish to gain more information about it. But the downside is, as Orwell showed through the character of Squealer, this information could be either a. intentionally misleading with very convincing statistics and figures (much like Barney and his dating stats in ‘How I Met Your Mother’) b. unintentionally misleading due to lack of correct information (much like forwarded text messages where the forwarder has a compulsion to ‘mindlessly spread the word’ about bizarre irrational facts that could never be true) c. purposely spread with a malafide intention.
And the worst part is: the other animals were left totally confused about the correct timelines and facts because of Squealer’s convincing arguments. They saw the harsh reality of lower rations and a taxing work schedule right before their eyes, but a vision of a developing Animal Farm was simultaneously shoved down their throats. The later entrants into the farm could be given the benefit of doubt regarding the history of Manor/Animal Farm. But it was heartbreaking to see the older, good-intentioned souls like Boxer and Clover get easily entangled in the intricate, verbose traps set by Squealer.
The only person who remained unaffected was Benjamin, the donkey who had been around for a really long time. His cynical personality may have played a part in it though.
Highlight 4: The not-so-constant Seven Commandments
I could go on and on and on about the various allegories in this book, but I know for a fact that there are extensive (and way more well-opinionated) reviews and discussion posts available for “Animal Farm” online. Having laid down my two cents about this book, I take your leave. Do comment below and let me know your thoughts about this book!