I actually finished Animal Farm (Fantasy 128 pages) by George Orwell a couple of days ago, but I haven’t had a chance to write up my review until today.
“This remarkable book has been described in many ways – as a masterpiece … a fairy story … a brilliant satire … a frightening view of the future. A devastating attack on the pig-headed, gluttonous and avaricious rulers in an imaginary totalitarian state, it illuminates the range of human experience from love to hate, from comedy to tragedy. ‘A wise, compassionate and illuminating fable for our time … The steadiness and lucidity of Orwell’s wit are reminiscent of Anatole France and even of Swift.’ – New York Times.”
I guess one of the first things I need to comment on is the essay in the beginning of my copy of this book (I have the sixteenth printing of this book from 1964). The essay was published in The Times Literary Supplement in London on 06 August 1954 by C.M. Woodhouse. In this essay, Woodhouse discusses the original publication of Animal Farm in the same month that the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also classification of this book as a fairy story. Woodhouse discusses a lot of the politics involved in Animal Farm and the history of World War II and how that impacted George Orwell’s stories. I’m not usually someone who enjoys reading literary essays, but this was a very interesting look at this book. I’m not really sure if I would have read the book the same way if I hadn’t read the essay beforehand.
About the book itself.
I’m not going to say that I liked the book and I’m not going to say that I disliked the book either. I think this is one of those few books that I will likely remain neutral towards because I understand what the story is saying about the political nature of the world in which we live, but it was not exactly a satisfying read.
In the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to a variety of farm animals, each with their own characteristics. There were so many names and animals introduced so quickly that I don’t think I really remembered which names went with each animal. I definitely got animals and names confused several times.
The reader is also introduced to Farmer Jones and even though Farmer Jones is the first human encountered in this story, the story is set up such that Farmer Jones appears to be the villain of the story. He is a drunk and often negligent in his care for the animals on his farm. While Farmer Jones is a very human and relatable character, as he portrays many familiar behaviors, he is not a character who is easy to like. Understandable, yes. Likable, no.
I think the only character that I genuinely like throughout this whole story was Boxer, but I also think that his part of the story was the most tragic. The main thing that motivated him every day and every night was taking care of the farm and working hard to make things better for the rest of the animals. His loyalty was genuine and all-encompassing. He worked through pain and discomfort and injuries in order to build the windmill to make the lives of the animals better. He gave everything he had only to have those to whom his loyalty was given abuse him and betray him. After he strained his heart and couldn’t
even move, the pigs then sold him to the butcher and didn’t give a second thought to him or everything he’d sacrificed for the farm.
Boxer gave his heart, body, and soul to the farm and everything he accomplished would have made the lives of the animals much, much richer if those in charge had actually believed in making an equal society. Instead, his hard work and effort went to making the pigs fatter, happier, more comfortable, and more entitled.
I thought that the book was an interesting look at how a dream and an idea for equality can quickly get out of hand. I also thought it was interesting that this book was written almost 70 years ago and how everything that this book talks about with classism, racism, and entitlement are still prevalent today. The pigs who are in charge may have started out their time in charge with the most benevolent of intentions, but it didn’t take very long for them to use their power to help them gain more power instead of creating a truly equal society. The pigs invented enemies in order to build fear amongst the other farm animals and they used their power to continuously gain more power. Power absolutely does corrupt, and absolute power, even more so.
Overall, I’d say this book is a very low two on my rating scale. While I understand the intent with the political thought process behind this book, I found the book depressing without any redeeming hope. I am unlikely to voluntarily read this book again.