I was never fond of politics for the majority of my life. That all changed during senior year in high school. I was forced to read a book by a man named George Orwell, whom I had never heard of before. Besides Shakespeare and the Romantic Poets like Shelley and Keats, I was not at all familiar with or accustomed to British Literature. To be fair it really didn’t interest me at that point in life.
Orwell’s Animal Farm was my first real exposure to political-literature, which eventually planted the seeds for my love-affair with politics (hence, the reason for my presence on this blog).
Animal Farm taught me to be skeptical of power. To this day I am still skeptical of power and that is why I revolt against the abuse of power, whether it is in exposing police brutality, seeking income equality, or reporting on human rights abuses by our government and governments worldwide. The diaries I write on this blog attests to this revolt.
Another significant contribution that Animal Farm had on me was that the book indirectly (well some might argue directly) led me to the works of my hero Noam Chomsky and eventually made me an anarchist. Let me explain.
After completing Animal Farm, I was assigned to write a term paper on the book by my English teacher. I was fascinated by George Orwell and I wanted to know his motives for writing the book and writing in general.
One of the books I consulted to improve my knowledge about Orwell was written by a British polemicist and journalist named Christopher Hitchens (note: when Hitchens wrote the book I believe he was not yet an American citizen). The book was called Why Orwell Matters. Just as I had fallen in love with Orwell’s prose I had fallen in love with Hitchens’s as well. In doing more research on Hitchens, I found out that one of his intellectual colleagues used to be Noam Chomsky (they later split, after Hitchens embraced a more neoconservative philosophy, around the period between September 11 and the Iraq War).
To this day Noam Chomsky is my ideological hero and I embrace his philosophy of anarchism. But I digress. Back to Animal Farm.
Before I continue to describe and glorify the book I think proper context is in order. Many of you may not have read Animal Farm, or have forgotten all about it. So I will give you a quick summary, but not the ending so here goes and the summary will not have too much meat in it at all so I hope I don’t spoil too much: (Hint: Just Imagine the Russian Revolution and the fall out between Stalin and Trotsky)
Old Major (think Karl Marx), calls Mr. Jones’ farm animals to a secret meeting. Being the oldest and wisest of the animals, Old Major is something of a philosopher who opens the animals’ eyes to their cruel fate. This inspires two of the most ambitious animals Snowball and Napoleon (the pigs and also caricatures of Trotsky and Stalin respectively), to take matters into their own hands and drive Mr. Jones off the farm. They drive the animals to mount a successful revolution and takeover the farm. There is a power struggle between Snowball and Napoleon with Napoleon prevailing in the end just as Stalin prevailed over Trotsky. What follows is the subjugation of the animals by Napoleon, but not too many of Napoleon’s subjects know it.
Animal Farm employs the genre of a fable in a novella form; in fact it is reminiscent of Aesop’s fables, only with an extended plot. Aesthetically speaking the sentences are lucid yet in their simplicity beautiful and thought-provoking. The work portrays our deepest hopes and longings for a better, fairer and richer life, warn us against unleashing our darkest desires when given positions of authority and power, and is a reminder to both the optimistic and the gullible to always be skeptical of power.
While Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a critique of Stalinist communism, the book transcends time and setting giving it a quintessential feeling of timelessness. What I mean by this is that Orwell condemns two things via his prose. The first and obvious one is the abuse of power and this is conducted chiefly by the Pigs. Secondly, Orwell condemns the common masses that remains deluded and allow such abuse of power to continue. The common mass is represented by the non-pigs such as Boxer, the sheep, the cows. Benjamin the donkey is also a member of the common mass but is something more of a pessimist. An intelligent and literate character but nevertheless apathetic towards the animal’s deteriorating situation stating: "Life will go on as it has always gone on–-that is, badly." Hence, Orwell sees both ignorance and apathy as detrimental to the quality of life.
Now think about it, is this not us? Is the abuse of power in several forms occurring, while the majority of Americans are in an opiate state or simply just don’t care? In fact the mantra of Boxer the horse (“I will work harder"), is what the American dream was based upon for all these years. A belief my parents instilled in me. A belief, which states that if a person works hard he/she will attain great success. Well, that isn’t true any more. Many single mothers work two to three jobs but have a very difficult time in making ends meet. Meanwhile, oligarchs and corporatists work the least amount of hours in America, yet live in luxury.
Boxer (proletariats) didn’t realize it, worked his butt off and ended up dying, while his carcass was taken to be made into glue. Meanwhile, the Pigs (bourgeoisie) lived in comfort by sucking the resources and productivity of everyone else.
Something else we must consider is that Animal Farm shows us how the powerful use propaganda to manufacture consent. Here are a few quotes that highlight what I am talking about (these quotes are taken from different chapters. A complete list can be found here:
We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades," cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, "surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?"Having this realization alone, especially at such a young age was life-changing for me and the catalyst for this realization is Animal Farm. For one it allowed me to see a grim reality that many of my own relatives cover with their delusions, sometimes I think purposefully. I don’t blame them. It’s what human beings have been doing throughout history. Power is bound to corrupt and propaganda is bound to persuade. The powerful tend to be both corrupt and persuasive. You can read Noam Chomsky’s, Manufacturing Consent to find out how, for a non-fictional diagnosis of this phenomenon (after you read or re-read Animal Farm that is).
But a few days later Muriel, reading over the Seven Commandments to herself, noticed that there was yet another of them which the animals had remembered wrong. They had thought the Fifth Commandment was "No animal shall drink alcohol," but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: "No animal shall drink alcohol TO EXCESS."
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.
Because, it is usually read in the high-school level, Animal Farm is a dark reminder to all youth that they have an obligation to be citizens of conscience and conscious of what goes on around them and how their destinies are shaped. I suggest we do not solely read the book purely for pleasure but also as prophecy.
Read Animal Farm online for free. Click on the link below:
After reading the book please watch the film for a different rendition of the story:
The animated version is my personal favorite: