12.20.2009

Literature Week: Animal Farm

Literature Week is an event occurring this week on my blog. Everyday, I will read a book considered to be a "great" classic and review it.

To kick things off, I read Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Book Description:

Mr Jones of Manor Farm is so lazy and drunken that one day he forgets to feed his livestock. The ensuing rebellion under the leadership of the pigs Napoleon and Wellington leads to the animals taking over the farm. Vowing to eliminate the terrible inequities of the farmyard, the renamed Animal Farm is organized to benefit all who walk on four legs. But as time passes, the ideals of the rebellion are corrupted, then forgotten. And something new and unexpected emerges...

Animal Farm – the history of a revolution that went wrong – is George Orwell’s brilliant satire on the corrupting influence of power.

My Opinion:

With his satiric fable Animal Farm, Orwell weaves a tale that is both clever and painfully ludicrous. Although this novella is generally heralded as a masterpiece by anyone who isn't a disgruntled teenager forced to read it in English class, I'm afraid Animal Farm is lacking in many aspects.

Events in this book unfold rather quickly, and Animal Farm is a blessing in that it's tolerably short. Any longer, and I would've throw it across the room in frustration. But for the first thirty pages or so, I admired Orwell's cleverness and the extent of his allegory. The satire is a clear player and the setup is actually quite ridiculous if you really think about it: full-out, intelligent animal rebellion. Orwell takes symbolism too far, but all the same his story is oddly compelling.

After the wise pig Old Major's inciting speech, the animals are rallied to rebel against their human overlords. What follows is a tale of animal rule: an attempt to build a Utopian society where all animals are equal and humans, their mortal enemies, are powerless. The Seven Commandments are inscribed upon the wall, chief among them "All animals are equal" and "Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend." But as time goes on, the animal's ideal society disintegrates. The pigs, as the smartest animals on the farm, soon take advantage of the "lower" and stupider animals. Corrupted by power, the pigs eventually become cruel, slave-driving leaders that profit from the hard work of the other animals.

Things just keep getting worse and worse, and just when it seems that Orwell's imagination has run out, he throws in an event even more absurd than the previous one. At one point--I kid you not--the pigs become drunk.

"That night there came from the farmhouse the sound of loud singing, in which, to everyone's surprise, the strains of Beast of England were mixed up. At about half-past nine Napoleon, wearing an old bowler hat of Mr. Jones's, was distinctly seen to emerge from the back door, gallop rapidly round the yard, and disappear indoors again. But in the morning a deep silence hung over the farmhouse."
Keep in mind, Napoleon is a pig. Now, I know that this is a satire and this made me laugh, but I am still amazed by how heavy-handed Orwell is. If I had to summarize this book in two words, I'd say blatant propaganda.

It's ironic that Animal Farm is a crusade against Soviet propaganda, but since it's so all-encompassing and one-sided it's in effect propaganda of it's own kind. Orwell's attempt to deliver his message has all the subtlety of a flying brick. I can see little kids mistaking the book for a criticism of pigs, or being shocked to find that pigs are really such cruel animals and consequently taking too much delight in their peperoni pizza from then on . Orwell should be dubbed O' Grand-Writer-Who-Encourages-The-Young-To-Eat-Pork. To anyone over the age of 10, it's clear that this book is a mirror of the Soviet Union at the time, but I do have to give him props for how well imagined everything is. No element of Soviet government is spared--from the embodiment of Lenin in Old Major to Napoleon and the pigs as Stalin and the Communist party, respectively, to the"lower" farm animals as the Russian populace. Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is the way Orwell continually portrayed the "lower" farm animals as idiotic, useless, easily fooled, and all in all, the dumbest things that ever existed. If they're supposed to represent the Russian people, all I can say is...ouch.

Animal Farm is a watered down version of Soviet regime--even the major battles, the political events, are mimicked. As a history nerd, all I can say is: if I wanted to know about it, I would've read it in a textbook. Russian history conveyed by the medium of pigs is just so ridiculous. And it's not that I have anything against allegories: I wasn't bothered by it at all in Narnia, but this just had me snorting in disbelief. Orwell had entirely too much fun writing this book, and I can't say that I had as much fun reading it.

If Animal Farm wasn't so short, I'd see no point in reading it--but since it is such a quick read, it might be worth reading just to see what all the hype is about. It would've been painful if it had been any longer than 150 pages; at 140, it's just about manageable. The allegory is about beaten to death over the course of these pages, and begins to get tiring after the first half of the book. I can see some people actually enjoying it--Orwell did very well in capturing the fable "voice" but at the same time this had the downfall of far too much telling. There were points in the book where my attention was completely lost. But I won't say that reading this book wasn't fun. I laughed quite a few times, in the I-can't-believe-he-actually-wrote-this way.


Ignoramus Teenage Scoop: Let me just say that I don't appreciate having the fact that COMMUNISTS, ARE VERY, VERY BAD shoved down my throat--I get it, you don't have to write a whole novella about it. And honestly, this book reminded me of a Charlotte's Web gone wild. Talking pigs? Check. Lol. And the whole of this book was just so, so silly, I mean c'mon, intelligent animal rebellion?! Holy crap, Orwell. You've picked something that will never, ever happen. You might've had the decency to do something more plausible, like I dunno...robots!!! If you'd written about intelligent robots rebelling against humans and titled it ROBOT FARM I might've actually liked it, who knows? Actually, that sounds like it'd be a really interesting book. Tired of doing all the real work, EVIL TRACTORS AND DISHWASHERS TAKE OVER THE FARM! Or ooh, ooh! ALIENS LAND FROM SPACE AND TAKE OVER THE FARM. Think how many more teenage boys would be interested. :p

Rating on the classics scale: Definitely overrated. Not horrible, but assuredely not "great." I'd give it a 6/10 for actual merit. If you have it lying around your house and a few spare hours and are curious, by all means, read it. But don't go out of your way.

10 comments:

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

I love you for being honest with your thoughts. This was a FANTASTIC, in-depth review. I seriously didn't get this book when I was little - pigs are evil? What? But looking back the message is very, very obvious. I guess it depends on whether you like your symbolism rare or well-cooked. ;)

iluvhersheys_andbooks said...

Hey we just started reading this book in English class. It is one of the more interesting books English Teacher's force upon us!!!

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

p.s. I love how I'm your #1 commenter by 10... I feel so special... haha <33

inkspatters said...

Great review. I had a lot of the same issues with Animal Farm -- in terms of that the anthropomorphism didn't serve any purpose other than Orwell's allegory (I wish he'd just used humans, honestly) and I often just find that sort of characterisation of animals ridiculous.

1984, while also flawed, is much better in my opinion. Much, much better :D

choco (In Which a Girl Reads) said...

@ Emilia: Jajaja (mistyped hahaha, but I figured I'd prepare you for Espanol country :p) thanks! AND YOU ARE TOTALLY SPECIAL, JahaJ(?)ah(?)a. This blog wouldn't be the same without you MS. TOP COMMENTATOR. J(?)kalabaxadahahaha. (arghh I really need to go to sleep) <33

@iluvhersheys: First off, I <3 you because you have chocolate in your name too :) And I'm glad, that for your English-sanity, you're finding it interesting!

@ink: He totally should've used humans, or something. It got to the point where it was RIDICULOUS.
1984. *sigh* STILL haven't read. Need to. I think I would like it.

Amna said...

My friend is pressing me to read this.

And I'm so glad you reviewed it because I was unsure!

Okay, now I think I'll pick it up when I have time. The concept sounds quite interesting!

I'll make sure to give you my thoughts on it, my lovely book soul mate

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Awesome review! Hm, it's been a couple years since I read Animal Farm, but I remember not really liking it. For shallow reasons, lol. Just because the pigs end up triumphing in the end and ultimately becoming like the humans they were originally trying to revolt against. Absolute power corrupts absolutely? I admire George Orwell's skills at an universal allegory, but, seriously, give it to me straight rather than through a pig named Snowball.

pepsivanilla said...

Great review, I love how you split it up into different sections. Doesn't sound like a book I'll read anytime soon, but thanks for reviewing it!

Jessica (BookLover) said...

another great review! I remember reading this one in English class and I remember the seemingly endless projects that came with it. Personally, I prefer 1984 (Why didn't they ever give that one for HW?).

Lex said...

I agree with everything you said, except wanting it to be realistic. I'm sure you meant something more nuanced, but "This could never happen" is not exactly a damning critique. Of course it could never happen. Neither could ANY books that include talking animals, nor could any fantasy books, nor could...

So yeah, I don't get why it matters that it could never happen.

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