Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Animal Farm

(As promised, my other review for the HUL 238 course, again provides the ability to comment on the narrative without divulging the plot. I believe it isn't a spoiler.
http://hul238.blogspot.com/2010/11/animal-farm.html)
Link
Although today George Orwell is primarily known for his masterpiece 1984 (which brought him much-deserved controversy and fame), the saga had begun when Animal Farm was released in 1945. An allegory, a political statement, a satire- Animal Farm is a classic example of what a small novel (read, novella) can do to the reader's mind. Having been suppressed for a long time in Britain before its release, Orwell described at as a "self-imposed exile of the people".

Orwell attempted to draw parallels to Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin and his policies, which despite their oppressive nature made him a popular figure in the media in US and UK, due to Soviet's alignment with these countries in the Allied Powers in World War II. Orwell wrote an essay with the novel, which is available in some of the issues. Just like 1984, it is a classical example of dystopian literature and has also made into the
Time Magazine's Top 100 Novels of the Century. Ever since serving NKVD during the Spanish Civil War, Orwell had been anti-Stalin and was wary of the spreading Stalinism elsewhere including UK. The book has found its place in pop-culture, and lines such as “from pig to man”, “four legs good, two legs bad” have been extensively used. In one of Orwell's lines himself “I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat”, which made use the analogy of animals to represent slaves among humans.

The book is very small, and divided into a few chapters. The tone is variant, but the pattern can be noticed easily. Although it begins with a huge ray of optimism, with every passing chapter (indeed page) pessimism keeps on encircling the narrative. Thus the deterioration in the enthusiasm is consistent. Music is a key element in the narrative, as even the novel begins with a song when the 'intellectual' boar- Old Major inspires the rest with tenets of 'Animalism' through the poem "Beasts of England", which is sung throughout the novel by different characters at different points of time, and in different tones. The other one liners like "Four legs good, two legs bad" also appear musically throughout the text.

The scene of Animal Farm is itself a caricature of Soviet Union, with each of the characters in it finding an analogue in the Russian Revolution. Old Major can be compared to Karl Marx himself, Animalism to Communism, Napoleon- the pig to Stalin, Snowball to Leo Trotsky and so on. Just like in Soviet, the inspired animals rebel by physical force and kick out Mr. Jones,who had been mistreating them till now and gave them minimal part of the produce. Mr. Jones can be compared to the ruling class Czars prior to the revolution. Tenets of animalism, with Seven Commandments are established summarized as "Four legs good, two legs bad" and centered out "All animals are equal". At this part of the novel, the tone is mysteriously funny as animals think for themselves, conspire to be above humans and self-ruling. A sort of bathos is also built indicating the Utopian dream shall never sustain.


Such undercuts are evident in warnings issued by the writer as he attempts to build the expectations of an idyllic world in parallel, such as “But the milk was stolen”, suggesting a smack of corruption. The tone for disappointment begins quickly as the pigs claim intelligential superiority to the others, and thus start commanding the rest. But the turning point occurs when among the two pigs- Napoleon and Snowball- apparently warring for the final authority over the decision, Napoleon becomes the tyrant by blatant use of physical force on Snowball in such a way, that Snowball is never ever seen.

However, Snowball’s image perseveres and becomes a scapegoat for every act of failure, which occurred due to lack of Napoleon’s capabilities declaring in the end, Snowball was never with animals and was an ally of Mr. Jones. Life under Napoleon often is reflected as worse than under Mr. Jones, with Napoleon’s and Squealer’s (his spokesman) continual insistence that whatever they did was “for themselves”. The line when used many times arouses pity in the reader’s mind for the animals who actually seem to have lost their power to reason, and accept all the betrayal, lies and oppression of Napoleon, without even the thought of rebellion. The seven commandments are modified, but the animals who couldn’t read can’t perceive it. Benjamin, the donkey, the only one who can see through it all is rather depicted as a nihilist repeating the line “nothing ever changes” and thus doesn’t take interest in inciting a rebellion.

The mockery of commandments, tenets of animalism incite pathos for Animal Farm as Napoleon imitates humans in every possible sense, as the rest can just watch and the hardworking horse Boxer repeats his lines “I shall work harder” and “Napoleon is always right”. The cruel ending Napoleon has in store for Boxer surely leaves the reader with hatred, and not just pity. The novel gets darker, as Orwell seems to be able to make his point progressively. One can compare Benjamin with the skeptics inside and outside Russia, while Boxer compares well to the dedicated and cheated supporters of Stalin.

The ending is again dark, without a tinge of hope for the reader and the setting gets darker than ever. All the hope in the beginning has entirely vanished, being replaced by typical Orwellian pessimism of much higher magnitude. The suppressed is unable to comprehend their own misery, and is made to live under illusions. Overall, Orwell manages to make powerful comments about Communism, apart from singling out the tyrant regime of Josef Stalin. He shows what power left to concentrate in the hands of a few people, unchallenged can do. "In general, the novel reflects how greed, indifference, wickedness would destroy any possibility of utopia". (Wiki) Despite its small size, for anyone who has been moved by his magnum opus 1984, Animal Farm is a must read.

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