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The Book Club

George Orwell’s Animal Farm

1. The “Animal Farm. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is one of the most popular literature novella amongst school students, and has been used in many literature and history lessons because of its dystopian nature and historical references respectively. The fable is substantially a masked attack on Communism, Joseph Stalin, his correspondingly socio-economic policies et cetera, as Orwell allegorises a group of animals which degenerate from revolutionary independence to brutal tyranny.

2. Getting the message across. Rendering his political criticisms in the form of text serves multiple purposes. First, without fear of prosecution or censorship, the fables – as opposed to outright, public essays denouncing Communism – can be published, and Orwell would be able to deliver his message effectively across. Second, the elements of a literature text – from plot development to colourful characterisation – prevent the author from delving into lengthy, monotonous monologues on political ideologies. Quite simply, the reader would connect better with sympathetic characters and spontaneous events, in comparison to the exposition of ideas and concepts per se. The reader is left to make personal inferences, and judge the assortment of happenings and individuals. Last but not least – accordingly – the messages in “Animal Farm” can be made universal; after all, with a little background reading, even children would eventually get the references.

3. George Orwell on the difficulties of getting a publisher, given the political climate of his time. “I have finished my book [Animal Farm] … it is a sort of fairy story, really a fable with a political meaning … it is strongly anti-Stalin in tendency … This book is murder from the Communist point of view, though no names are mentioned”.

4. The power of satire. Complementing the aforementioned, Orwell masterfully encompasses elements of satire, which serves two purposes: to inject humour and light-heartedness in an otherwise serious text; and second, to exaggerate how nonsensical and ridiculous the actions and changes – which translates into policies adopted under Stalin – can be. The latter especially true when edits or additions are made to the original commandments, as Napoleon and his cronies seek to exploit their creatures and gain advantages. The satirical extent of the misery also creates a sense of sympathy for the common animals – the populace supposedly “suffering” and “exploited” in the then Soviet Union – as the reader notes the gross disparities and injustices.

5. From whose perspective? The story is told through a generic narrator, which makes the novel free from judgements and inherent biases of the narrator. This encourages the reader to decide the validity of the dissatisfaction and mistreatment, since the reader is also made to empathise – or sympathise – with the plight of the animals. As a bystander, the reader is able to independently assess individual creature’s rhetoric and ability, and perhaps understand how it was purportedly like for the Russian people during the period.

6. The power of rhetoric: Snowball. Snowball assumes the initial role of leadership, and through his attempts to teach the animals how to read and write, as well as his productive management, everything in the farm moves smoothly and satisfactorily. His well-intentioned ideals are complemented by his rhetorical and debate abilities, as shown in the contention over the windmill when he delivered a passionate speech supporting the endeavour. During the confrontation between Snowball and Napoleon, “the animals had been about equally divided in their sympathies, but in a moment Snowball’s eloquence had carried them away”; prosperity in a farm – or a nation – can come when engagement and eloquence is used to expound upon positive policy recommendations and proposals.

7. The power of rhetoric, propaganda and fear: Squealer and Napoleon. Squealer repeatedly reconfigures the original commandments, and uses confusing figures of speech to mislead and misrepresent the animals. “We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation 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”: these expressions are forms of propaganda and twisted logic that contribute to the farm’s corruption. Beyond Napoleon’s physical intimidation through the use of this dogs –the reason for Snowball’s escape – Napoleon and Squealer use verbal threats to scare the animals into submission, such as constantly using “the return of Mr. Jones” as an excuse for the abuse of resources and unfair distribution of privileges and food.

8. Gullibility of the masses. And yet, it takes two hands to clap. While it is true that the charismatic and persuasive nature of the leadership play important roles in influencing the masses, the inactivity and passiveness of the creatures in general facilitate the oppression, since no animal is willing to take the lead in opposition. Even when things are manipulated and spinning out of control, a poorly-informed and gullible population would simply soak up everything – from policies to speeches to rhetorical arguments – like a sponge. The animals’ lack of proper comprehension is reflected right in the beginning: “The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades. There were only four dissentients, the three dogs and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides”. Their subservience and lack of knowledge – often perpetuated deliberately by the ruling elite: in this case, the council of pigs – are equally important ingredients in the recipe for tyranny.

9. Boxer. Boxer epitomises the gullibility and innocence of the masses. Even though his physical strength, perseverance and loyalty contribute to the continued prosperity and growth of the farm, he fails to think independently and is highly influenced by circumstances. His blind devotion that “Napoleon is always right” translates into his effort and hard work – exemplified by his “I will work harder” maxim – being continually exploited. The character of Boxer does invoke feelings of sympathy with the Russian people, who might have been oblivious to these insidious developments.

10. The final nail to the coffin. “All Animals Are Equal; But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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