Hearing of a story where animals have human characteristics and communicate with themselves, then take over and run a farm on their own sounds like a children’s book with funny illustrations and whimsical dialogue. But George Orwell’s Animal Farm is no children’s book. This is a story of destructive power, manipulation, and oppression.
Published in 1946, Animal Farm was an obvious satire to the Soviet Union’s abuse of power by the higher members of the Communist Party. The story shows how the animals of Manor Farm wanted more control over their own lives and work, so they decided to rebel against the owner of the farm by running him off and taking control of the farm themselves. But once the animals were in control, there was a race for power by two pigs; Snowball and Napoleon. These two ambitious pigs had different styles of rule, but had the same goal; to be the leader of Animal Farm. Their ideas clashed, and they were in constant competition with each other, putting the other animals in the middle of their struggle for power. Eventually, Napoleon ran off Snowball through force by the dogs that he trained, and so began the long tyrannical rise of Napoleon as leader of the farm ran by animals, now called Animal Farm.
It is easy to spot the parallelism that Orwell portrays between this novel and Stalinism during the Cold War. Much like the people of the Soviet Union, the animals of Animal Farm are promised a world of self-rule and easier labor by their leader, only to find out that their labor is increased and the leader doesn’t rule by the idea of equality. Much like Stalin, Napoleon rules with fear and propaganda. He trains dogs to attack at his command, and withholds food from the other animals, claiming that the pigs need more food because they are the ones who do all the thinking. He spreads ideas to the animals of the farm by the use of Squealer, a pig who sits at Napoleon’s right hand. Squealer has a way of twisting words and past events to fit Napoleon’s agenda. When the animals question the practices of Napoleon, Squealer is quick to tell them that they remember events wrong. He even goes as far as re-writing the laws of Animal Farm that are painted on the walls of the barns, relying on the fact that most of the animals are unable to read. Napoleon takes advantage of the animals by exploiting their ignorance. Since the pigs are the ones who can read, they are the ones that make the rules, have more food, live in a house rather than the barn, and are excused from physical labor. It is clear that those who are educated rule the farm and are given better lives. By the end of the novel, Napoleon declares that “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”
Like his later novel, 1984, George Orwell sends us a warning in Animal Farm. He illustrates to his readers that we must be careful in allowing power to get out of hand. Though Orwell wrote this story toward the beginning of the Cold War, it is evident that he tried to predict an inevitable outcome; one where the oppressed begin to question authority, and tire of laboring endlessly with no compensation. The story was relevant to life during the cold war, but it is still a story worth paying attention to in the post Cold War world. At any time, a leader can make promises of equality and a better life. But we must be aware that these things come with a price, and often, as history shows us, that price is one of dictatorship, inequality, and cruelty.
By Teresa Boyer/Adjunct Instructor, Lourdes University
Toledo Reads Contributor