As a bit of a history buff George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ really struck a chord in me. Not only is it a stand alone fantastically gripping tale, but it also tells the story of one of the most famous political events in history: the Russian Revolution. There is a great three-part documentary series on the history of Russia if anyone is interested called ‘Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia with Lucy Worsley’. Orwell is mainly known for his classic ‘1984’ which spookily accurately predicts a future where the government is spying on us (and all our emails). However, ‘Animal Farm’ is equally as celebrated for its clever use of a fable to tell one of the most convoluted and bloody political events in history.
The prize boar at Manor Farm, Old Major, has an epiphany one night. He gathers the other animals to discuss how man is the only creature which does not produce anything, he only takes. He tells them that the only thing between the animals and a free and righteous life is to overthrow the humans and take the farm for themselves.
One night the farm animals drive Farmer Jones out. They rename Manor Farm ‘Animal Farm’, and lay down the laws of animalism, which has seven basic rules:
- whatever goes upon 2 legs is an enemy
- what ever goes upon 4 legs, or has wings, is a friend
- no animal shall wear clothes
- no animal shall sleep in a bed
- no animal shall drink alcohol
- no animal shall kill any other animal
- all animals are equal
Two pigs named Napoleon and Snowball start ruling the farm. One day, the humans attempt to take back the farm, but the pigs lead the other animals into battle and chase away the humans.
Napoleon and Snowball argue over whether or not to build a windmill. Napoleon sees it as a waste of resources and time, but Snowball believes it will be a benefit in the long run. When the other animals start siding with Snowball, Napoleon gets angry and chases him off the farm. Another pig called Squealer tells the animals that Snowball was nothing but a traitor, and that is why he is no longer allowed at the Animal Farm.
Napoleon changes his mind and realises that perhaps a windmill is a good idea. He gets the other animal to slave away building it. The pigs realise they need human tools to build the windmill, and so make a deal with the humans to do some trading so they get what they need.
Overtime, the seven rules laid out originally seem to change. Little by little at first, but eventually they are unrecognisable from the start. Only one rule appears to remain, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
Eventually the pigs get so crooked that they almost appear to be human. They walk on two legs, drink, wear clothes, sleep in beds and are in cahoots with the humans.
“Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers”
“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing”
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man from pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”
‘Animal Farm’ is a fable for the Russian Revolution. The Old Major is a mixture of Lenin and Karl Marx, Napoleon is Stalin and Snowball is Trotsky. The Old Major’s initial rules for Animal Farm come from a good place and look to empower the oppressed, which reflects how communism was originally meant to help poorer people (proletariat) become more equal to the rich (bourgeoisie). Lenin wished to overthrow the oppressive and murderous Tsar and replace his ruling with a socialist government, much as Old Major looked to overthrow the farmers who did nothing but take. Napoleon represents Stalin, someone who allowed power to corrupt him and the ideology of communism. Napoleon was given an inch and so took a yard. He gave himself and the other pigs priority over the animals and made exceptions and bent the rules for them. Stalin went so far in his oppressive reign that he no longer ruled by respect but now with a whip, and the Russians could not tell the difference between him and the Tsars. This book is so short and simply written, but the key message of it is still heard loud and clear. The use of the farm and the animals makes the story easier to understand and access as a reader who is unfamiliar with Soviet history. The political rivalry and tension is felt, and the transformation from Utopian communist society back into distopian fascist society is clear and present. No wonder this book is considered a classic, and it will only take perhaps a day or even an afternoon to read so I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of ‘1984’ or is a history buff like me.
Thank you for reading my summary and review, I hope you enjoyed! Let me know in the comments what you think and if you have any book requests you would like me to cover!
Lots of love, Evie x