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Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell (4/5)

22 Dec

Surprisingly, it came up a lot between my husband and I that I’ve never read Animal Farm. It’s such a short little story that he finally convinced me to check out the audio so I wouldn’t be an embarrassment anymore. Well, now I’m proud to say I’m not embarrassing and I enjoyed it a bit as well.

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

Summary from Goodreads:

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

So I more-or-less knew what this book would be about and how the plot would unroll. I spent the entire story trying to remember as much as I could from my Cold War history class and my economic theory classes to get all of the references to Stalinism and I think I picked up on most of it. It would have been nice to read this with a teacher who could point out the things I was missing because to be honest, I probably missed a lot.

I liked reducing political figures and communist citizens to animals. It made it funny to think of pigs on their hind legs and the friendships between donkeys and horses. Besides the pigs, I struggled to find a single person represented by the other animals. I saw them as the different people living under Stalinism. There was Boxer who was the ideal citizen until his death and Benjamin who is never inspired to take part in the farm. It showed a good variety of how people would react to the change in the economic system.

Boxer was my favorite character. He was likable and agreeable and I thought his story was the most interesting. He believed so hard in something, never questioning the direction he’s given or the people in charge, and it completely screws him over in the end. Appropriate, huh? I think there’s a character like him in every story involving the government. There have to be those that follow blindly and buy in 100% for any leadership to work.

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but I don’t think I was supposed to. The characters are caricatures of people living under Stalinism and not real people with a journey. As far as I could tell, only Napoleon and Snowball were based on real people, neither of whom I wanted to relate to on any level. The only part of the novel when I sympathized with the characters was when they were sick of Mr. Jones. I think we’ve all felt at some time or another that a teacher or boss or other authority figure had no idea what he or she was doing and that we could run the thing better ourselves. The difference is, we never did it.

George Orwell Image via Wikipedia

George Orwell
Image via Wikipedia

I loved how the pigs kept changing the Seven Commandments to fit what they wanted. I thought that was very telling of what it was like to live under Stalinism. Even the creators didn’t want to live like that full time, they wanted to be part of a superior class and tried to change the rules without letting any know they were changing the rules. This always made me laugh.

I thought the symbol of the windmill was overused. I just looked up on SparkNotes what it’s supposed to represent and I understand why it’s important, but I still think it was too much in the book. Especially the collapse and rebuild parts. I could have done without it falling down and still gotten a lot of the story.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Ralph Cosham. I have mixed feelings about him as a narrator. I felt he was a bit dull at times and didn’t put a lot of emotion into his reading, but at other times I loved him. He did great at singing ‘Beasts of England’ and I liked how he did the sheep. But for much of the story, it felt flat.

I’m not sure what I can say about the themes of this book that hasn’t been said already. It does a good job of showing how flawed Stalinism is and how even those who created the system can’t abide by it for the long-term. Using animals and a farm makes it more like a children’s story and it seems like a kid could understand where the flaws are in the pig’s logic and see the hypocrisy in their actions. It’s a good tool to illustrate the system though so much being hidden in every word makes it exhausting to read.

Writer’s Takeaway: The long introduction in my copy talked about how Orwell saw this story as a fairy tale.  He wanted to use that medium to say something very serious about the Russian government. Often, I find that books for children have more complex messages than those for adults. I liked that he couched his message in this book. You don’t need a complicated plot to say something profound and Orwell did that well in a short piece. Brevity should be valued.

A good, fast read though I would have liked it better with some more historical background. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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