George Orwell, Animal Farm
Published by Diogenes, 1973
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Many readers will probably know this quote and maybe associate it with George Orwell. However, it is not taken from Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece “1984”. Instead it is the quintessence of his disturbing fable “Animal Farm”, published in 1945. It is one of the most poignant works to show that we are not just “all equal” but we are in fact all the same.
“Animal Farm” tells the story of a revolution and its aftermath - but in this case the revolutionists are all farm animals. Because of Mr. Jones’s bad treatment of the animals on his farm, and because the old boar Old Major has told them about his dream of freedom, the animals decide to take action one day and seize power of the farm. Mostly lead by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, they chase farmer Jones away. Soon after, they create the philosophy of “Animalism”.
They establish several laws and decide, for example, that all creatures walking on four legs or with wings are friends and all creatures walking on two legs are enemies. It is also agreed that no animal should drink alcohol, wear clothes or sleep in a bed and that all animals are equal. At first it all seems to be going well but soon the pigs start to adjust the laws according to their liking and abuse their privileges. Napoleon turns into a dictator and the animals’ lives become more miserable than they ever were during Mr. Jones’s times.
George Orwell’s (1903-1950) “Animal Farm” on the one hand alludes to very specific circumstances but it is also a general parable on the never changing patterns of human behaviour. The fable is first and foremost a depiction of the rise of Russian communism and Stalinism, specifically the Russian Revolution of 1917. All animals on the farm are linked to real historical figures. Old Major for instance represents Lenin and Marx, while Napoleon embodies Stalin and Snowball stands for Trotsky. The dogs are a kind of secret police, the hens are rebellious peasants etc. Similarly, all events on the farm have historical counterparts, like the attack on the windmill by Mr. Frederick, who represents Adolf Hitler in the novel.
Depicting such complex historical processes like Stalin’s assumption of power through farm animals is an ingenious trick, which is surely a reason why Orwell’s work is still read in schools and universities nowadays. However, despite the fact that all characters in the book draw parallels to history, “Animal Farm” can also be read entirely without the reference to communism and still work as striking social criticism. After all, Orwell presents a fascinating, timeless analysis of political mechanisms within crowds of people, and this analysis can be almost universally transferred to all of humankind.
Whenever people feel neglected, it is enough to focus on their discontent and work with it. It only takes one eloquent person, who acknowledges people’s annoyance, and claims that he or she can make it all better. The current right-wing populist movement that is noticeable in both the US and Europe, even though German National Socialism was less than one hundred years ago, is concrete evidence that some political and ideological mechanisms will always repeat themselves. In the end, humans seem to be nothing more than farm animals after all …