Every time I talk about my favorite books, people automatically have negative reactions when they realize they have read the books in high school. Well, I never read “Animal Farm” in high school. I read it for the first time after my senior year, and it instantly topped my list of favorite books.
I’m sure you are familiar with the plot. The animals, led by the pigs, rise up against the cruel human owners and take control of the farm. While the animals first experience euphoria in response to their newfound autonomy, they slowly begin to descend into serving the pigs, all without realizing that they are being deceived. The leader of these pigs, Napoleon, is a combination of a Disney villain and a historical tyrant. He uses more eloquent speakers to deliver his messages all while hoarding a pack of dogs to use for muscle. Even if, by some chance, you have never heard of this book, you should know that it has one of the most iconic ending lines in modern literature.
The most interesting aspect of “Animal Farm” is how simply it is written, while it simultaneously delivers a massive commentary on the Russian Revolution. As a history minor, I live for books like this. Orwell’s work was banned in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba— all communist countries. While he doesn’t outright say, “Napoleon is Stalin, Old Major is Lenin,” Orwell does create a sense of unease that even the youngest readers can understand. His strong message of not blindly following leaders is common sense, yet as he is recreating a real historical event, not all of his characters follow that advice. I will warn readers now that one of the characters does blindly follow, and things don’t end up too well for him, so don’t get too attached.
Orwell’s choice to convert the complicated concepts of communism to the simplified, more tangible politics of Manor Farm allows readers to interpret the novella in various ways. While the most obvious parallel is to the Russian Revolution, readers can insert any manipulative leader into the story. One of my friends thought Napoleon was a stand in for the literal Napoleon Bonaparte. While I was reading, I thought of numerous dictators and societies in history that could easily fit in Manor Farm; that is the beauty of this novella.
I highly recommend this book. It is a quick read, less than 200 pages, and is simply written. Especially during these politically charged times, it is nice to revisit works like this and examine what the hell is going on in our world.