“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” It is the universal formula of dictatorship or totalitarianism — just any form of an authoritarian regime. This phrase is eloquent of what Animal Farm by George Orwell is all about. Together with 1984, they form a duo of Orwell’s immortal dystopias, which have been massively read and highly praised, all over the world.
George Orwell called his Animal Farm a fairytale, but it is more of a fable with a strong moral ending. The novel tells a story of barn animals who, under the influence of Old Major, an old hog, and his teachings of Animalism, revolt against their owner and start to live free of human dominance. As the time passes, the pigs take over — they are more literate and more ambitious than the rest of the animals. One of them is Snowball, more of a cultural leader. He soon gets banished by Napoleon, the other pig who has a much greater appetite for power.
Through the series of transformations and power battles, Napoleon becomes the one-and-only leader of the animals who knows how to control them as it pleases him. The farm beasts do not even notice as the Seven Commandments of Animalism are rewritten, so that the infamous “…some are more equal than others” particularly stands out. The story ends with Napoleon who celebrates signing an agreement with humans, and the reader is able to see how the pig’s features have become very human-like.
Animal Farm is an allegory written during the Second World War, when the world was fascinated by the USSR and its leader Joseph Stalin. The soviet leader managed to turn the idea of communism upside down and establish his own cult of personality in the country that lived under the reign of terror. Although the book was written during the particular historic period, its plot can be extrapolated onto any anti-democratic regime in general. Animal Farm-like storyline can be spotted in African dictatorships, Middle Eastern religious doctrine, or North-Korean aggressive isolation in the present days. What is notable, people allow the oppressors to control them, and once in awhile, they revolt.
Animal Farm as a fable does not provide the solution to the problem of dictatorship in the world. It simply states the idea that most try so hard not to notice — nothing changes, and history is just a cyclic repetition of events. People are too easily manipulated; they tend to forget facts and circumstances, and are mostly eager to consume what they are fed—not only literally.
Just like the barn animals managed to replace one authoritarian ruler with another, the nations were changing the enemy every now and then in the other novel, 1984. It seems that Orwell could not answer the question of whether the people will ever change, and what it is that must happen to force that change. Bob Dylan was asking the same question almost two decades later, “How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?” and replying with a mysterious, “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
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Animal Farm begins with a very drunk Mr. Jones (owner of Manor Farm) doing a really crummy job of, you know, his job. Luckily, there's a wise pig on the farm: Old Major. Old Major encourages the neglected animals to rebel and run the farm themselves with one important qualification: everyone should be equal.
Then he dies.
This seems like a grand idea to everyone except Benjamin, a cynical donkey whose main job in life is to be, well, cynical. So, they rebel. The pigs, being the smartest animals, naturally take the leadership role. So much for that equality business. So much for Old Major's vision of a peaceful coup, too, because there's immediate conflict between two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball. Napoleon wants to sit around and be in charge of everything, while Snowball wants to teach the other animals and build a windmill. Obviously, Snowball's plan is way better, so he wins.
Not. Instead, Napoleon uses his private army of nine ferocious and enormous dogs to become the All Powerful Dominant Boss Leader Chief Pig. Okay, he doesn't call it that, but you know it's in the back of his mind somewhere.
With Snowball out of the picture, the other pigs blame everything on him. They exploit the other animals shamelessly, breaking all the rules about equality that they had established after the Rebellion. Life on the farm gets worse and worse, the animals forget old Major's original dream, and the pigs make some poor management decisions when dealing with the neighboring farms. The culminating miserable moment comes when the pigs send Boxer, a hardworking and loyal horse who is ready for retirement, to his death. Ouch.
In short, the pigs are starting to look a lot like the horrible human owners that we started with at the beginning of this whole mess, walking on two legs and everything. In fact, they may even be worse.
Hm. It looks like grumpy old Eeyore—we mean, Benjamin—was right after all.