Animal Farm by George Orwell
12 May 2003


I read this satire for the second time a few months ago. When first I read it I was about eight years old. At that time I liked the idea of the little animals taking over from the cruel humans (come on, have you ever met a right-wing eight-year-old?). I even had the sense to get vaguely uneasy when the pigs started taking over more and more of the power - beginning from the early stage of Sqealer's commandeering of the milk. In fact, I didn't do too badly for a small child who had never heard of politics!

However, I was a bit surprised to discover that I got no more out of it on this second reading. My political philosophy has matured well past communism. I was contemptuous of Boxer, inspired by Napoleon and generally looked on the whole revolutionary thing as hopelessly naive. My socialist phase was over by the time I turned 16, and I no longer have any patience with preachers of pure socialism.

The allegory with the Russian Revolution is well controlled and I was able to pick most of the main characters (Snowball=Trotsky, Napoleon=Stalin etc) despite my limited historical knowledge. Although it does bore me a little to draw comparisons between fictional stories and historical events. Surely if a writer wishes to write about a real event, they are perfectly capable of doing so in non-ficitonal terms? Surely a great fiction can continue to be both great and fictional without any Hitler-Stalin-Disraeli parallels? This attitude of mine adds to my dissatisfaction with Animal Farm as a satire.

I think it must be one of those great-in-its-time books, and of course I understand the source of its greatness with a purely intellectual clarity, but I cannot appreciate it for what it is now. I enjoyed 1984 far better: it's more complex and mysterious. In fact, I would say 1984 is Orwell's best work, followed by Keep the Aspidistra Flying. This, of course, is based on my hugely extensive experience of three of Orwell's books.


back to litblog