Thursday, June 11, 2009

95. Animal Farm – George Orwell

Listened to in October 2007
History: Published in 1945. the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II. Orwell, a democratic socialist and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences with the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel "contre Stalin". The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, but A Fairy Story was dropped by the US publishers for its 1946 publication. Of all the translations during Orwell's lifetime, only Telugu kept the original title. Other variations in the title include: A Satire and A Contemporary Satire. Orwell suggested for the French translation the title Union des républiques socialistes animales, recalling the French name of the Soviet Union, Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques, and which abbreviates URSA, which means "bear" in Latin.
Plot: One day, Mr. Jones gets drunk after losing some of his money in a legal battle and the animals spring on the opportunity to take control of the farm. By the end of the short revolution, the animals have destroyed the old vestiges of their bondage and now “free” to live the happy life Old Major predicted they would. They sing “Beasts of England” and are generally ecstatic for the next few days. They make plans to keep the farmhouse as a museum and the pigs, who have taught themselves to read, erase the words “Manor Farm” from the main farm building and write “Animal Farm” in its place. Also on the barn are painted the seven commandments of animalism which basically amount to pro-animal laws. It is at this point that Snowball the pig seems to be taking over while Napoleon, another leader, tries to undermine him.
Things go smoothly for animals throughout the summer and they find new more efficiently ways of doing things. The animals must work hard but their patriotism keeps them fresh and invigorated for the most part—aside from the exceptions of Mollie the vain horse and Benjamin the donkey. Boxer does a majority of the heavy work and is a idol to all animals to keep plugging. The animals have several ceremonies to honor themselves and their newfound freedom and have even devised a flag. Despite the successes, Snowball and Napoleon are always at odds. For instance, Snowball proposes a series of proactive proposals, including teaching all the animals how to read and for those who couldn’t catch on to it enough to read the commandments, he simply teaches that “four legs good, two legs bad.” Meanwhile, Napoleon is engaging in his own plans… He adopts newborn puppies saying he will train them to be good subjects, while in fact he is turning them to his side. Small tensions begin to arise such as the fact that the pigs get all of the milk and apples, which Squealer defends by saying the pigs need to think properly. It is clear that there are larger class lines being drawn and that the issue of class in Animal Farm will be one of the most prominent themes.
There are rumors circulating that farmer Jones is attempting to discredit and destroy the progress made at Animal Farm and he is uniting with the owners of neighboring farms. Aside from this distant tension, the problems between Snowball and Napoleon grow and come to a head when Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill. Napoleon storms off and discredits the plan and this time, he is not alone. The puppies he raised are now vicious dogs and thus Napoleon has something of a police force on his side. He overthrows Snowball and takes on the windmill project himself, even though he once said he didn’t like the idea. He makes the animals work at a fast pace to complete the project and with the skillful rhetorical manipulation of Squealer, keeps the other animals more or less in line.
To make matters worse, Napoleon has begun to hire outside human help, a violation of one of the central commandments. Again, Squealer smoothes all of this over with his words. Unfortunately, a storm comes and knocks over what was built of the windmill and the animals must work throughout the winter to rebuild it. In order to unite all the animals under a common enemy, he spreads rumors about how the now exiled Snowball knocked over the windmill. All throughout the winter, the animals work harder and harder in increasingly miserable conditions while Napoleon becomes almost completely human, drinking alcohol, sleeping in a bed, and associating with humans. The hardest and most loyal worker on the farm, Boxer the horse, dies and a cart from the glue factory comes to get him, thus implicating Napoleon. After this point, the pigs realize one day that they cannot tell the pigs from the humans and versa.
Opening Line: Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but
was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.”
Closing Line: The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Quotes: "Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself."
Rating: Mediocre.

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