Animal Farm,, subtitled A Fairy Story, was written by George Orwell between November 1943 and February 1944. It is well recognised as a political commentary on totalitarian regimes as were prevalent at that time in history.
The tale is a simple one about man’s search for happiness and hope for the future. Mr Jones is a farmer who owns, resides and works at Manor Farm but his life and the lives of his animals changed the night Old Major the prize Middle White boar addressed all the farm animals and spoke of a better life through rebellion. The farmland was a limited resource and would be better utilised and shared were it not for the wasteful and unproductive humans.
Orwell’s character diversification was similar to our society. There was a range of intellects from pigs to dogs and goats, to horses and to the chickens, ducks and geese. Two boars, Napoleon and Snowball, battled for political supremacy, “It was always the pigs who put forward the resolutions. The other animals understood how to vote, but could never think of any resolutions of their own.” The pigs were the first to learn how to read and write. By comparison, the horses could only ever remember a short series of letters from the alphabet.
The first use of this new skill was to record on the barn wall the Seven Commandments. However, the more stupid animals such as the sheep could not memorise these laws so it was reduced to a simple maxim that could be easily bleated, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
We pigs are brain workers
A third pig, Squealer, acted as the propagandist. It fell to Squealer to explain to the other animals the logic as to why certain decisions had been made. For example, when it was decided to bring milk and apples to the harness-room for the use of the pigs he explained, “‘Comrades, you do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself.
Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brain workers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depends on us.
Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your welfare that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,’ cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, ‘surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?’”
On another occasion, one Sunday, Squealer “holding down a piece of paper with his trotter, would read out to them lists of figures proving that every class of foodstuff had increased by 200%, 300%, or 500%, as the case might be.”
The horses formed another group of characters. Mollie was a mare more interested in her appearance, ribbons and sugar cubes. Boxer was a draught horse who lived by two maxims, “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.” These maxims allowed Boxer to work harder for the common good and never question the definition of common right up to the point where he was sold to the knackery by Napoleon.
Benjamin the donkey played the Shakespearean fool. He was quiet and cryptic, noting donkeys live a long time and neither food would become more plentiful or the windmill wouldsave work, and only divulged his reading ability at the death of Boxer.
Soon enough Napoleon exiled his only political adversary, Snowball, and adopted Snowball’s plan to build a windmill as his own. The animals toiled to achieve this common dream after being persuaded by Squealer it was Napoleon’s idea in the first instance, “Throughout the spring and summer they worked a sixty-hour week, and in August Napoleon announced that there would be work on Sunday afternoons as well. This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.”
No more debates
Sundays had previously been set aside for recreation and debating decisions but Napoloeon announced Sunday meetings would cease. Decisions would be made by a special committee of pigs and there would be no more debates. As Squealer explained, “No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
Napoleon continued to lay blame for any misfortune and the necessity for any decisions on his political adversary. It was not recognised by any of the animals that Snowball was totally ineffectual being not only absent from any decision making process but also absent from the farm itself. Napoleon was similarly credited with successes where he had no input. One hen was heard to remark to another, “Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days.”
The mill became a rallying point for the animals on Animal Farm as it was now called. If only the mill was built it could provide electricity for the stalls, there would be prosperity and the animals would only need to work three days a week. Propaganda was spread to outlying farms by the pigeons.
The mill was finally completed but not for its original purpose. It was to crush grain for trade and improve the lives of the pigs. The animals had long forgotten if life was better or worse under the mastery of Mr Jones. Mr Pilkington of the neighbouring farm, Foxwood, commented after an inspection at the invitation of Napoleon that he believed the lower animals on Animal Farm did more work and received less food than any animals in the country.
One night the animals observed a dinner party between the pigs and the neighbouring human farmers. I will leave the final words to George Orwell, “No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
If you wish to hear about the evolution of the Seven Commandments then you should read the book. Thank goodness it is only a Fairy Story. Happy holiday reading.
Mark Temby lives in Lucaston in the Huon Valley and agrees with history as a valid science if one is open to its lessons.