Animal Farm by George Orwell
Reviewed by Kevin Farley, Collection Librarian for the Humanities
The English satirist, novelist, and essayist Eric Blair — better known by his pseudonym, George Orwell (see LION for biographical and critical information) — has often been called the conscience of the 20th Century. His works, especially his satires (notably Animal Farm and 1984), cannot be confined merely to the socio-political entrapments set by dictators, demagogues, and even, at times, democracies of that era. Orwell's unsparing dissections of hypocrisy, cant, jingoism, jargon, sloganeering, and deceitfulness of all kinds — practiced at the personal and the political levels (which, thanks to Orwell, we now see as often being one and the same) — comprise an indispensable grammar of the unjust workings of power against the powerless. Animal Farm (subtitled "A Fairy Story") was written shortly after the end of World War II, and was read at the time as an indictment of the tyrannies of Facism, Nazism, and Stalinism; it may also be read, however, as a rebuke to all forms of government that repress the freedom to speak or think in terms that oppose the status quo. The "fairy story" elements of Orwell's fable — the sudden ability for animals to speak; the overthrow of Mr. Jones's farm by the animals (led by the sagacious pigs and their aptly named leader, Napoleon) — enfold an unsettling subtext: under the guise of "freeing" the animals from their oppressor, the pigs pervert the revolution by metamorphosing into oppressors themselves, worse, even, than Mr. Jones. Perhaps most troubling of all — for, in the Swiftian tradition, the ambiguity of Orwell's satire precludes a safe vantage point — Animal Farm allows no innocent optimism for the progress of freedom over tyranny, and in that sense the fable, like all of Orwell's writings, stands as a dire warning against complacency and, most importantly, "groupthink." As the pigs proclaim in one of their many revisions to the rules that govern the happiness of life at Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" — thus declaring a war upon freedom in Orwell's day and in our own.