Saturday, 9 January 2010

Book Review: Animal Farm, by George Orwell (1945)

All Animals Are Created Equal
But Some Are More Equal Than Others

Orwell's novella about a popular revolution on a farm in England, where the long-suffering animals overthrow the farmer and take over the running of the farm, is a devastatingly insightful commentary on Communism.

Written in the shadow of the emergent dominance of the Soviet Empire over Europe in the 1940's, Orwell teases out the hypocrisy and in-built self-destruct buttons of populist revolutions, whereby the oppressed are doomed to remain oppressed, and one set of brutal and unpopular rulers is simply replaced by another.

Orwell skillfully includes all the colourful characters that play a role in a revolution; the intellectuals, the profiteers, the power-hungry, the spin doctors, the workers, the thugs, the revolution exporters, the poets, the easily influenced, the cynics, and the the elites who flee the shifting political landscape -- they are all in Animal Farm as squabbling pigs, horses, cats, sheep, ravens, chickens, donkeys, and dogs, all with distinct personalities, packed into 140 pages of fast-moving revolution.

Orwell is thrifty in his prose, laser-like in his focus and makes every word count: the animals plot the take-over, carry out the revolution, organize themselves to run the farm, defeat a counter-attack, and then are helpless as the promised utopia of Communism slowly but surely devolves back into oppression.

Many of the ideas in Orwell's 1984 about state oppression, manipulation and propaganda have their seed in Animal Farm. It's a novella with an impact disproportionately more powerful than its length.

141 pages.
Published in paperback by Signet Classics.
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