The premise of his book – one caught somewhere between short story and traditional novel – sounds silly.
It begins with a rebellion that leaves animals in charge of a farm once owned and cruelly operated by a Mr. Jones.
At that plot synopsis you’d probably expect it to be children’s fare, but let’s make it clear right now, Orwell’s creation bears no semblance to the jovial place Old McDonald used to have.
In fact, these animals are singing somber Battle Hymn of the Republic type stuff, not the “moo moo here” tunes you might be expecting.
So yes, on its surface it might be a fanciful story about animal upheaval, but at its heart it is political satire, with timely and disturbing implications.
(And before you give me credit for picking such a sophisticated book, know the selling point was the awesome artwork and the $1 pricetag. I'm loving the random assortment of books I'm finding while thrifting for bargain bin treasures. You'll see lots more popping up soon.)
In one sense, Animal Farm is an engrossing exploration of the power of hope, but mostly it sheds cautionary light on the blindness that often accompanies it.
I won’t spoil the ins and outs of the story line for you, particularly since it is such a quick read, one appropriate for any reader old enough to understand how getting drunk works (there are several references to the distilling process, and a few instances of hungover porkers).
What I will tell you is that fear mongering and propaganda are prominently featured, but in a slightly less nauseating way than in the last presidential debate (if only ‘cause the animals seem to have an innate excuse for their bad behavior).
While the characters’ primary concerns are those of (I imagine) most typical farm animals – food, shelter, not being eaten, and having a nice field to be put out to, upon retirement – it doesn’t take a genius, or even a particularly well-informed voter, to realize how frighteningly close to home some of the underlying themes hit.
And while I suppose some might be frustrated with a book that asks more questions than it answers, as this one certainly does, I appreciated that fact greatly. Without a clear-cut good or bad guy, right or wrong way of doing things, the book forced me to ask myself a lot of tough questions.
And sometimes, like it or not, I need that.
Is it okay, even necessary
to question authority?
Are the loudest voices always the wisest?
How thin is the line between working under and being slave to someone?
How much power is too much power?
Do we truly remember where we came from, or only the regurgitated stories fed to us by superiors?
Are we asking people to contribute what they can, in an effort to care for all?
Or are we exploiting some, and allowing others to live off their titles/haunches?
Those were just a few of the questions I was left pondering after reading the 131-page paperback.
I was also left wondering which of the characters I identify most closely with – Snowball the Pig, Boxer the Work Horse, one of the unnamed sheep bleating mindlessly at the first sign of dissent.
While I can’t answer that question just yet, probably ‘cause I sadly identified with so many of the stupid animals, I do have a pretty good idea which characters I don’t want to be.
And I think that is a helpful start.
entire novel reminded me of the old adage:
It also shone light on how eerily easy it is to do nothing.
More often that not I am a do nothing kind of girl.
For the most part I go with the crowd, I fall in line, I accept what I’m told, without researching for myself.
I tend to be so comfortable living with the status quo – even if it’s a horrible status quo – that I’ll try to convince myself a lie is true, if it saves me from having to ruffle a few feathers, especially my own.
But reading Animal Farm I was reminded why I really should be more cautious, why I should take advantage of how easy it has become to stay well-informed.
It reminded me why I need to pay closer attention to the voices I let speak into my life, the messages I’m buying into, much less preaching from my soap box.
It also reminded me that some things are worth taking a stand on, regardless of the cost.
And if anyone knows a thing or two about costs, surely it's a bunch of overworked, underpaid farm animals.
I think it's a great testament to Orwell's writing abilities that he was able to squeeze such tough questions into such an unassuming fable, like dog meds in a slice of American Cheese, or those quick news blurbs MTV shows between trashy music videos and drunk people in hot tubs.
His story uses innocent-appearing animals to highlight so many of the moral shortcomings we all face.
The picture he paints also makes it very clear that people can't help the way they're born, any more than the animals can.We can, however, choose not to be complacent.
We can choose not to bury our heads in the sand, even if we are a little stupid at math...
I think people like me are the ones with the most to gain from reading a book like Animal Farm.
People not only known for backing down from a fight, but nearly incapable of giving an honest, unfiltered opinion about almost anything.
People so eager to please they'll compromise a great many things.
People so concerned with their own comfort, they don't bother to think about the cost of their being cozy.
I mean, I doubt most sadists are going to readily accept a moral lesson presented to them in fiction, much less in dirty pig form.
But us sheep, us go with the flow, scared to step out of line folks… we could do worse than to learn boldness and courage from a bunch of fledgling farm animals.
We could do a lot worse, like nothing at all.
And that's my biggest take away from Animal Farm.