BOOK (1945)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am


Animal Farm
by George Orwell
Secker and Warburg

A clever allegory about how totalitarianism inevitably generates corruption, Animal Farm is one of British novelist George Orwell's twin masterpieces - the other is Nineteen Eighty-Four - which attacked the authoritarian forms of government that blighted eastern Europe and parts of western Europe in the past century.

Animal Farm is set on a farm in an unidentified part of England. The author described, in 1948, what gave him the idea. 'I saw a little boy, perhaps 10 years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.'

The story opens with Old Major, the senior boar on Manor Farm, calling all the barnyard animals for a meeting, where he spells out his plan for revolutionary change, terms their human overlords 'parasites', and teaches them a revolutionary anthem, namely 'Beasts of England'. When Major dies soon afterwards, two younger boars, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command, and spearhead a revolt that drives their farmer away. They then rename their newly liberated home: Animal Farm.

In time, Napoleon and Snowball get embroiled in a leadership struggle, in which Napoleon prevails. The now-despotic new leader decrees that meetings of all the animals will no longer be held. Instead an exclusively porcine committee would run the place. Napoleon then unleashes a series of purges against animals he accuses of consorting with his previous rival.

The increasingly corrupt Napoleon begins to abuse his powers, making life harder for the other animals - except for the pigs, the 'ruling elite'. The pigs enjoy a slew of privileges but the other beasts, though underfed and overworked, believe - through the pigs' propaganda programme - they are better off than they were under the humans. As the years pass, the pigs learn to walk upright and become human-like, only crueller.

The book concludes with one of the most brilliant endings of any modern classic; with prose so lucid, dialogue so engaging, the sense of time and place so intense, that it stays with the reader for a lifetime.

Penned during the second world war, Orwell had a hard time finding a publisher for this highly original work, because of fears that it would adversely affect Britain's wartime alliance with the USSR - the country Orwell was satirising the most.

Nevertheless, Animal Farm's polemic against totalitarian power endured for decades. In the Eastern Bloc, it remained banned up until the fall of the Berlin wall.