October 3, 2022

Animal Farm: How a satire on totalitarianism also applies to present democracies?

Animal Farm, an allegorical novella is a satire on totalitarianism. George Orwell, as he told in his essay “Why I write” (1946), the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. This book, which was written between November 1943 to February 1944, telescopes Russian history from 1917 to 1943.
“Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend…All animals are equal”

Eric Arthur Blair, pen name George Orwell, a political writer and a very popular author of early 20th century wrote many pieces of fiction, poems, drama, journals, but best known for his two famous works of fiction “Animal Farm’ and “1984”. It looks like one is incomplete without the other, the reader who read 1984, also buys Animal Farm and vice versa. Throughout the world, both adorn in the books collections of avid readers.

Animal Farm, an allegorical novella is a satire on totalitarianism. George Orwell, as he told in his essay “Why I write” (1946), the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. This book, which was written between November 1943 to February 1944, telescopes Russian history from 1917 to 1943.

There is a farm ‘Manor Farm’ of Mr. Jones in England, where he keeps many animals, such as dogs, pigs, hens, horses, goats, donkeys, mule. One day, Old major, a big barn calls a meeting at night when Mr. jones goes to sleep. At that meeting, Old major explains to them how humans are torturing, get every work but half-feed them, and all misery which they are facing under the authority of human master.

“We are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength…. No animal of England is free.”

To encourage them to fight against cruelty and to establish an equal and free rule, he teaches them a song “beasts of England”, by which they can get inspiration. After the death of old major, other three pigs, snowball, squealer, napoleon take the responsibility of rebellion and elaborate the teaching of old major into a complete system of thought “ANIMALISM”. They collect and unite the animals and revolt against the human master “Mr. Jones” and get success in their revolt. Mr. Jones runs away from there and the animal rule under the guidance of snowball and napoleon establish there. Both make rules and regulations for animals. But, consequences go as such that only one class and that of pigs, get position in ruling and others just see them ruining the principles which were established earlier, and at last dictatorship establish there.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”

In the preface of a 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, He described the source of getting the idea to use animals for allegory-

“…I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse 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.”

This book was written during wartime when United Kingdom was fighting with Russia against Nazi Germany. Due to this alliance, no one wanted to publish a book that was the mockery of Stalin government, this book also got trouble in publication because the depiction of Pigs as dominant class was offensive. Many publishers refused the manuscript, at last, Secker and Warburg published it on 17 August 1945. Earlier, this book had the subtitle “Animal Farm: a fairy story” but U.S publishers dropped it When it was published in 1946.

This book got enough controversy when it was denied to teach in schools of US due to its reference to mass revolting and problematic political theories. Despite troubles in publication and controversies, this book became a great commercial success after its publication and also got the tag of all-time great and best seller book all over the world. Time magazine chose the book as one of 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005), and it was at number 46 on the BBC’s The Big Read poll. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996 and was also included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.

However, this book was written keeping in mind the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin but the imagination of this book also applies to the past and present conditions of democracies in the world. Countries that have democracy, fought against colonialism on the principles that they will establish a regime where every person will be free and equal.  

The inspiration was that colonialism drained every ounce of prosperity from the country, and, after the establishment of new democratic rule, people will live in comfort. But this dream shattered when after the independence, most of the countries’ democratic system was succeeded by Military dictatorship. And, if some countries became fortunate to avoid this military dictatorship, dictatorship in disguise of democratic government established there.

Squealer in “Animal Farm” was the hand of Snowball to spread propaganda against napoleon and to keep the authority of snowball in the mind of animals. In democracy cum dictatorship, Rulers use Media as their weapon to show that everything is good under their rule and to infuse false patriotism in the mind of people.

Political rivalry is present everywhere, but, in some places, it goes at such a level that the succeeded one erases every sign of his political opponent. And people easily forget and trap in the propaganda of ruler. 

Equality was just a utopian dream for those who fought for equality in their countries, in reality, many countries just have one class in ruling and one class always remains at the backfoot and downtrodden. The ruling class actually toys with the backward class and uses them for its own benefit.

Animal farm, is a perfect example of satire, and George Orwell’s storytelling keeps us engage in the book, in the beginning, we enjoy the revolt but in the end, it just feels us sorry for the animals and their pity condition. And there, we place ourselves with those animals who also don’t have the option to reform autocratic governments.

This article is written by Arshi hayat Gnagohi. She is a lawyer, blogger at ababeelfolks and writes on laws, culture, books, cinema, food and literature.

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