Animal Farm – A Must-Read!
It has been several days. A lot has happened in that time. Our world has sat on edge as we hold our breaths. We skirt crisis after crisis and as is the norm, we come close to the abyss and then our senses kick in. This “in the nick of time” approach creates a domino effect of costly effects on the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized. They are the ones who absorb the shocks that go with disastrous decisions by those in power.
Yesterday I read the book Animal Farm, this after I made a pact with myself to read a bunch of the classics I missed when I was in high school. What prompted this to be my first choice remains unknown to me but I am happy I read it. Written over half a century ago, George Orwell wields a story as told through the voice of animals.
And so the story begins. The animals have grown weary of man’s scant regard for their contributions. They toil and labor for man’s content and do not believe that their common interests are being addressed. They are roused to reject the philosophy of man after Old Major (earliest protagonist) calls a meeting of the animals to share his thoughts. In carefully crafted language laced with charisma, Old Major convinces the animals that humans are a real threat to their existence.
On his passing, a vacuum existed for a leader. Enters two potential successors, who at first show all the ingredients of charting a course in line with Old Major’s vision. It soon becomes painfully clear that the two are markedly different in what they want. Snowball and Napoleon dished up a lot of tension as they attempt to lead their constituents towards a better life. The constituents are however at varying levels of literacy and in many instances are dependent on the narratives of Snowball and Napoleon.
As the story unfolds, my heart quickens and I feel myself being pulled into a world that highlights the plight of the animals who have become trapped in a web of deceit, orchestrated by those who have ulterior motives. The inability to reject fallacies that run counter to a moral code as well as being accepting of beliefs without mounting the required challenge, emerge as themes that are very clear today. Snowball is committed to teaching the animals to read. His attempt is to engage the animals in the process of creating a new society. On the other hand, Napoleon’s character is bent on teaching the elements of Animalism. Both ideologies are in stark contrast to each other and mirror images of dark versus light.
Animal Farm potently delivers the message of how totalitarianism can destroy the freedom to think and act rationally. It is important for us to look out for the signs that would provoke the loss of liberty. The dreams of a founding father, that accounts for people being in charge of their destiny can be destroyed when those who accept the reigns to lead depart from the core values and principles.
I was haunted by four themes in this novel, written over fifty years ago.
- Education is a catalyst for change. It must not be left to a few to be exposed to literacy. Being able to interpret and analyze as an individual minimizes the risk of being used as puppets in one’s agenda.
- Not all leaders are created equal. Many have a dark side and nurse grand ideas of gaining power at any cost. Napoleon was patient as he strategized how he would silence Snowball’s voice. On the face of it, he appeared to be committed to the journey but seized the opportunity to destroy Snowball’s influence.
- Sufficient dosages of fear lead to paralysis. The animals are unable to fight back (even as they recognize that something is gravely wrong with how they are being treated) because Napoleon introduces strong punishments aimed at curtailing dissent. His approach does not breed trust. Instead it continues the history of being blindly led.
- Corruption does not occur overnight. It takes to time to grow and is nurtured by inaction. The animals recognized that many of the rules were being broken. The stories associated with the victory over Mr. Jones are being rewritten at every turn. With no one to challenge the new version of events, the information gets passed from generation to generation.
It is difficult not to be sympathetic to the animals. I found myself struck by the naiveté of the animals even as a part of me wished that the story would develop a character that would become the unlikely hero. That kind to show that good does triumph over evil.
I was left with this cautionary tale that holds relevance today. Animal Farm serves as a warning, to not blissfully accept the narratives of those who may have ulterior motives. Power is intoxicating and the very things that are despised in our oppressors is usually adopted by those who are our liberators. Sadly, most of the news from around the world remind us of the tension that exists between good intentions and the choices we are given as humans.
Extract from Animal Farm
`Comrades!’ he cried. `You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing
this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk
and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is
to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science,
comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig.
We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm
depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your
sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would
happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would
come back! Surely, comrades,’ cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from
side to side and whisking his tail, `surely there is no one among you who wants
to see Jones come back?’ –http://msxnet.org/orwell/print/animal_farm.pdf
Copyright Suzette Henry-Campbell 2013