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WHY GEORGE ORWELL WROTE ANIMAL FARM

Posted by saformo on 14 Octubre 2012

In the years since the publication of Animal Farm and 1984, both of which conjure visions of modern government’s dangerous power, critics have studied and analyzed George Orwell’s personal life. Orwell was a man who had a reputation for standing apart and even making a virtue of his detachment. This “outsider” position often led him to oppose the crowd.

Orwell began life as Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell was a pen name he adopted later for its “manly, English, country-sounding ring.”) He spent his early years in India as a lonely boy who liked to make up stories and talk with imaginary companions. He began to “write” before he even knew how, dictating poems to his mother, and perhaps saw this outlet as an alternative to the human relationships he found so difficult.

Refuge in words and ideas became increasingly important when Orwell’s parents sent him, at age eight, to boarding school in England. Later, instead of going on to university, he decided to take a job in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police. Orwell wrote about this experience in Burmese Days (1934) and in the essay “Shooting an Elephant.” At odds with British colonial rule, Orwell said he “theoretically—and secretly, of course . . . was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British.” Returning to England to recover from a bout of the chronic lung illness that plagued him all his life, Orwell began his writing career in earnest. Over the next two decades, he wrote newspaper columns, novels, essays, and radio broadcasts, most of which grew out of his own personal experience.

Orwell’s beliefs about politics were affected by his experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He viewed socialists, communists, and fascists as repressive and self-serving. Orwell patriotically supported England during World War II, but remained skeptical of governments and their willingness to forsake ideals in favor of power. With each book or essay, Orwell solidified his role as the outsider willing to question any group’s ideology. Orwell spoke his mind with Animal Farm, in which he criticized the Soviet Union despite its role as a World War II ally of Great Britain. At first, no one would publish the novel, but when Animal Farm finally appeared in 1945 it was a success. It was later adapted both as an animated film and as a play.

In explaining how he came to write Animal Farm, Orwell says he once saw a little boy whipping a horse:

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 [worker].

Orwell said it was the first book in which he consciously tried to blend artistic and political goals. Orwell’s final novel, 1984, continued that effort with a grim portrayal of a world totally under government control. Orwell pursued his writing career faithfully, although it was not always easy. In his final days he made the statement, “Writing . . . is a horrible, exhausting struggle . . . One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven . . .”

Animal Farm is written on many levels. It is

already a children’s story in its own right. . . .

[It] is also a lament for the fate of revolutions

and the hopes contained in them. It is a moving

comment on man’s constant compromise with

the truth.

John Atkins, George Orwell

On the publication of Animal Farm in 1945, George Orwell discovered with horror that booksellers were placing his novel on children’s shelves. According to his housekeeper, he began traveling from bookstore to bookstore requesting that the book be shelved with adult works. This dual identity—as children’s story and adult satire—has stayed with Orwell’s novel for more than fifty years.

Animal Farm tells the story of Farmer Jones’s animals who rise up in rebellion and take over the farm. Tired of being exploited solely for human gain, the animals—who have human characteristics such as the power of speech—vow to create a new and more just society. Though the novel reads like a fairy story, and Orwell subtitles it as just that, it is also a satire containing a message about world politics and especially the former Soviet Union in particular. Since the Bolshevik revolutions of the early 1900s, the former Soviet Union had captured the attention of the world with its socialist experiment. Stalin’s form of government had some supporters in Britain and the United States, but Orwell was against this system.

In a satire, the writer attacks a serious issue by presenting it in a ridiculous light or otherwise poking fun at it. Orwell uses satire to expose what he saw as the myth of Soviet socialism. Thus, the novel tells a story that people of all ages can understand, but it also tells us a second story— that of the real-life Revolution. Many critics have matched in great detail the story’s characters to historical persons––for example, linking the power struggle between Napoleon and Snowball to the historical feuding between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trostky for control of the Soviet Union. Critics also believe that Old Major represents Karl Marx, who dies before realizing his dream. Other comparisons include Moses as the Russian Orthodox church, Boxer and Clover as workers, the sheep as the general public, Squealer as Stalin’s government news agency, the dogs as Stalin’s military police, and Farmer Jones as Czar Nicholas II. The farm’s neighbors, Pilkington and Frederick, are said to represent Great Britain and Germany, while Mollie suggests the old Russian aristocracy, which resists change. A tremendous success when published, Animal Farm has since become part of school curriculums and popular literary culture. Readers and critics alike have enjoyed its imaginative premise and the engaging charm of its animal characters. Orwell’s straightforward language draws readers into the farm’s world, while the witty underlying satire invites serious analysis. In George Orwell: A Personal Memoir, T. R. Fyvel writes:

Orwell] turned the domestic animals on the

farm into immediately recognizable and

memorable and sometimes lovable characters.

Animal Farm is more than a fairy story. It is a commentary on the the relevance of independent thought, truth, and justice.

THE TIME AND PLACE

An allegory is a narrative that can be read on more than one level. Critics often consider Animal Farm to be an allegory of the Russian Revolution. In the early 1900s, Russia’s Czar Nicholas II faced an increasingly discontented populace. Freed from feudal serfdom in 1861, many Russian peasants were struggling to survive under an oppressive government.

By 1917, amidst the tremendous suffering of World War I, a revolution began. In two major battles, the Czar’s government was overthrown and replaced by the Bolshevik leadership of Vladmir Lenin. When Lenin died in 1924, his former colleagues Leon Trotsky, hero of the early Revolution, and Joseph Stalin, head of the Communist Party, struggled for power. Stalin won the battle, and he deported Trotsky into permanent exile.

Once in power, Stalin began, with despotic urgency and exalted nationalism, to move the Soviet Union into the modern industrial age. His government seized land in order to create collective farms. Stalin’s Five Year Plan was an attempt to modernize Soviet industry. To counter resistance (many peasants refused to give up their land), Stalin used vicious military tactics. Rigged trials led to executions of an estimated 20 million government officials and ordinary citizens. The government controlled the flow and content of information to the people, and all but outlawed churches. Orwell initially struggled to find a publisher for

Animal Farm. Many liberal intellectuals in Europe admired the Soviet experiment with socialism. They believed socialism would produce a society in which everyone—workers and employers—was equal, and in which there were no upper, middle, or lower classes. In Orwell’s words “they want[ed] to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist.” Also, British publishers were hesitant to publicly criticize their Soviet allies as World War II came to a close. The book was published in 1945, after Germany surrendered. Orwell believed that the basis for society was human decency and common sense, which conflicted with the ideals for society that were prevalent at the time: socialism, capitalism, communism, and fascism, to name a few. As an individualist who believed that his own experiences should guide his philosophy, he was often at odds with these popular ideas. He believed that governments were encroaching on the individual’s freedom of choice, love of family, and tolerance for others. He emphasized honesty, individuality, and the welfare of society throughout his writings.

 

A study guide for Animal Farm. The Glencoe literature library. 12-10-2012 http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/animal_farm.pdf

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