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BOOK CORNER: THE ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell

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This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

ANIMAL FARM

By George Orwell

      Animal Farm is an allegorical novella of a hundred and twelve pages by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist himself was a critic of Joseph Stalin and was hostile to Moscow-directed Stalin-ism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror.

    In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin. In his essay ‘Why I Write’ (1946), he wrote, Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”

    The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. But the U.S. publishers dropped the subtitle when it was published in 1946. Only one of the translations during Orwell’s lifetime kept it. Other titular variations included subtitles like “A Satire” and “A Contemporary Satire.”

    Orwell wrote the book between November 1943 and February 1944, when the UK was in its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. Then the British people and intelligentsia held Stalin in high esteem, a phenomenon Orwell hated. The manuscript was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers, including one of Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz, which delayed its publication. It became a great commercial success when it did appear partly because international relations were transformed as the wartime alliance gave way to the Cold War.

    Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005). It also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a retrospective Hugo Award in 1996 and is included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.

PLOT

    Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm, summons the animals on the farm together for a meeting, during which he refers to humans as “enemies” and teaches the animals a revolutionary song called “Beasts of England.”

    But when Major dies, two young pigs, Snowball and Napolean, assume command and consider it a duty to prepare for the Rebellion. The animals revolt driving the drunken, irresponsible farmer Mr Jones, as well as Mrs Jones and the other human caretakers and employees, off the farm, renaming it “Animal Farm”. They adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important being, “All animals are equal”. The decree is painted in large letters on one side of the barn.

    Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on the principles of Animalism. Food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items, ostensibly for their personal health.

    Sometime later, several men attack Animal Farm. Jones and his men are making an attempt to recapture the farm, aided by several other farmers who are terrified of similar animal revolts. Snowball and the animals, who are hiding in ambush, defeat the men by launching a surprise attack as soon as they enter the farmyard. Snowball’s popularity soars with this, and the event is proclaimed as “The Battle of the Cowshed”. It is celebrated annually with the firing of a gun, on the anniversary of the Rebellion. Napoleon and Snowball vie for pre-eminence now. When Snowball announces his plans to modernize the farm by building a windmill. Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away from the farm and declares himself as the leader.

    Napoleon enacts changes to the governance structure of the farm, replacing meetings with a committee of pigs who will run the farm. Through a young pig named Squealer, Napoleon claims credit for the windmill idea. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. When the animals find the windmill collapsed after a violent storm, Napoleon and Squealer convince the animals that Snowball is trying to sabotage their project.

    Once Snowball becomes a scapegoat, Napoleon begins to purge the farm with his dogs, killing animals he accuses of consorting with his old rival. When some animals recall the Battle of the Cowshed, Napoleon (who was nowhere to be found during the battle) frequently smears Snowball as a collaborator of Farmer Jones, while falsely representing himself as the hero of the battle. “Beasts of England” is replaced with an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals remain convinced that they are better off than they were under Mr. Jones.

    Mr Frederick, a neighbouring farmer, attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill. Although the animals win the battle, they do so at a great cost, as many, including Boxer, the workhorse, are wounded.

    Despite his injuries, Boxer continues working harder and harder, until he collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to purportedly take Boxer to a veterinary surgeon, explaining that better care can only be given there. Benjamin, the cynical donkey who “could read as well as any pig, notices that the van belongs to a knacker and attempts a futile rescue. Squealer quickly assures the animals that the van had been purchased from the knacker by an animal hospital, and that the previous owner’s signboard had not been repainted.

    In a subsequent report, Squealer reports sadly to the animals that Boxer died peacefully at the animal hospital. The pigs hold a festival one day after Boxer’s death to further praise the glories of Animal Farm and have the animals work harder by taking on Boxer’s ways.

    However, the truth is that Napoleon had engineered the sale of Boxer to the knacker, allowing Napoleon and his inner circle to acquire money to buy whisky for themselves. (In 1940s England, one way for farms to make money was to sell large animals to a knacker, who would kill the animal and boil its remains into animal glue)

    Years pass, the windmill is rebuilt, and another one is also constructed, which gives the farm a good amount of income. However, the ideals which Snowball propagated, including stalls with electric lighting, heating, and running water are all forgotten, with Napoleon advocating that the happiest animals live simple lives. Apart from Boxer, many of the animals who had participated in the Rebellion are now dead or old. Farmer Jones, having moved away after giving up on reclaiming his farm, has also died.

    The pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carrying whips, they drink alcohol and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to just two phrases: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” and “Four legs good, two legs better.”

    Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name “The Manor Farm”. When the animals outside look at the pigs and men, they can no longer distinguish between the two.

Synopsis posted by Kamlesh Tripathi

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