In a recent post I paraphrased George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Soon after that it dawned on me that I had never read Animal Farm as an adult (I went on an Orwell spree in 1983 and managed to polish off both of his most famous works before the important year of 1984). I have learned a great deal about both animals and people since 8th grade. I decided to revisit the book with the critical eye of a veterinarian.
The story is a thinly (if that) veiled attack on Stalin. Its concept: the beleaguered animals on a farm overthrow their human overlords and try to run it for the benefit of all four-legged (or two-legged and two-winged) creatures on the property. If you know anything about Stalin, it will come as no surprise that the leaders of the revolution (the pigs) turn out to be worse than the original overlords.
This blog is not political. So let’s delve into the subject matter of interest here: did Orwell properly capture the spirit of the animals featured in his book?
Of course he did. The pigs are smart, crafty, selfish, and gluttonous. The horses are hard working, selfless, and somewhat dim. The sheep are easily manipulated and move en masse. Orwell’s dogs display the full range of canine behaviors. The matriarchs are gentle and loving. Their offspring are loyal and dedicated to their master, who unfortunately turns out to be the pig Napoleon (the villain of the story).
My favorite character, of course, was the cat. The following quote exemplifies her ability to thrive no matter what.
[T]he behaviour of the cat was somewhat peculiar. It was soon noticed that when there was work to be done the cat could never be found. She would vanish for hours on end, and then reappear at mealtimes, or in the evening when work was over, as though nothing had happened. But she always made such excellent excuses, and purred so affectionately, that it was impossible not to believe her good intentions.
If you’re looking for an easy classic, Animal Farm is perfect. It can be finished in less than a day, so there’s no excuse not to read it.
Although Orwell does a fine job of capturing animals’ spirits in the book, one feature rings clear as a bell throughout the piece. Orwell may ostensibly have written a book about animals, but his true purpose was to write about the nature of humans. In that regard, his genius is unparalleled.