Animal Farm by George OrwellReviewed by Karen
Violence: It is mentioned that humans are cruel to animals—inadequate food, whipping, other neglect. During the Battle of Cowshed a gun is fired, one sheep dies, the animals butt, kick, and trample humans. Nine pups are raised in secret by Napoleon. Those pups are vicious. They chase off Snowball, “tear out the throats” of any animals found to be in-league with Snowball, and create fear among the animals. During the Battle of the Windmill both humans and animals are injured. Some animals are shot.
Adult Themes: The humans and the pigs drink alcohol, sometimes to the point of inebriation. One gander admits treason and commits suicide by eating poisonous berries. Boxer, a horse, is taken to be slaughtered. Gradually, through force and propaganda, Animal Farm changes from an animal utopia where all animals are equal, to tyranny where a cruel dictator reigns.
Animal Farm is a satirical fable written as a parody of the Russian revolution. It takes place on a typical English farm. Old Major, a pig, calls all the animals together to relate to them his dream of rebellion against humans. The animals, wishing to improve their lives, prepare for this rebellion. One day, Mr. Jones, their owner, is drunk and forgets to feed his animals. The animals, under the leadership of Napoleon and Snowball, drive Mr. Jones from the farm. Thus begins an animal utopia where all animals are equal and they can be free of human oppression. Seven Commandments are written as the basis of “Animalism”. Snowball reduces them to a single maxim, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” The animals run the farm and attempt to educate themselves–which is only marginally successful. As time goes by, the pigs increase their power, privileges and control over the other animals. The humans unsuccessfully attempt to recapture the farm. Both Napoleon and Snowball begin to vie to be the leader of Animal Farm. Then Napoleon’s cruel “henchmen” (nine dogs raised to instill terror and obedience in the other animals) drive Snowball from the farm. Napoleon now leads the animals in building a windmill that should help with the farming workload. Life for the animals deteriorates as there is extra work and less food. But with the help of Squealer, Napoleon’s propaganda expert, the animals are fooled into thinking life is better now than when Mr. Jones owned the farm. Gradually the pigs have turned a life of animal equality into a tyranny where the pigs are hardly distinguishable from the humans.
This classic fable is a favorite of English teachers. It is a cautionary tale about the predictable effects of a totalitarian government, specifically Stalinism. Themes of exploitation, human rights, the power of propaganda, and violence as a means of control are all addressed. Animal Farm is excellent literature, easily understood on a surface level, but full of deep meanings as well.