I have to admit, I added Animal Farm to my Back to the Classics Challenge, in the full knowledge that it is a classic that happens to be short.
When it comes to the end of the year, shortness is a quality of great importance.
Animal Farm was almost exactly what I expected it to be. I knew it was Orwell’s allegory on the Stalinist regime. And that’s exactly what it was. Snowball the pig is a representation of Trotsky, Napoleon the pig is a representation of Stalin. Boxer the horse represents the oppressed workers, duped by the system. The raven represents the clergy. Benjamin the donkey is a cynic, who is persuaded that things will be pretty much as they were before (bad).
The allegory of Animal Farm matches its textbook definition – one-to-one mapping. It isn’t the weird eerily leaping allegory of Spenser. Its closest companion (and indeed, I rather suspect this is what Orwell meant by adding the subtitle “Fairy tale” ) are the fables of La Fontaine.
The only surprise was the allegory’s final leap into mankind, in which Napoleon the pig is indistinguishable from another human being. It was too obvious – the point had already been made by the pigs’ addiction to alcohol and their ability to walk on two feet.
I was very impressed by Orwell’s 1984 and Down and Out in Paris and London. Animal Farm did not make as big an impression – perhaps because I was acquainted with its most gut-wrenching line: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The underlying pessimism of the novel – spoken through Benjamin the donkey, is not to blame for my dissatisfaction. If anything, the totalitarian regime as depicted in Animal Farm, seemed almost too relaxed to match what I was taught about the horrors of the Stalinist regime. I was actually taken by surprise by the low death count.