The Appeal of "Animal Farm" as a Children's Story
Animal Farm is regarded as one of the best literary works produced during the first half of the present century. This was the book which brought both fame and money to Orwell whose previous works had not aroused the enthusiasm or the admiration which they deserved. Animal Farm acquired an enormous reputation and popularity. Its popularity is due to several reasons.In the first place, this book can be read as a straight animal story. Of course, as an animal story, it appeals largely to children and teenagers, though the grown-up people are also attracted by an animal story to some extent because the childish element survives in grown-up people also. The story of pigs, horses, cows, pigeons, etc. having the capacity to talk, to read, to manage their own affairs just like human beings would naturally arouse the curiosity of the children and arouse a good deal of their interest. Animal stones have been popular ever since the time of the ancient Greek author Aesop who was probably the founder of this genre. There are a number of situitions in which the animals behave just like human beings, and this capacity of the animals to act intelligently or cunningly and to take decisions is bound to appeal to the child-mind. The animals are seen harvesting hay, building a windmill, and carrying out other tasks on the farm. The animals are capable of going on strike just as human labourers do. For instance, the hens begin to smash their eggs by laying them on the rafters from where these eggs fall down to the floor. The hens do this in protest against a certain decision taken by their ruler, Napoleon.
The Great Appeal of the Political Message of the Book
But there is a good deal of weighty matter in Animal Farm to appeal to the adult or mature minds. At one level, this book is certainly a children's story; but at another level it is a book with a serious political import, meant for advanced readers. Animal Farm is an allegory in which the various kinds of animals symbolize various classes of human society, in which certain particular animals represent certain historical personalities, and in which certain happenings symbolize certain historical events. Orwell wrote this book primarily, not as a children's story, but as a vehicle for the expression of his political views and convictions in a disguised form. The rise of totalitarianism in various countries (
, Italy , Germany ) had greatly disturbed Orwell's mind during the nineteen-thirties and forties. He was a man of firm socialistic ideas. It had distressed him particularly to see what was happening in Russia. He felt strongly that Stalin had betrayed the ideals of the Russian Revolution of October, 1917 and that, under Stalin's regime, the original revolutionary ideals of equality, comradeship, and economic justice had completely been shelved and that a system of government had been established which could be described as "oligarchical collectivism". In order to expose Stalin's betrayal of the Russian Revolution and also in order to expose the various stages of any revolution, Orwell wrote Animal Farm. Every revolution, according to him eventually leads to the re-establishment of a dictatorial regime. His exposure of the betrayal of the Russian Revolution and of every other revolution took the form of an allegorical satire. We here find the animals driving away their tyrannical master Mr. Jones from the farm and establishing a free and democratic system of government of their own. But in course of time one particular class of animals, namely the pigs, acquires a position of importance and begins to enjoy certain privileges which are denied to the other animals. One of the pigs by the name of Napoleon manages, partly by deceit and partly by force, to become the dictator of the farm. The pigs now direct and supervise the work which is entirely done by the other animals; while Napoleon goes on, step by step, to discard the principles which had inspired the animals to rebel against Mr. Jones. Ultimately we find the pigs living almost like human beings and developing all the habits and vices of human beings, while the leader, Napoleon, emerges as the undisputed and unchallenged dictator who administers the farm in complete disregard of the ideals of equality, comradeship, and social and economic justice. This, according to Orwell, is the ultimate fate of most revolutions. Now the political ideas and the political message implicit in this animal story had a tremendous appeal for the readers when the book first appeared, because the world had actually witnesses the injustices, the persecutions, and the cruelties which had been practised by the various dictators to keep themselves in power. It is true that many people including the intellectuals had at that time begun to admire Stalin for the heroic manner in which the Russian armies had fought against the invading German forces, but Orwell found it impossible to glorify Stalin. Stalin's successful conduct of the war against the Germans was no doubt worthy of admiration, but Orwell could not ignore the methods which Stalin had originally employed to consolidate his power. Orwell could not shut his eyes to the Great Purge Trials held by Stalin during 1936-38. Even today the allegorical significance of Animal Farm has a great value for us. The essentials of the Communist regime in Russia today are the same as they were during the time of Stalin. The same barbarities have not, of course, been repeated ; but Russia still continues to be a country in which the basic freedoms are denied to human beings, in which there are all kinds of restrictions and restrains upon the citizens, in which the bureaucracy and the leadership enjoy certain privileges which are denied to the common people, in which there is no free access to news and information, in which secrecy shrouds many of the policies and actions of the government, and in which the citizens are almost the slaves of the State. For those who love freedom, Animal Farm has still a great interest and appeal. Russia
The Appeal of the Characterization in this Book
The popularity of this book is also due to the success of its characterization. The characters who really matter and who chiefly engage our attention are the animals among whom Napoleon, Snowball, Squealer, Boxer, and Benjamin are the most prominent. Now, each of these characters has been individualized so that we can easily distinguish one from the other. Between Napoleon and Snowball there is a striking contrast, as there actually was between Stalin and Trotsky whom the two pigs respectively symbolize. Napoleon has a certain depth of character, which is lacking in Snowball. Snowball has a more lively mind than Napoleon has. Snowball works openly and speaks candidly; while Napoleon is secretive and works behind the scenes. Napoleon adopts devious methods to consolidate his power, and does not shrink from the use of brutal force in order to have his way. It is because of his utter unscrupulousness and ruthlessness that Napoleon succeeds in driving away Snowball from the farm, just as Stalin had succeeded in driving away Trotsky into exile. Squealer is the cunning and ingenious propagandist who defends and justifies all Napoleon's policies and actions. Boxer symbolizes the toiling and suffering proletariat. The portrayal of Boxer cannot fail to move the hearts of both children and adults to a deep pity. Benjamin the donkey symbolizes the cynical philosopher who believes that things can never improve and that, no matter what changes take place, life on the earth will go on as it has always done, that is, badly. All these characters have been made actually to live before our eyes. The characterization is most vivid. Even the minor characters such as Mollie, the vain white mare, and Muriel the white goat who can read as well as the dogs are as real as the actual persons whom we meet in the course of our lives. All these animals have been made perfectly convincing, and that is no small achievement.
An Interesting Plot with Dramatic Situations
Animal Farm has a very interesting plot, and that is another reason for the popularity of the book. An interesting plot is the first demand which every reader makes upon a novel. In Animal Farm we move from chapter to chapter, waiting expectantly for what will happen next. Our curiosity and suspense are aroused at every step. There are a number of dramatic situations which hold our attention and stir further curiosity. There is for instance, the united assault by the animals upon Mr. Jones and his men, leading to the expulsion of Mr. Jones from the farm. We now wonder what will happen next. Then there is the Battle of the Cowshed which the animals win against Mr. Jones and his men chiefly because of the superior strategy employed by Snowball who is on this occasion the commander of the forces fighting to repel the attack by Mr. Jones. One of the most exciting and shocking incidents is the expulsion of Snowball from the farm by Napoleon's fierce dogs. Later in the story, the Battle of the Windmill is fought. On this occasion, the animals no doubt suffer a big loss because the windmill has been blown up with explosives by Mr. Frederick's men, but the animals do succeed in driving away Mr. Frederick and his men from the farm and are thus able to retain their independence. These, and some other, situations in the story are very exciting.
The Appeal of the Pathetic Situations in the Story
A few situations in the book are deeply moving. A pathetic situation always adds to the interest of a story because sympathy and pity are among the most common feelings of mankind. The massacre of the innocent animals under the orders of Napoleon on charges of treason is a deeply tragic situation. The animals who are put to death on this occasion are first made to confess the crimes for which they receive this punishment but which they have not actually committed. At the end of this scene, there is a pile of corpses lying at Napoleon's feet, and the air is thick with the smell of blood. This massacre is intended to bring to our minds the tragic fate of all those Russians who were hauled up for trial before the Russian courts to answer the charges of treason against them, who were forced to confess the crimes which they had never committed, and who were then executed under the orders of the courts which, of course, acted under the direct command of Stalin. Even more moving is the sad fate which Boxer meets. Boxer has been a very hard-working animal whose role in the fighting and whose contribution to the construction of the windmill are most conspicuous. Boxer has, in addition, been very loyal and devoted to Napoleon. In fact, his two mottoes ("I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right") show how industrious and how attached to Napoleon he has always been. But, when he has grown old and falls ill on account of sheer exhaustion, he is sold to a knacker to be slaughtered instead of being treated for his ailment. Nothing shows the callousness and inhumanity of the Russian Communist leaders more clearly than the manner in which Boxer is treated by Napoleon and Squealer. Poor Boxer! The fate of Boxer is perhaps the most poignant situation in the whole novel.
An Abundance of Wit, Humour, and Gaiety
But if there is plenty of pathos to add to the interest of Animal Farm, there is an abundance of humour and wit in it also, further to add to the book's interest and popularity. Animal Farm has undoubtedly its sombre and tragic side; but it is a book abounding in gaiety and sheer fun. The funny situations in the book make us laugh heartily. There is, for instance, the whole behaviour of Mollie to amuse us. Mollie is not interested in work at all. She stands on the bank of a pool, admiring her reflection in the water. She is a vain mare, fond of wearing ribbons in her mane. When fighting breaks out, she runs to her stall and buries her face in the hay, while the other animals are risking their lives for the honour of the farm. Squealer greatly amuses us when he skips from side to side, whisking his tail and speaking in a persuasive manner in order to convince his listeners about the rightness of Napoleon's decisions and policies. The pigs walking on their hind legs would be a most amusing spectacle, too. We would hardly be able to restrain our laughter when we see Napoleon walking on his hind legs, with a hat on his head and a pipe in his mouth. The manner in which Moses talks about Sugarcandy Mountain is another comic element in the story. The final episode when Mr. Pilkington and Napoleon make speeches and propose toasts to the prosperity of Animal Farm, and when the two leaders play an ace of spades simultaneously, is perhaps the climax of comedy in this book.
The Enticing Beauties of the Farm
Yet another reason for the popularity of this book is Orwell's loving and convincing descriptions of the farm. Orwell has described the changing seasons of sowing, reaping, and storing for the winter, the arduous toil in the fields; and he has described the orchard, the cowshed, the barn, the farmhouse, etc. in a most realistic manner. Animal Farm becomes a real farm which we feel we are actually visiting. In describing the workings of this farm, Orwell throughout plays fair. To run the farm, Napoleon needs to buy oil, nails, strings, and iron for the horses' shoes. But while acknowledging necessities, Orwell always returns to the enticing beauties of the farm. There is a scene near the end of the book, when some of the animals including Clover, are described as looking at the distant view of the farm:
The long pasture stretching down to the main road, the hay field, the spinney, the drinking pool, the ploughed fields where the young wheat was thick and green,……...
It is a lovely piece of description.
The Simplicity and Economy of the Style
Animal Farm owes its popularity and its high reputation also to the style in which it is written. Orwell's style in this book is characterized by an absolute simplicity and a striking economy. It is a style of utter and perfect simplicity. Good prose, said Orwell, is like a window pane; and the style of Animal Farm fulfils this condition. It is a style marked by a perfect clarity and transparency. In this style, the meaning is allowed to choose the word. In addition to simplicity, there is the quality of brevity in this style. Brevity, as we know, is the soul of wit. Here much is conveyed through little. A wealth of meaning lies hidden in this slim volume, though the meaning is easily discoverable. The style is concise and terse, besides being simple and straightforward. There is not the least obscurity or vagueness anywhere. This book has also contributed a famous maxim to the English language, a maxim which is now often quoted to show that the concept of equality in human society, as in the animal community, is a myth devoid of all meaning. That maxim is: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal." Furthermore, Animal Farm has a compact structure. It has a well-knit story with a tight structure, free from all surplusage and superfluity.