It is quite clear, of course, even without the evidence of authorial intent which came in the appendix, that Animal Farm is a big old anti-communist story. The final, remaining commandment of Animalism is that ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’: there can be no true, substantive equality between people because people are not like that, and there, of course, lies the flaw in the communist ideal. Marx wrote about the stages which must be undertaken to achieve true communism, and the problem seems to be that a society frequently gets stuck on the ‘an elite running things whilst educating the proletariat so they can all run things together’ stage. Because one of the messages in Animal Farm is that old chestnut: All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once you’ve got it, you want to keep it. Why should any old Tom, Dick or Harry, who clearly doesn’t have much in the way of brain power, be able to say what a state does about this, that or the other, when you are obviously far better equipped to do so? Because though people should doubtless have equal rights (and, for that matter, equal responsibilities), people themselves are not equal. We are not the same. We do not have the same talents, the same strengths, the same skills. Maybe in the Old Major’s vision of the animals’ freedom they could work together as equals: but that is pure idealism, and the reality was never going to match up. There will always be someone who wants to take the lead, and there will always be people who want to let them.
But anyway, all that aside, what interested me most about this book was the device Orwell used to convey his message, and its similarity to that used by William Golding in Lord of the Flies (ah, that staple of GCSE English Lit!). The device is, I am reliably informed, called allegory, but being as ignorant as a frog I’m not going to worry about the terminology too much, as that will only make me look silly when I get it wrong.
See, the thing is, if Orwell had written Animal Farm without the animals: if it had been, for example, an actual human state that had had a revolution, leapt into the communist ideal of working cooperatively, and then slipped into fascism, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Of course, it’s entirely believable – it’s hardly a new story, historically speaking. But I think you would find yourself saying to yourself: ‘they wouldn’t have let him get away with that; it’s obvious they changed the commandments; they’d see right through him’. Reading the book, seeing the changes that are brought in to the Farm, you would expect the characters to see it from the same perspective of yourself, and when they didn’t, when they let things progress as they did with hardly a murmur, the story would lose its reality for you. But because its cast consists of animals, some of whom are acknowledged to not be very bright, some of whose species won’t live long enough to remember events from one year to the next, it all becomes more believable as a story, and more striking as an allegory.
Golding uses a similar device in Lord of the Flies: a vaguely futuristic setting populated by small boys cast adrift in an uncertain world. If he had attempted to explore his conception of human nature with adults, in a contemporary setting, it would have struck no chords; it would be unbelievable. But he detached it from reality, and embedded his vision of humans as being inherently crappity into a form we, as the reader, could relate to: the unthinking violence and cruelty that is recognised in young boys. You know the cliché – the way boys fry ants with magnifying glasses, the way they are dirty and uncouth, the way they will happily beat each other up for no apparent reason other than to express friendship – or, indeed enmity.
Of course, I doubt boys are inherently any worse than anyone else, but they have been perceived as being, and as such the story became, as in Animal Farm believable instead of ridiculous. And at the end of Lord of the Flies, when the boys are rescued, and in one or two lines become once again just boys who ‘trotted off’ rather than savage monsters, we can see ourselves.
That was so waffly. Am rather ashamed. I knew there was a reason I never bothered with English…