Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mild spoilers ahead.


"Four legs good, two legs bad".

So goes the condensed maxim of the Seven Commandments of Animalism. And for some reason, this is the most loved feature of the book, for me. We have a certain passion and lust for evocative, ornamental prose. People have won wars, captured governments, and become billionaires, all on account of their ability to somehow stir the metaphorical loins of the reader, through their writings. And it is very easy, for us as readers, to get lost in the beauty of the prose, that we'll fail in our most important duty of all - making sure to taste some salt every few pages. We forget to question the correctness, we become children at a candy machine. Nothing exists except the candy and our tongues that can savour them. Too often we get carried and become unflinching devotees of our favorite authors, that we never question them, just because their words can appeal to a deeper being in us, than the others.

I have been convinced of outrageous things by hagiographies. And I know of many such people who have been subjected to the same injustice. We are tricked, so to speak, by the language.

But here is where Animal farm and George Orwell shine. They don't have ornamental phrases. They don't have evocative prose. They have simple words. Simple words that hammer on you stronger and harder than any intricate stringing together of letters can.

As I was reading, I was thinking of the Soviet. I didn't know that Orwell actually wanted to draw a parallel to communism and socialism. But it was very apparent. From the start of the book, I wanted to find a hidden message. I discovered invented many such meanings. The characters, Major, SnowBall, Squealer, Boxer, Benjamin, all had different meanings to me. I could easily trace the similarities to some person I have encountered and interacted with. Sometimes they are people. Sometimes leaders. Sometimes nations and governments.

Orwell doesn't preach. He just sows the idea there, and lets the reader to grow it, nurture it, and ultimately reap the rewards. By the end of the book, you are very aware of the reaping, little attention do you pay to the source of the seeds. Therein lies the success of the book.

Recently a Dalit (Historically Oppressed community) Student committed suicide in an Indian university. The union HRD minister decided to say that it was not a Dalit issue. (it was). Suddenly I was reminded of a not-so-subtle version of Squealer. I could draw similar parallel to too many leaders of the nation I am living in. Whether I am to rejoice at the fact that Orwell enabled me to do this or to be sad that there are actually people like this, I do not know.

The book succeeded at the message it wanted to get across. But how does it fare as an innocuous novel, with no hidden didactic agendas? How will a reader from a world without socialism and communism enjoy this?

“Neither novels or their readers benefit from any attempts to divine whether any facts hide
inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.” -John Greene.


Amazingly, Orwell fits the novel to this definition too.

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