Classics: Animal Farm by George Orwell (Special Occasion: Banned in China)

Hi, friends. Admittedly, several classics I’ve read in the last month or two await a feature on the blog; however, circumstances sometimes force changes. On February 25th, China’s Communist Party proposed eliminating presidential term limits, and the bill is expected to pass in Parliament. Straight out of a The Onion article (jk, this is real life sadly), President Xi Jinping banned the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell. I know I call any literature that’s not Victorian short and easy-to-read, but this book is a novella. It’s genuinely short enough to read in 2-3 hours and so necessary. This book still getting banned in 2018 should signify its poignancy. Sorry about the lengthy intro. Let’s get into it!

Animal Farm by George Orwell

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Published in 1945, Animal Farm is a biting criticism of communism/fascism, illustrating the inevitable consequences of believing that people can handle unlimited power without succumbing to corruption. It’s the simple tale of becoming that which you hate. The novella opens with a wise, old boar named Old Major leading an animal meeting at night; Old Major questions the true order of nature and stokes the resentments of his “comrades” for evil, tyrannical humans. At Manor Farm, the animals are tired of constantly laboring to serve the farmer, Mr. Jones. Old Major, who promoted animal equality, soon dies, and two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, carry on his legacy. The pigs lead the animals in rebellion, and “Manor Farm” is exchanged for “Animal Farm” after they chase off all the humans. The animals agree to live by the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the number one law reading, “All animals are equal.” As the book progresses, the pigs become more powerful, and everything that happens in the story reflects a political reality. For example, when Snowball criticizes Napoleon, he’s chased off the property while Napoleon uses him as the scapegoat for anything that had recently gone wrong. This occurrence reflects Stalin turning on Trotsky (more info below). The dogs are considered the cleverest animal behind the pigs; Napoleon convincing the dogs to do his bidding and kill those who provoke him is reminiscent of the term useful idiot. Like those examples, every character and every scene is worth pondering because they all represent broader concepts.

Years later, the Seven Commandments of Animalism have been reduced to a single tenant:All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That statement alone is both extremely iconic and incredibly ironic. The last scene–the image the reader is left with–sends a chill up my spine.

Additional Background

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Animal Farm is allegorical for the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Old Major symbolizes Vladimir Lenin, Mr. Jones symbolizes Tsar Nicholas II, Napoleon symbolizes Joseph Stalin, and Snowball symbolizes Leon Trotsky. Skim this article for more information on the Stalin-Trotsky feud, reflected in the Napoleon-Snowball feud.

Getting the book published was difficult because no one wanted to associate with anti-Soviet literature during World War II. Britain, the US, and Russia were allies in WWII. Fun fact: one of the people who rejected publication was modernist poet T.S. Eliot.

George Orwell was a “good socialist” who believed that Stalin corrupted socialism; he disliked communism and capitalism. During the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939, Orwell briefly fought on behalf of “good socialists” and got the idea for this novella.

The Eastern Bloc (the formerly communist nations of Eastern Europe) had this novella banned until the end of communist rule in 1989. President Jinping of China banned the book in February 2018.

Thanks for reading! Take time to reflect that, while we may take our liberties for granted, not everyone in the world is free.

24 comments

  1. I absolutely love this book. I read it when I was in high school and loved the metaphor for Communism. Keep it up girl! This is interesting content 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I read this Freshman year of high school. One of the few assigned books to read in class, that I enjoyed. If only some of the new socialists and anti-capitalist millennials would read this and see the dangers that Communism/Socialism creates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So much yes to the last sentence! I kinda scoffed when I read deeper into Stalin turning on his friend/partner Trotsky because Trotsky was apparently “a cosmopolitan intellectual, the kind of guy Stalin hated.” Trotsky sounds just like the white, upper middle-class, super leftist college students of today.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anti-capitalist is not Socialist or Communist. Rejection of corruption is anti-capitalist, for example. Corruption is the reason nothing works (as intended,) and it’s apparently intrinsic to Homo sapiens in groups > 3. Blaming millennials is so tired. Please stop. It’s discrimination based on intellectual laziness. Maybe reading it again is a fab idea. I’m in. Sorry if this stings, but you attacked the largest age group sine measuring originated. Great post, Lily! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I probably misunderstood or misread the comment. Interpreting again shows it can be read in more than one way. It’s probable I understood differently than intended. (Happens a lot.) I’m looking for my copy to read again. I’m excited because it’s been ages. 💕

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps I was a little precocious back then, but I read this work in the 6th grade (i.e. still in middle school).

    Rather than add more praise for the book, I choose to address some of the points you raise in your post above.

    Thanks for bringing to light: “Getting the book published was difficult because no one wanted to associate with anti-Soviet literature during World War II. Britain, the US, and Russia were allies in WWII.” Yes, and so much of official history downplays or hides Soviet crimes and atrocities. The war fever was hysterical in Britain during the war thanks to Churchill.

    “During the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939, Orwell briefly fought on behalf of “good socialists” and got the idea for this novella.” This is a blind spot for many Westerners, Most works on the Spanish Civil War are written by left leaning authors who give evidence of bias and do not give sufficient attention to the many terrible crimes of the “Republicans” (Marxists and anarchists). A good work on the Spanish Civil War and one that we reviewed over at our blog a few years back is The Last Crusade, written by Warren Carroll (copyright 1996, published by Christendom Press, Front Royal, Virginia (USA), paperback, 218 pages plus bibliography and index).

    Orwell believed that socialism could be good but recognized its dangers, or the danger of excessive power and control wielded by a governing elite or clique. Since the fall of Communism, the question has been debated in some circles: Was communism fundamentally flawed, or was the application of it since 1917 flawed or poorly executed. Apologists for the Left will claim the latter, but for many of us, the correct conclusion is the former, thus, it should not be tried again.

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  5. I actually read this *again* one January as a buddy read and found it just as intriguing as the first time I read it. I had no idea it was banned again. This book wasn’t one I read in school but as an adult and find the themes and symbolism very insightful and relevant to today

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting post! I like it how you always try to bring the books together with their historical context. Plus I love all the random trivia 🙂

    I saw in the comments to a post on The Classics Club that you had just joined too but I haven’t found in your blog your list of classics to read … perhaps I haven’t dug enough. I’d love to take a look at it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow the fact this is getting banned in China is both *insane* and yes validates its importance even today. And this is such an important book- amazing post on it! (funnily enough, I remember seeing someone on TV- the clip is on youtube- saying the line “some people have more equal rights than others”- so yeah, this book still has a lot of relevance, unfortunately)

    Liked by 1 person

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