I didn’t go to a school where Animal Farm was read and taught as Anti-Communism literature. A few people had given me the basic concept, quoting the line:

“All animals are made equal, but some are more equal than others”

For that reason, I always imagined Animal Farm to be some sort of Red Fear propaganda story reminiscent of the US videos from the Fifties. It sparked my curiosity. Now that I’ve read it, I’m left wondering if any of these people had actually read the book, or if they’d just read their teacher’s cliff-notes and swallowed institutional curriculum.

Animal Farm takes place on an English farm, where animals work until death with only the swill that they’re fed to keep them producing. A slave-like existence. After an epiphany from Old Major, a respected pig, and his subsequent death, a revolution follows. Animals begin to work for themselves, producing what they need whilst also trying to prevent a counter-revolution from the exiled humans and neighbouring farms.

The animals debate in town-hall fashion. It’s soon apparent that some animals understand much better than others, even with the ability to read and write. After battling off their former owners at ‘The Battle of the Cow Shed’, several rules are laid out for the road ahead.

Pivotal debates include:

Do they work on a windmill to both increase production and reduce labour? Or continue working the land to save for the coming winter?

Do they train a military to protect against a human retaliation? Or spread the philosophy to other farms across the country? Do they train a military

The two leader pigs that emerge are Snowball and Napoleon: one a rational, well-rehearsed public speaker; the other a military-minded strategist. A military coup (dogs secretly trained by Napoleon) soon follows after Snowball beats Napoleon in influencing the masses on every occasion. Snowball is exiled, which is where the conditions of Animal Farm takes a downturn, a downturn which eventually leads to the corruption of the philosophy, and the installation of a new ruling class of pigs which, as revealed in the final scene, are no better than the humans themselves.

The rules laid out after Animal Farm’s defence are slowly changed to suit a new porcine bourgeoisie after Snowball is gone. Many of the animals cannot read, or hold very short memories. The rules are changed or erased in such a way that the animals start to believe that the new rules have always been.

One key criticism of politics here that the book highlights: many of the animals forget the purpose and principles of the revolution itself; mass memory is often short in the big picture.

A key point: the book somewhat questions what it means to be happy, encouraging the idea that even with a lower level of production and comfort, working to produce one’s own goods still brings more happiness than the alternative (for most of the book).

The overall impression I received is that a revolution gone wrong can be just as bad the initial cause (and vice-versa). If anything, Orwell’s classic merely outlines the pitfalls of revolution, and if you dare to delve into his political life, you’ll see how the ideas in this book came to be.