Over the course of the last couple of weeks and readings related to the French Revolution, I couldn’t help but draw a parallell to this book that I read a couple of months ago. It’s a novella written by George Orwell and published first in England in August 1945, and has often been touted as one of the best works of English literature ever written. Orwell as a critic of Stalin and was a democratic socialist and wrote this book as a commentary on socialist Russia under Stalin.
The story of ‘Animal Farm: A Fairy Story’ is as follows:
Old Major an old Boar in Manor Farm, calls all the animals and tells them that all humans are parasites, and teaches them a revolutionary song called ‘The Beasts of England’. When Old Major dies two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, take charge and turn Old Major’s vision into a philosophy and drive drunken the farmer Mr. Jones out of the farm, and then rename the farm “Animal Farm”. They then write the Seven Commandments of Animalism on the Barn wall. The most significant of the lot being ‘All Animals are Equal’. The farm runs smoothly for a while. Snowball teaches the animals to read and write. Napoleon take some pups in his retinue and makes them his guards. They fight off Mr. Jones and beat him in the “Battle of the Cowshed”. In the midst of this however, Snowball and Napoleon fight for power. When Napoleon and snowball diasagree over a windmill,
Napoleon drives Snowball away using his dogs, and assumes the role of the leader. The pigs and he abuse their power and rest of the animals are oppressed. They are made to work harder on the windmill, which Napoleon proclaims was his idea, and when it crumbles in a storm, he uses Snowball as the scapegoat saying that Snowball sabotaged it in spite. Napoleon then continues his oppression, purging the farm of Snowball’s supporters. The pigs re-write history, making Snowball the villain and glorifying Napoleon. When the pigs are found abusing the Seven Commandments, they are re-written in favor of the pigs. Similar such incidents take place where the pigs oppress the rest of the animals. Years pass, and the pigs learn to wear clothes, walk upright and carry whips. Napoleon is congratulated by all the human farmers around for having the largest produce on the smallest feed. He outlaws the practices of the Revolution of years ago and renames the farm – Manor Farm. The faces of the pigs begin changing and now they cannot be told apart from human faces. The Seven Commandments of Animals have been reduced to a single one – “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Do any of these incidents sound familiar?
I am pretty sure they do. Aren’t these incidents exactly what Rousseau commented upon in his reflections on the french revolution. When the monarch is over-thrown (Mr.Jones), the revolutionaries (Snowball and Napoleon) take over and profess freedom and liberty to all. Soon in the name of freedom the animals begin dying. Towards the end, the revolutionaries are no different from the original monarch they overthrew. I can’t help but relate this to More when she writes:
“To cut every man’s throat who does not think as I do, or hang him up at a lamp-post! – Pretend liberty of conscience, and then banish the parsons only for being conscientious! – Cry out liberty of the press, and hang up the first man who writes his mind! – Lose our poor laws! – Lose one’s wife perhaps upon every little tiff! – March without clothes, and fight without victuals! – No trade! – No bible! – No sabbath nor day of rest! – No safety, no comfort, no peace in this world – and no world to come!”
To conclude, there is no better piece of literature that resonates Rousseau words:
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”