Monday, July 29, 2013


Yeah, I know you read it in high school. I'm not precisely certain how I made it through an AP English program, an undergraduate degree in English literature and 24 intervening years without ever having read George Orwell's "ANIMAL FARM". It's ever-more baffling when I consider how mind-blowing "1984" was for me when I read it at age 15. I instantly announced it as my "favorite book of all time", passing up Steven King's "The Stand" at that point in my life. It's still one of my favorites. So anyway, I got around to reading "Animal Farm" this year, and I'm the better for it, as I'm sure you were when you first observed a barnyard full of English countryside animals acting out the full passion play of Soviet Communism. It's a lacerating critique of totalitarianism that chokes Communism with its own idealistic idiocy and out-and-out lies, while even saving up a teeny tiny bit of spite for the capitalist as well.

Orwell's novela taught many impressionable youth over the years to keep from naively buying into utopianism and to question the motives of authority. Naturally, readers of all political persuasions can read whatever fits their agenda into this simple tale. Yet it's without question that "Animal Farm" pillories the rise and the corruption of Soviet Communism – if, indeed, a corrupt ideology could be corrupted – by choosing perfectly-rendered (and by necessity, simplified) Marx, Stalin and Trotsky characters for his narrative. They're all pigs! I loved "Old Master" (Marx)'s call-to-arms speech that kicks off the book, as well as the rallying song that came to him in a dream, "Beasts of England", which is, of course, "The Intenationale". Moreover, his non-totalitarian allegorical animals are fun and instructive to behold. There's Molly, the proud, vain and individualistic horse who sees her vanity and individualism being crushed by collectivist propaganda and demeaning regression to the mean – and therefore runs off to live on a "capitalist" farm. There's the oafish horse Boxer, who symbolizes the obedient and ultimately betrayed Russian working class. And my favorite is the propaganda master Squealer, who is Napoleon/Stalin's right-hand man who convinces and cajoles the various doubting animals into continuing to render themselves unto the Communist cause, even as they starve, are lied to and are worked to near-death.

It would have been eye-opening to read and especially to debate this in 1983 in my high school English class, I can tell you that. Reagan was president, the Russians were the enemy, and "Red Dawn" was one of the most popular movies in America. Still, it has much to teach both the youth and the fortysomethings of today, and it's so well-written and entertaining that I'm certain it won't end up being regarded as a relic of the 20th century. 5 stars out of 5 from The Hedonist Jive.