I Political allegory and satire in Orwell’s books “Animal Farm” and “1984”II Plot of the books
III Animal Farm as a fairy tale;
IV A reassessment of Animal farm and 1984;
V Scholars’ arguments on symbolism and understanding of totalitarian state in the 21st centuryVI. Conclusion
Often fiction books become a source for historical and political debates. Usually it is because of the allegories used by the writers to point to the real prototypes of their plots. The question drawn for a discussion in this essay is about the relevance of Orwell’s allegories on the Soviet regime now, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and made the stories on this topic a part of history. This study analyzes two books written by an English writer George Orwell, and supports the statement that the allegories in these writings still have their political relevance in modern days.
First of all, according to the Oxford dictionary, an allegory is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or a political one. “Animal farm” is a satirical novella with a lot of allegories. At the same time it is a political novel, as the allegories have a clear relation to certain political regimes and authorities. It was written in 1945. The plot of Animal farm is drawn around a group of animals, who expelled humans from their farm and established their own tyrannical farm. Even from a first glance, one may get a hint that animals play the roles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. There are characters and events described in “Animal Farm” that existed in Russia after the 1917th revolutions and mirrored the events leading up to and during Stalin era. Looking from this perspective, one can say that the book is very important as a source of historical research. It reveals the tiny details of the Soviet life, describes the ruling elites and the everyday activities. Although it is written in a form of a tale, it is historically correct and corresponds with the events from the beginning of Soviet state. Orwell gives an easy to understand comparison which can help learning and comprehend history of the Soviet state. It can be studied in schools even now, when there are no many live witnesses of this time.
As animals, they are equal, but soon it appears that “some animals are more equal than the others”, as is stated in the main document called the Seven Commandments of the Farm. The characters counterfeit their prototypes: Snowball behaves like Trotsky, Napoleon is definitely Stalin, Moses symbolizes the Russian Orthodox Church and Mr. and Mrs. Jones represent capitalists and a tsarist’s family, while Frederick presents Hitler to the readers. Although the Soviet Union collapsed a few decades ago and those names are not politically important anymore, every dictatorship is similar in its nature, so I argue that the book is still relevant and should be studied and used as a political allegory now regarding other tyrannical governments.
Comparing this book with another Orwell’s writing “1984” I’d like to draw attention to the emphasis on a dictator shown in both of them. “1984” is the last Orwell’s book. It is a story of a man who lives in Oceania, which is an omnipresent state ruled by the Big Brother and in permanent war against Eurasia. Even to an average reader this allegory will remind of a Cold war between the Soviet Union and the States. In both of the books Orwell criticizes the dictatorship of the Soviet empire using various allegories to make his point. A phrase from “1984”, ‘Big brother is watching you” appears very often emphasizing the strictness of the regime. Winston’s life is seriously damaged because of it. Big Brother rules over everybody’s life and work. There can be nothing hidden from him, he is present everywhere thanks to his controlling machine – spies and squealers. In this novel the author did not use animal allegories, but presented the turmoil of the state on the example of two people. The love story between Winston and Julia is pictured as a “sex-crime” committed by them, and the plan to escape the Big Brother’s watching them fails, as it is not possible in such a country. For now it sounds absurd, but this allegory perfectly pictures a totalitarian dictator, who knows everything about everyone and his police is doing a great job or checking people’s lives.
An interesting detail is that originally “Animal farm” had a subtitle on the cover page saying “A fairy story”, which was accidentally dropped by the US publishers in 1946. As every tail consists of a short story and a moral, this means that the writer’s intention was to write a so-called tale with a moral that can be easily understood by adults and even children. Also, as we know, fairy tales never lose their relevance and are retold by parents to their children over times. Taking this into consideration, I think that the book is still relevant and can be very didactic for many people.
This book is also precious because every detail has a political significance and it tells the history of the Soviet state in a very unusual way. Christopher Hitchens in his book “Why Orwell matters” claims that Orwell’s anthropomorphic allegories make a perfect sense in the animal world. For instance, pigs, despised by Orwell, get intelligence, while dogs, which were loved by the writer, are exploited. Everything in this story is turned upside down, as the country, ruled by a dictator, is beyond any norms and human rights. In a dictatorial empire everything works against people instead of serving them.
A reassessment of Animal farm can provide us with more sufficient allegories for modern days. Recent events in Ukraine, Thailand, and Bosnia and Herzegovina prove that the age of tyrannies is not over yet. A dictator at the lead of a state makes people suffer while a limited group of close to the dictator people enrich themselves. Dictatorships in modern Russia, Belarus, and Northern Korea are at their peaks these days. Therefore Orwell’s writings do not lose their actuality and some of the events still can be seen through the lens of Orwell’s allegories.
One other important detail is that a rebellion is at the core of “Animal Farm”. Any revolt in general can be relevant to this plot. The book shows how, owing to the stupid and selfish behavior of animals in lead, the new political organization was ruined. Usually a revolution is a result of a development and changes happening in a society, or increasing hatred towards the ruling elites. The way how a revolution is accomplished shows its success or failure. The plot of Animal farm can be used as a litmus paper for any global and minor revolutions happening in the world, i.e. it stays relevant until now.
A critic Michael Clune, analyzing “1984”, describes a phenomenon of “prohibition against the obvious”, i.e. a ban against perceiving the external world. One is restricted of stating that stones are hard and water is wet, as Winston says: “hold on to that! Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center”. Surely, this is a political issue, when a person has no freedom of speech and I presume this is still an issue for some countries. Looking for the other allegories from “1984” and their relevance for dictatorial states, one may notice Emmanuel Goldstein, who represents the opposition to the Party or Winston’s mother who symbolized the pre-party days, when the life was better and free. Winston’s drinking and smoking is not his personal choice, but a result of a rebellious nature.
The 21st century’s understanding of totalitarism has changed comparing to the previous century, but Orwell’s works remain relevant. One can replace the Communist state, which Orwell had in mind writing the book, with any other totalitarian practices. Marcelo Pelissioli suggests that the allegorical reading of “Animal farm” and “1984” should be replaced by a symbolical reading and analyzing. By this he implies that the allegories from the books became symbols and can be adapted to any similar situations. Many other scholars and literary critics agree with this opinion and think that Animal farm’s characters will always serve as symbols of a totalitarian state. Let’s remind ourselves that Orwell wrote “1984” as a satiric statement of what might come to pass in politics, as a warning what to expect. No one knows how the democratic states will turn in the future. Therefore his allegories might be of use a long time from now.
And finally, the allegories’ relevance and popularity can be examined from their usage. If one would like to check the internet sales, he or she will get convinced that Orwell’s books are still very popular on sale. This fact also allows us to state that his allegories are to be used these days and in the future.
- Akivaga, Kichamu. Notes on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Ibadan, Nigeria, 1976.
- Allegory: allegory of the Cave, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Allegory, The Book of the City of Ladies, a Night of Serious drinking. General Books LLC, 2010.
- Clune, Michael. Orwell and the obvious http://www.case.edu/artsci/engl/Library/Clune_Orwell.pdf
- Pelissioli, Marcelo. From Allegory into symbol: revisiting George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 in the light of 21st century views of totalitarism. Porto Allegre, 2008.
- Orwell, George. 1984. Signet Books: the New American Library of World Literature, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1950.
- Orwell, George. Animal farm, London, 1945.
- Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell matters, NY, Basic books, 2002, 135.