1903: George Orwell, whose real name is Eric Blair, was born in Bengal.
He was the son of an official in the Indian Civil Service. When he was 8, he went back to England to be educated since he belonged to a “lower-upper-middle class family”, as he himself wrote in the second part of his well-known book “The Road to Wigan Pier”.
1921: He graduated at Eton.
From 1922 to 1927: he goes to Burma and to India where he joins the Civil Service as a policeman in the Indian Imperial Police; he records this experience in his novel Burmese days and in the short story Shooting an Elephant.
1927-1934: in 1927 he leaves Burma and goes first to Paris then to London where he deliberately chooses to live among poor working people and tramps: these experiences form the basis of his autobiographical novel Up and down from Paris and London, published in 1933.
1934-1935: during these years he works as a teacher and gets married. He makes use of his teaching experience in the novel A Clergyman’s Daughter.
He then works, as a clerk in a bookstore and writes the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying; based on this experience.
Later he becomes an active socialist and visits the depressed industrial area of northern England
1937: .He records this personal experience in The Road to Wigan Pier.
1936-1938: meanwhile the Spanish Civil War has broken out and Orwell joins the International Brigade (belonging to the Communist Party: a Marxist, anti-Stalinist current) first as a reporter then as a surgeon. He is wounded at the front and forced to leave Spain.
The Spanish Communists deceive Orwell. The book he writes from his Civil War experience, Homage to Catalonia, published in 1938, reflects his idea of the revolution betrayed: an idea that will find its ultimate form in Animal Farm.
1939-1950: in 1939 Orwell writes another novel, Coming up for Air, which is about the coming world war II and the technical revolution which has changed life in England. World War II breaks out and Orwell tries to join the army, but he cannot because of the tuberculosis from which he will suffer all his life. He joins the Home Guard and works for BBC in the Indian section.
In the last winter of the war, that is in 1945, he writes Animal Farm, but he has difficulty in getting it published because it is a satire of totalitarian rules and particularly of the Russian kind of totalitarianism under Stalin. Russia is an ally of Great Britain in those years and everyone admires her gigantic struggle against Germany. At last it is published as a “fairy story” for little children. In 1949 he publishes his most celebrated book 1984 where Orwell represents a near-future society, that is a projection of totalitarianism in the contemporary world.
1950: he dies in London.
He writes also essays and political reviews.
Orwell was an outspoken anticommunist, but above all an ardent socialist all his life. The differences between Socialism and Communism are:
-Socialism is referred to any economic system based on the ownership of goods and any property in a collective way rather than on individuals.
-Socialism wants the government ownership of goods and the state control of their production and distribution.
-Socialism does not usually insist on the abolition of private property; it seeks only to regulate it. Plato described the first idea of socialism in Republic and the early Christians practised it.
-Communism is a specific form of socialism developed from the principles laid down by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848) and The Capital written some years later. Communism seeks the abolition of private property. It wants to obtain the control of goods by violent revolutions while socialism uses only legal and relatively peaceful means.
Great Britain has always had a long socialist tradition. Many thinkers, politicians and artists have been socialist. During the 1920s through the 1940s socialism was considered the only form of government. The British people thought that after World War I, the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the Spanish Civil War, the world had to be organised in a better way.
The western socialists reacted to communism as it was evolving in Soviet Russia after the revolution of 1917. Russia did not let the world know the truth about the outrages committed by Stalin until the 1950s. Russia entered World War II on the allied side and Orwell disagreed about it, because Soviet Russia was going against the true ideas of socialism. Orwell is often praised for his contribution to make people aware of the dangers of communism and to show the importance of the individuals threatened by any form of dictatorship.
The Russian Revolution took place in 1917. In 1914 Russia entered World War I on the side of the Allies against Germany. Russia was badly weakened by the war; the people revolted under the leadership of various revolutionary leaders and the revolution that Marx had predicted (in order to make all men free and equal) was accomplished in1917. The Tsar was deposed and executed. Lenin was the strongest leader and in 1918 took the power by force. He was a strict Marxist, but leading Soviet Russia, he compromised. Lenin died in 1924 and there was a struggle for power among his chief lieutenants Trotsky and Stalin.
Trotsky advocated a world revolution, while Stalin wanted to develop Russia’s strength. Stalin won the battle for power. Trotsky was exiled and assassinated in 1930. Stalin eliminated all his competitors. He tried to industrialise Russia on a grandscale and to nationalise agriculture, too, seizing the farmlands and organising collectives of peasants to farm them and exiling the owners. The result was that 5,000,000 peasants died.
Stalin’s policy in the 1930s was a strong opposition to German Nazism since the Nazis were anti-communist and in March 1939 Stalin denounced Hitler as an aggressor while he was negotiating an alliance with Britain and France. It was the beginning of World War II. Russia and the Western Powers (Britain, U.S.A., France) were allies until May 1945.
Orwell’s personal opinion, in those years, was that Stalin had betrayed the Marxist Revolution of 1917.
-Orwell believed in Revolutions if they achieved a classless society, but he was obliged to surrender to a deep pessimism because when people seize power, they forget the purpose of their revolutions.
The first title page of the book was Animal Farm (A Fairy Story) pointing out the author’s fascination for fables.
The tradition of fairy tales is not properly English. Its origin goes back to the Greek slave Aesop (6th century BC) down to the bestiary poems and fables of the Middle Ages and to La Fontaine. However, England too supplies examples of famous writers of this genre. Geoffrey Chaucer influenced Orwell: he gave realism to his stories describing animals and places in details and Rudyard Kipling wrote about animals in The Jungle Book and in the Just So Stories.
But above all Orwell admired Jonathan Swift who pointed out human deformities in order to make man aware of the bestiality of his weakness and of his moral corruption. In fact the Irish writer had used the forms of utopian books to be satirical in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726), His sources were Thomas More’s Utopia (1515-16), a name that now refers to all fictional works depicting imaginary worlds better than our own.
Orwell was influenced by Swift’s way of using satire to give a political message to the readers.
It is a satire about life in an animal community under an animal dictator. The novel consists of 10 chapters.
Somewhere in Britain there is a Manor Farm (Russia), which is run by Farmer Jones (the Tsar), a man more interested in whisky than in caring for his livestock (the Russian people).
The farm animals arise after a stirring speech from Old Major (first Marx and then Lenin), which is the patriarch boar. His main idea is that Men (the Capitalists) exploit the animals, taking for themselves the products of their work and giving them in return the minimum of food and care. Old Major prepares all the animals for rebellion and teaches them the song Beasts of England (the International). Revolutionary activities begin in secret (the two decades preceding the Russian Revolution), led by the pigs which give the name “Animalism” (Communism) to the philosophical ideas elaborated by Old Major. One day the animals drive Jones and his men off the farm (the Revolution of 1917). They rename Manor Farm (Russia) to Animal Farm (Soviet Union) and paint “the Seven Commandments of Animals” on the wall of the barn:
-Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy;
– whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend;
– no animal shall wear clothes;
– no animal shall sleep in a bed;
– no animal shall drink alcohol;
– no animal shall kill any other animal;
– all animals are equal.
The Commandments distinguish the Animals from the Humans, forbidding them to behave as Men and stating that all animals are equal.
Mrs Jones (the Russian Nobility and Court Hangers on) and Moses the Raven (the organised religion) go away. The first summer passes and the animals (proletariat) do not realise that the pigs (Party Members) are gradually eating more and working less than the others. Old Major dies and two young boars, Napoleon (Stalin) and Snowball (Trotsky) compete for the leadership of the farm. Their enmity soon becomes clear, but they work together to beat off Jones when he attempts to recapture the farm. The “battle of the Cowshed” takes place and the pigs are the winners. Snowball and Boxer (the peasants) receive a medal, but little by little the living conditions of the animals, with the exception of the pigs and dogs, worsen. Snowball is banished and then executed. Napoleon becomes a legendary figure and is called “leader”. Napoleon is helped by Squealer (The Russian Communist newspaper Prawda) who convinces all the animals to fight for Napoleon. They work on a windmill but it collapses in a windstorm. The animals work harder and harder, while the pigs move into the farmhouse using beds and dishes. One day they appear walking on their hind legs and carrying whips. The Seven Commandments are altered and are reduced to only one “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” and their previous slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad” is changed into “Four legs good, two legs better”.
Years pass and a group of farmers come to the farm for a party, but a violent quarrel breaks out over game of cards. When the other animals peer in, they find that it is impossible to distinguish the pigs from the men (the growing resemblance of Russian Communism to Western Capitalism).
The story takes place in the English countryside. Orwell sketches the rural background effectively giving the basis of realism to the fable. In this way he satisfies his purpose: he creates a microcosm in order to reveal the universal truth about human relationships and societies. The windmill assumes quixotic overtones and becomes a means through which Napoleon can control the animals and their possible deviations.
Every chapter starts with a movement of the seasons because the cycles of nature give the tale the quality of a universal story. The chapters cover a period of about four years; only the last chapter is different and it opens with the words “Years passed”. It gives a sense of distance, a projection into the future, a sort of warning for the human beings and so it becomes the climax of the book.
Animal Farm is a fairy tale and it would be inappropriate to speak about characters with a psychological development. It is more correct to consider them as figures that become symbols of Orwell’s thoughts. NAPOLEON: Probably Orwell chose this name because it reflects the personality of the historical Napoleon, Emperor of the French. Napoleon, like Stalin, is slower than his archrival Snowball. He is characterised by great force of will and personality, total lack of scruples, and some uncontrolled personal habits which he carefully hides, only his trusted followers, who are dependent on his good will, know about them.
SNOWBALL: The rival of Napoleon. As pointed out in the text, he should be Trotsky in terms of the historical satire on Russian history. He represents also the scapegoat
at, needed by every dictator. The Leader claims to be omnipotent and all-powerful. Everything which goes wrong on the farm is blamed on Snowball, and Napoleon thus succeeds in creating a “devil”, an adversary to satisfy the psychological need of his subjects to have an object on which they may project their frustration at the failure of some of the programs of the farm. OLD MAJOR: The prophet of the Animal Revolution, who dies before the Revolution actually takes place. He dreams the Revolution, and he seems to represent Karl Marx, the most important historical theoretician of Communism and of the doctrine of the World revolution that is to bring about a millennial and classless society and to change human nature. Old Major also represents all great thinkers.
SQUEALER: The “mouthpiece” of Napoleon, corresponding to a totalitarian minister of propaganda such as Dr. Gobbles under Hitler. He does much of Napoleon’s dirty work, and it is clear that he exercises “reality control” over the other, animals that are less perceptive or subtle. He has the function of concealing the truth from the animals, and in doing so, he perverts even the language, using euphemisms instead of plain words to make that which is brutal or painful, palatable.
THE DOGS: They correspond to the Secret Police and to the other apparatus of terrorism and repression in a totalitarian state.
MOSES: A raven, who does not work as the other animals do on the farm. He is a spy and a talebearer. He symbolises the Orthodox Church.
BENJAMIN: The donkey, cynic, who does not believe that anything will be different once the revolution has come. His pessimistic view corresponds to Orwell’s own view.
BOXER: An enormously strong horse, who performs prodigies of physical strength. He blindly believes in the Revolution. He represents the unthinking masses.
CLOVER: A mare, a hard worker, not very bright, who, like Boxer, allows herself to be tricked again and again by the pigs. MURIEL: A white goat, who is able to read somewhat better than most of the animals and reads the commandments for them.
MOLLIE: A pleasure-loving white mare who draws Mr.Jones’ trap. She succumbs to the attractions of “bourgeois society”, and could probably be called a “reactionary” or a “right-deviationist”.
THE CAT: An individualist, who votes on both sides of the question raised at the meeting with Old Major, and who has no commitment to either side.
THE SHEEP: The mindless masses, who can only bleat slogans in support of Comrade Napoleon.
THE HUMANS: the human characters play minor roles in the story and they are never pleasant and admirable.
MR. JONES: The owner of Manor Farm who is driven out of his property by the animals.
Specifically he represents the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II; in general he represents the
Tsarist system which had gradually broken down in Russia. Jones is incompetent and selfish, quite often drunk. He is driven off the farm by the spontaneous rising of the hungry animals, because he forgot to milk the cows. That is one of the many reasons.
MR. PILKINGTON: One of the two neighbouring farmers; he is a gentleman who has neglected his work for hunting and fishing. He represents England.
MR. FREDERICK: The other neighbour; a rude man who represents Germany.
MR. WHYMPER: An attorney who does not represent a country, but the group of people who collaborated after the Russian Revolution to restore relationships between Russia and all the other countries of the world.
Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” towards the end of World War II, but he could not publish it until 1945 because of his criticism of Russia, a country in peace with the Western Allies. It was the first book which brought Orwell widespread fame because he succeeded in fusing both political and artistic purposes.
Orwell’s idea is that power inevitably corrupts the best of intentions, and that capitalism is no better and no worse than fascism.
“Animal Farm” is a multilevel book:
-it is a humorous animal story, an animal satire;
-it is an attack on Stalinism, a satire on the history of Russia under communist rule from the Revolution in 1917
-more deeply, it is a description of the ways in which power corrupts.
-it is a satire, that criticises an event, “the Russian Revolution”, through ridicule and contempt.
– it is a humorous story. Orwell uses humour to teach a serious lesson.
Instead of speaking directly about human problems, he puts some animals into a human situation. The animals always remain recognizably animals. In this way the final transformation of the pigs into human beings is a shock and Orwell can illustrate that power corrupts the leaders of the rebellions and makes them exactly like the masters against whom they originally revolted. At the same time, each animal shows a human characteristic and illustrates a specific human problem. This is the fantastic element: the animals think and discuss, carry out a rebellion and build a windmill.
The story is in third person narration and the author does not intrude into the story. The structure of the book is very simple. The story is centred on the expectations of the animals about an ideal society and on their progressive disappointment. Orwell opens “Animal Farm” in an optimistic mood with the descriptions of powerful and willing animals like Boxer and Clover. But this optimistic mood is gradually dissipated by the rivalry between Snowball and Napoleon that changes the prospective of the animals.
Orwell’s style is simple and carefully controlled. He never uses a long word where a short one will do; he uses active verbs and English words. Only the pigs use a language that is rather complex and full of euphemisms. In this way Orwell stresses the absurdity of socialist propaganda.
The result is that Orwell’s language can be understood and appreciated by anybody and his prose is very clear and simple. Orwell’s style does not only teach a lesson as clearly as possible on political freedom and institutions, but it also gives us an example of the kind of clear thinking and writing which will protect our freedom.
The irony is the main literary feature that holds the story together. Orwell’s irony has often been defined as dramatic and pathetic. Dramatic because it makes the reader apparently laugh, but it leaves a bitter taste because of the incoherence of the facts and the manipulation of truth. Pathetic because the reader can but feel sympathetic towards the animals for their innocence.
Orwell uses also a number of symbols as part of his satire and the ideas he wants to communicate: Man must not forget the experience of totalitarianism, as dictatorship is a permanent threat to the future of mankind.
Criticism: At first the book was not accepted because of the alliance between England and Russia against Hitler. Orwell denounced the intellectual cowardice of those publishers who did not permit some political subjects to be dealt with because they were afraid of the readers’ reactions. Secker and Warburg, little publishers that shared Orwell’s political ideas finally accepted the book in 1944. With them the writer had already worked together and they had published Homage to Catalonia. On September 3rd, 1945 Animal Farm was already a success.
Nowadays all the critics agree that this book has an enormous literary and political value and praise Orwell’s way of writing that gives the reader a feeling of rebelliousness against the truth revealed and the ideals betrayed.
• Irony: It consists in saying one thing while you mean another. It derives from the Greek tradition: in Greek comedies the EIRON (dissembler) pretends to be stupid while ALAZON is a stupid and complacent braggart.
• Satire: It consists in exhibiting or examining a vice, making it appear ridiculous or contemptible. It differs from comic in having a purpose: it is usually directed against a person or a type and it is morally censorious. In Latin it means a dish of various fruits.
• Humour: It means mood or character and denotes something that causes laughter.
In the past, until the 17th century, there were four humours, or liquids, in the human body: phlegm, blood, choler and black bile. The one that predominated characterised the personality; an exact balance was a good humour.
• Utopia: From the Greek Outopia= no place; with a pun it can be read eutopia= good place.
Early examples of this way of writing are Plato’s Republic and St.Augustin’s City of God. They are descriptions of imaginary, perfect worlds. Samuel Butler’s Erewhom (1872), anagram of nowhere, describes a country whose ideals are very different from the Victorian ones revealing a satire to the age and its policy.
• In the late 1800s century with the works by H. G. Wells such as the Time Machine (1895) and Modern Utopia (1905) which mix political concerns with pseudo scientifical and technological discourses. The War of the Worlds (1898), about a Martian invasion of Earth is somehow alarming foreseeing a world war with no certain answer to the future of man
• The opposite of Utopia is a Dystopia, an imaginary world even worse than our own. Examples of this genre are J. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels; G. Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 and A. Huxley’s Brave New World.