Essays and Criticism
Historical Setting for Orwell's Animal Farm
In the following essay, Fitzpatrick, a Ph.D candidate at New York University, notes that an understanding of the historical setting for Orwell's novel is imperative if the reader is to understand the work as not simply an indictment of Communism in the Soviet Union.
Stephen Sedley, in a 1984 article in Inside the Myth • Orwell, Views from the Left attacking George Orwell's Animal Farm as both politically and artistically lacking, points to the fact that his thirteen-year-old daughter was "bored stiff' by the novel, because she, like most students today, was "too new to political ideas to have any frame of reference for the story." In this, Sedley has a point: in the early 1980s, I was in high school and was given Animal Farm to read for the first time, along with the simple (indeed, simplistic) advice that this novel was an allegory of the Russian Revolution and the decline of subsequent Soviet Communism. The political environment in the United States being what it was in the early 1980s, coupled with the fact of my total lack of awareness of the circumstances of the Russian Revolution and the principles of Marxist-Leninist Socialism which the Revolution at first fought for and then lost sight of, my own interpretation of the novel resembled in both content and complexity the following statement: "George Orwell thought Communism was Bad."
Animal Farm is in fact one of the most studied and most readily...
(The entire section is 1911 words.)
In the following excerpt, Greenblatt explains how Animal Farm reveals Orwell's disgust and disillusion with the socialist causes he once expounded.
Throughout Orwell's early novels, journals, and essays, democratic socialism existed as a sustaining vision that kept the author from total despair of the human condition, but Orwell's bitter experience in the Spanish Civil War and the shock of the Nazi-Soviet pact signaled the breakdown of this last hope and the beginning of the mental and emotional state out of which grew Animal Farm and 1984. The political disappointments of the late '30s and '40s did not in themselves, however, disillusion Orwell—they simply brought to the surface themes and tensions present in his work from the beginning. The socialism Orwell believed in was not a hardheaded, "realistic" approach to society and politics but a rather sentimental, Utopian vision of the world as a "raft sailing through space, with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody," provided men, who, after all, are basically decent, would simply use common sense and not be greedy. Such naive beliefs could only survive while Orwell was preoccupied with his attacks on the British Raj, the artist in society, or the capitalist system. The moment events compelled him to turn his critical eye on the myth of socialism and the "dictatorship of the proletariat," he discerned fundamental lies and corruption. Orwell, in his last years, was a man...
(The entire section is 2246 words.)
Characters and Narrative in Animal Farm
In the following excerpt, Brander applauds Orwell's use of colorful characters and lyrical narrative to balance his bitterly satirical story.
Animal Farm is one of those apparently chance pieces a prose writer throws off, which immediately becomes more popular than his more ambitious writings. A sport, out of his usual way; and yet more effective in the crusade to which he was dedicated than anything else he wrote.
For once, the gaiety in his nature had completely taken charge. He was writing about animals, whom he loved. He had had a rest of nearly three years from serious writing. He wrote with zest, and although humour rarely travels across national boundaries, his enjoyment has been shared everywhere. Humour travels most easily in peasant portraiture, as in The Good Soldier Schweik and Don Camillo; and in animal stories. Not many books have been translated into so many languages so successfully and so quickly as Animal Farm....
The style, like the form, is unique in Orwell's work. He had been a master of the descriptive way of writing from the beginning, from the opening words of Down and Out, but he had never before achieved pure narrative. In Animal Farm, from the start, we feel the special power of the storyteller. The animals expel the farmer and his men and take over the farm. The farmer tries to come back but is driven away. The other farmers do not interfere because they look forward to...
(The entire section is 3429 words.)