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Friday, November 28, 2008

 

BOOK REVIEW

Lessons from the farm

George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’

By Evan Tan, Contributor
 

It is definitely not like the stereotypical, “happily ever after” fairy tales. But in C.M. Woodhouse’s introduction to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he defends Orwell’s choice to subtitle the book that satirized totalitarianism as a “A Fairy Story.” “The point about fairy stories is that they are written not merely without a moral but without a morality.

They take place in a world beyond good and evil, where people (or animals) suffer or prosper for reasons unconnected with ethical merit—for being ugly or beautiful, respectively, for instance, “or for even more unsatisfactory reasons,” he notes Echoing the inscription found at the entrance of Hell from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, his introduction clearly warns the reader that there is no happy ending to this book.

The start brings to mind the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions: Animal Farm begins hopefully with the stirring speech from Old Major, Manor Farm’s highly prized Middle White boar. The dying animal accuses Man as the source of animal kind’s misery: “Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.” He then shares his dream wherein all animals would live equally free from the tyranny of men and the solution to achieve it: “What then must we do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race! That is my message to you, comrades: Rebellion!”

The animals are inflamed by the idea of freedom and instigate a revolt. Soon enough, they drive out their abusive master, Mr. Jones, from Manor Farm. They afterwards establish an egalitarian society founded on Old Major’s words: “Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers.”

However, soon after, it all goes downhill: we witness the compromises and corruption that seep in, and the atrocities committed by animals against fellow animals. We read about the hunger to stay in power, and the twisting of facts to suit the creatures in position. We see how the dream of equality is successfully perverted and reduced to nonsense, as evidenced by the manipulation of the farm’s commandment: “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

The characters we encounter in the book are all too familiar: there is Napoleon, the Berkshire boar who becomes drunken with power, manipulating the grand ideas proposed by Old Major to serve his greed; Squealer, his accomplice, who propagates lies to keep Napoleon and the other pigs in rule; Boxer, the brawny horse who blindly and steadfastly professes faith in Napoleon yet is betrayed in the end; Mollie, the self-absorbed mare who flees to another farm after the rebellion, too inured in the comforts of domestication; Benjamin, the disillusioned wise donkey who shows apathy to the rebellion and to change; and Moses the raven, who spins tales of a land called Sugarcandy Mountain, a place of happiness where all the hardworking animals go after death. Being an allegory, Animal Farm proves timely as these animals strikingly reflect people, classes and establishments in our society.

While originally intended to ridicule Stalin’s regime, the book might very well be talking about our present situation. If we believe that history repeats itself and that the lessons we never learn would continue to haunt us, then it should come to no wonder that we see parallelisms between our current state and that of the animals’ in the book.

But while the book itself would remain a tragedy in perpetuity, we who mirror it do not have to suffer the same fate. Animal Farm is not a lesson in fatalism; it is a challenge to people to remain constantly vigilant. True, we might suffer for reasons not necessarily connected with our ethical merits; but then again, as the former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can hurt you without your consent.”

   

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Severino O. Frayna Jr., Benjie Dela Rosa
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