Animal Farm – George Orwell
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted to be a musician, an author, a poet, an actor. When it came time to pick a college major, these weren’t exactly options, so I picked a safe, profitable degree (marketing). When I stared working a full-time job in addition to my full-time course load, I began to feel utterly burnt out. And I don’t mean “burnt out” as in exhausted and stressed. I was burnt out of life and society. I was 20 years old, and I saw a fifty year road ahead of me, and it was bleak. Fifty years of adjusting my resume. 13,000 days of dreadfully waking up for work. 104,000 hours of unwilling toiling my life away at an unfulfilling job. And a partridge in a pear tree.
I used to think that I was just unusually lazy. Everybody hates work, right? I’m just being slothlike and immature. It wasn’t until I started to understand economics when I realized that such an intense dread of joining the labor force didn’t mean I was lazy — it meant I was a socialist.
If I’d read Animal Farm years earlier, I could’ve saved myself a lot of time in this discovery.
George Orwell is a household name for his dystopian novel 1984, which is kind of the mother of all dystopian books. How many bleak, futuristic settings took influence from the British writer from the 1950s? I read 1984 when I was 13 years old, after curiously pulling it off of my mom’s bookshelf. I read it again in high school, where we tore apart its allegory and cultural impact, and now, it’s probably time for a reread.
Suffice it to say, I am an Orwellian girl living in an Orwellian world. I don’t know how it took me twenty three years to pick up Animal Farm, but finally, FINALLY, I have made my way through another prolific Orwell classic.
Animal Farm takes place on a farm where the animals are overworked, underfed, and unsatisfied. They overthrow their greedy human farmers and take the land for themselves. Quickly, the strong animals are set apart from the weak. The intelligent pigs quickly assume leadership over the meek sheep, take direction of the loyal dogs, and exploit the labor of the hardworking horses. Very soon, the pigs have rearranged the narratives of their existence, expelling their political opponents and rewriting their laws. They make traitorous trade deals with the humans of the neighboring farms, and they keep their own animals slaving over the construction of a windmill, with the promise of an easier future where their work will pay off. The pigs are quickly assuming the roles of the humans, sleeping in their house, wearing their clothes, and even walking on two legs. The farm has been built on the backs of the animals, but the pigs are the only ones greedily reaping the profits.
Animal Farm is a fiercely intelligent allegory to the greed and exploitation that arise in capitalist systems. Orwell has seen the struggle of the farm’s proletariat, and called it out for the slave labor that it truly is. While the pigs gobble up all of the rewards, they lie to the animals that they are supposed to protect and represent. The animals place their faith in their leaders, and are ultimately doomed for it. This is a charming case study of fictitious barnyard life, but it is so resonant with real-world scenarios.
The most compelling aspect, personally, is that the exploitative pig leaders repeatedly convince the animals that if they just work a little bit harder now, if they just build the windmill a little bit taller today, if they just work and ration in the interim, that their future will be easy, free of the long hours and intense physical labor that they currently endure. This statement is so far beyond metaphorical to me. I have an extreme dissatisfaction with the idea of capitalist labor, and the restrictions it places on us. I have to work forty-hour weeks now so that I can afford to live and eat and have shelter, with the hope that in fifty years, I might have enough money to retire and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I have so many problems with this system, and Orwell has laid them all out. We have to struggle now, when we’re in the prime of our lives, working jobs we don’t like, just to be able to survive and enjoy ourselves in the free time that we don’t have. We have to use our able-bodies now to work as hard as we can, so that when we’re fifty or sixty, and too old to enjoy very much, we can live stress-free. The most we can ask if our futures is that it is comfortable and stress-free, so long as our present is filled to the brim with menial labor.
Orwell has expressed an intense dissatisfaction with the problematic consequences of capitalism, and I’ve never had a book connect so deeply to a sociopolitical ideal of my own. Animal Farm is quick-witted, bleak, and critical at its core, but the imaginative, allegorical packaging is charming. This classic is an enduring evaluation of the perils of human greed and the systemic exploitation of the working class. It is as culturally significant now as it was in 1945. It is immediately one of my all-time favorite books.