Friday, November 05, 2004

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

For some reason the last time I remember reading a copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm was when I was catching a train along Wellington Parade to a flat I was living in in East Melbourne. That would have been around 1992.

Seeing I've suddenly become addicted to reading George Orwell I picked my 1970's copy of Animal Farm off my shelves and read it again while waiting for The Clergyman's Daughter (his second novel) to come in at the library.

It's only 120 pages, is subtitled a fairy story, and you can read it in a night. It's almost a prelude to Nineteen Eighty Four, with its razor sharp description of modern political processes and their realities. I presume a lot of it must have been based on the Russian revolution. Especially the rivalry between the two pigs Snowball and Napoleon. In Russia, Stalin was lucky to have an ailing Lenin who popped off quite young, in his early fifties if memory serves me right. That left him free plough on to power.

A key theme of Animal Farm, as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is how quickly reality is forgotten. Or rather, how swiftly power hungry politicians move to erase or re-write history. The Animals' revolution starts off as a dream, literally. An old pig, Major, at the starts relays his dream of freedom. Major dies. Revolution ensues. The animals take over Mr Jones' s farm. Seven commandments are written up, most notably, Thou shall not kill other pigs. Then, each time one of the commandments is broken, someone secretly makes a slight change to the broken commandment.

For example, after a mass execution of suspected traitor animals, the commandment against killing is changed to Thou shalt not kill another animal without cause. Each commandment goes through these small changes until the commandments are done away with entirely and it is replaced with the famous phrase, All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Or something like that, I forget.

I've said it once and I say it again: How relevant to today. This is how I imagine the Iraq war playing out. Eventually people will start to forget the original reasons for going into the war, the lies and deceptions. Wars move quickly. So far we have been subjected to a ever changing line of reasoning for invading Iraq. The job of our current politicians will be to erase memory and reason.

Another theme I really love in Orwell's later work is his concern with how language is used and manipulated, and how it affects out attitude towards reality. The seven commandments change throughout the novel. The animals' revolutionary songs are changed by those in power. Their work and war chants are changed too to suit the aims of the self appointed leaders. Those who are illiterate or poorly educated are the easiest to manipulate and control.

Animal Farm is certainly a depressing mirror on current political reality. Written in, I think, 1939, it reminds me of that great line by Shakespeare, the past is prologue. We seemed doomed to repeat the past. As a people we can be read like a book.

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