When his first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, died in 1943, Orwell left London and went to the Hebrides Islands and worked there on Animal Farm from Nov 1943 to Jan 1944. He published it (after initial rejections from several publishers) in 1945 as the war was coming to an end.
The themes of Animal Farm cover a large canvas: Rebellion, Regime Change, Propaganda and Duplicity, Violence and Terror as Means of Control, Exploitation, Human Rights, Obsequiousness, Silent Acceptance of Despotism, etc. These themes were discussed, with illustrations from global and local politics.
KRG welcomes four new readers in our midst. Here they are with the others gathered for a group photograph:
To read a full account of the discussions and the readings, please click below.
The next session is Poetry, on Nov 14, 2011.
Soma displayed the edition she purchased in 1982 (Penguin) as a teenager to read Animal Farm. It was the first personal book she owned. As a selector she was determined not to miss the reading and came in spite of transport problems. She read a passage from Ch IX showing how badly duped the animals were who had joined the Rebellion. All the commandments had been changed to suit the new rulers. The advertised democratic equality had been turned into an autocracy to benefit the rulers at the top (the pigs, Napoleon in particular).
But some animals are more equal than others
Orwell wrote: “The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves.” That's where the revolution of the masses, and hoped-for utopia, are converted into a personal fiefdom for the few at the top who give orders that everyone else must obey. Priya chose her passage to illustrate the point. The rationalisation of the selfish behaviour of the pigs, turning it into a virtual necessity for the revolution to succeed, is typical of what we call “spin” today: the transparent tissue of lies by which media advisers turn the most unethical or immoral of actions by leaders into national imperatives for the security of the homeland, or some other such abstract goal that nobody dares question.
KumKum read her short prepared background on the novel.
Orwell wrote many other books and wrote extensive essays, but his name is most closely associated with his two brilliant satires: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). Both these books manifest all aspects of Orwell's genius. Animal Farm definitely mocks at Stalin's brand of Communism. But keeping his Nineteen Eighty-four in mind, one can conclude that Orwell did not trust any form of autocratic government. He later wrote: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it". (Why I write)
About Animal Farm, George Orwell had this to say: "It was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole." (Why I write).
As one reads the book one can't miss his point. His masterly style of writing prose makes Animal Farm sparkle with satire.”
Talitha had a more pointed remark to Joe: “You are missing the rhythm.” She reread the first paragraph of KumKum's passage to prove that the form and weight of the sentences indeed convey the sense of time having overhauled life:
Thommo decided to read from the opening of the novel which gives a placid view of life when Mr. Jones ran Manor Farm. Strikingly, in a few sentences each animal's character is delineated and we see how they will relate to each other as the novel develops.
Gopa, our new reader, had come thinking it was Nineteen Eighty-Four we were going to read. But she was quite familiar with Animal Farm too and proceeded to read two short passages. The pigs are described in the first: Napoleon is the one who will have his way, although Snowball, also a Berkshire boar, is more inventive. And Squealer, a mere porker, is shown as the persuader, or enforcer.
Bobby got a laugh by starting off thus: “All readers are equal but some readers are more equal than others.” Presumably he meant himself jokingly, since he was the one to start the group that has now become the KRG.
Samuel's reading was about the insidious manipulation of thought processes under a totalitarian regime. There is at first a mild resistance to Napoleon's assuming superior airs, but it is all pacified by the claim that if the animals were left to their own thinking they could be misled by the likes of Snowball with his crazy idea about windmills. Hence ordinary animals needed 'thought guidance'. This finally ends with Boxer the faithful and resolute servant of the Rebellion concluding: “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”
The passage read concerns Snowball's original scheme to generate electrical power with a windmill; that idea had been set aside by Napoleon, and then resurrected again as his own scheme. Events are turned on their head. This is called “tactics” by Squealer, the chamcha of Napoleon. When the other animals show a sign of not understanding the tactics, Squealer calls out the goons, the three dogs, whose mere growl is enough to induce acquiescence.
Animal Farm is a charming way of lampooning the Soviet experiment, which began with a call from Marx to workers to throw off their chains and claim their rights. It was a powerful movement of the 20th century to liberate the working class, but fell into the hands of Lenin and Stalin to implement. To the credit of Orwell he was not fooled about the vices of the Marxist experiment because of his early experience, when so many liberal thinkers in the West were willing to give Communism the benefit of the doubt. The word 'fellow-travellers' became the phrase to denote such well-meaning western liberals.
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
life would go on as it had always gone on — that is, badly. (Benjamin)
hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life. (Benjamin)
It was a pig walking on his hind legs. (the rest of the animals see what Clover saw)
Remarks about the prose style:
KumKum mentioned the relative passivity of US university campuses regarding politics. However, some readers remarked that it is okay that student campuses should be relatively isolated from the operation of political parties on campus, because they distract from the student issues that should be of prime interest. Sunil said the SFI, for instance, is an arm of the Communist party on campus, and does not believe in freedom of speech. The debate went on whether political parties being active on on campus is good or bad.
A diversion was the question of RTI (Right To Information) which results in much waste of time by bureaucrats, for questions are asked that have answers already in the public domain. However, the petitioners demand the answer by an RTI petition because the resulting response becomes a document that can be produced in court as evidence.
Talitha was good enough to rope in Thommo to sing the anthem of the animals sung by Old Major, “a stirring tune, something between ‘Clementine’ and ‘La Cucaracha’ ”:
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.
There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything-in spite of their terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened — they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of —
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
“Comrades!” he cried. “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,” cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, “surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?”
Years passed. The seasons came and went, the short animal lives fled by. A time came when there was no one who remembered the old days before the Rebellion, except Clover, Benjamin, Moses the raven, and a number of the pigs.
Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.
Snowball was a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but was not considered to have the same depth of character. All the other male pigs on the farm were porkers. The best known among them was a small fat pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive. The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.
Meanwhile life was hard. The winter was as cold as the last one had been, and food was even shorter. Once again all rations were reduced, except those of the pigs and the dogs. A too rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism. In any case he had no difficulty in proving to the other animals that they were NOT in reality short of food, whatever the appearances might be. For the time being, certainly, it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations (Squealer always spoke of it as a “readjustment,” never as a “reduction”), but in comparison with the days of Jones, the improvement was enormous. Reading out the figures in a shrill, rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones’s day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy, and that they had more straw in their stalls and suffered less from fleas. The animals believed every word of it. Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail to point out.
“Comrades,” he said, “I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be? Suppose you had decided to follow Snowball, with his moonshine of windmills — Snowball, who, as we now know, was no better than a criminal?”
"We were very lucky to get out of Spain alive," George Orwell wrote afterwards.
On the third Sunday after Snowball’s expulsion, the animals were somewhat surprised to hear Napoleon announce that the windmill was to be built after all. He did not give any reason for having changed his mind, but merely warned the animals that this extra task would mean very hard work, it might even be necessary to reduce their rations. The plans, however, had all been prepared, down to the last detail. A special committee of pigs had been at work upon them for the past three weeks. The building of the windmill, with various other improvements, was expected to take two years.
Old Major's rebellion speech (Ch I)
“Our labour tills the soil, our dung fertilises it, and yet there is not one of us that owns more than his bare skin. You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies. And you hens, how many eggs have you laid in this last year, and how many of those eggs ever hatched into chickens? The rest have all gone to market to bring in money for Jones and his men. And you, Clover, where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age? Each was sold at a year old — you will never see one of them again. In return for your four confinements and all your labour in the fields, what have you ever had except your bare rations and a stall?
“Amader rakto diyei ei mati khopay,
Our labour tills the soil
Amader gobar diyei sei mati hoi sufala,
our dung fertilises it
Tathapi, amra amader piter chamra chhara aar kichhur adhikari noi.
yet there is not one of us that owns more than his bare skin
Tomra goroordal, jara aamar samne boshe achho,
You cows that I see before me
Koto hazar gallon dudh tomra ei gelo bachhar utpadan koreychho
how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year
Sei amrito-samo dudh gachhe kothai?
what has happened to that milk?
Je dudh susshto bachhoorder paner janya uchhito hoi,
which should have been breeding up sturdy calves?
Tar prattekta bindu amader shatrur pete gachhe.”
Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies.