Although George Orwell’s satire Animal Farm was published almost eighty years ago, it is still a today’s classic. This is one of the best examples of how art and politics are closely related. Even now, the book remains on the best-read lists, its phrases are continuously applied to today’s events and the themes it entails are familiar to younger generations.
Recently, there has been a view that art and culture should not be linked to politics. But Orwell could not imagine art without political aims, he said that “all art is propaganda”. Reading Animal Farm, even without knowing the historical facts, allows us to understand the wider issues that have existed for centuries and to apply the idea of satire to the present day. It is a story about how people become selfish pigs. It was Orwell’s ambition to link art with politics because art opens the eyes and helps us to see the obvious. By addressing political themes through his art, he focuses on important problems in society and draws attention to what is wrong.
The English writer Eric Arthur Blair, under the pseudonym of George Orwell, published this satirical allegory in 1945. Inspired by the ending of World War II and its dictators of that time, the book highlighted the themes of totalitarianism, discrimination, and inequality. As the author himself stated, the book is inspired by communism and the ideas spread by the late Soviet Union.
Despite being a well-known and widely read classic in the world today, the book was initially not well received: four publishing houses refused to publish Animal Farm because it was seen as too controversial in the context of that time. It was also rejected by the renowned poet Thomas Stearns Eliot, who found the satire “unconvincing”. Only at the end of the Second World War was there fear of the Soviet Union’s reaction to the allegorical but obvious criticism of communism. In spite of that, the book was published and received international acclaim: the Times magazine listed this political satire among the 100 best English works of all time.
The book tells a story of a cattle farm where a coup against a cruel farmer takes place. In their quest for freedom and a better life, the animals rebel against their master, creating new laws and an ideology based on equality and justice. The revolution is successful, but over time the new order and all moral principles collapse as one group, the pigs, begins to gain influence. The leaders of the revolution themselves become indistinguishable from the enemies against whom they fought. Through betrayals and quests for influence, gradually, a dictatorship is born again, where “some animals are more equal than others”.
Whilst Orwell refers to the title of the allegory as a “fairy tale”, it is hard not to notice the similarities between the events described in the book and the real events. The book reflects the October Revolution of 1917 and the reality that followed. He emphasizes the cyclical nature of history: on the farm, everything ends as it began, and it becomes difficult to distinguish between “pig and man”. The characters in the book are also inspired by real personalities: Old Major reflects Karl Marx, the founder of communism, whose ideology started the revolt against the farmer. Major inspired people to strive for equality and to build a more favorable, utopian society. The pig named after Napoleon is inspired by Stalin, who became the new leader. As time went on, Napoleon’s quest for more and more power made the new system a little different from the one that existed before the revolt. The snowman reflects Leon Trotsky. The satire touches on the theme of betrayal and the differences between Leon Trotsky and Stalin.
Albeit the book directly criticizes the policies of the Soviet Union of that time, it is possible to see echoes of the themes in the book even today. Orwell calls attention to the dangers of political power and corruption, and criticizes dictatorships that are based on propaganda, fear, and coercion. Due to its accurate representation of history, it seems that this satire could have been written in this century. It is evident that the Russia of today is not unlike the Russia criticized by Orwell: corruption is still deeply rooted in the country, there are no democratic elections, and the country uses the cover of propaganda, fear and lies to create the illusion of a strong country. Orwell’s irony and sarcasm also reveals how excessive ambition to secure greater influence and political power only weakens the country further, this is reflected in war between Ukraine and Russia that started almost two years ago.
Even though the pigs, which are gaining influence, are starting to lie to the other farm inhabitants, the other animals believe that the leaders’ goals are not selfish. The most loyal animals, even when forced to work hard and when they see the situation deteriorating, believe that the leaders are doing their best to make the farm better for everyone. In the end, they cannot even imagine a different life because they have unconditional faith in their leaders. The book is pessimistic because it seems that revolutions achieve nothing, and history repeats itself. However, the book is not a pessimistic view of the future, but a warning to readers: an unchecked government without public involvement is moving away from democratic principles, so the public cannot passively watch politics from afar. It is a reminder to people not to be swayed by propaganda and to be able to distinguish truth from lies.
There is a feeling of déjà vu when reading this work, the present-day situation, where the Russian authorities cover up the crimes committed in the war, disguising them with false aims and noble ideas, seems to be very close to the world created by Orwell. The allegorical story revealed in Animal Farm is therefore a perfect example why the themes in art remain relevant for a long time and can help us understand history or political events better than textbooks. Even after many years Orwell’s political critique, precise warnings and prophecies make him one of the world’s most widely known authors, and his work being revived in new formats. In 2020 Orwell’s work has been made into a video game that allows people to become the inhabitants of the farm he describes; it lets the players make their own decisions and reacquaint themselves with this educational story.