Animal Farm at 75 ‘still as relevant as ever’

Controversial: Four publishers rejected the book over worries about the UK-USSR alliance.

Is Animal Farm still relevant today? As Orwell’s classic celebrates its 75th birthday, some commentators warn its anti-totalitarian message remains grimly pertinent to the modern world.

George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm, yesterday, celebrated the 75th anniversary of its publication.

The book tells the story of a group of farmyard animals that overthrow their human master and replace him with a collective leadership of pigs. At first, the pigs promise they will create a new society where every animal is rewarded equally for their hard work.

However, the pigs soon begin to forget their pledge and a life of brutal repression returns to the farm. By the end of the story, lead pig Napoleon is is as bad as his human predecessors.

When Orwell wrote Animal Farm in the 1940s, he was thinking about real-life events in Russia. Snowball, the original architect of the uprising against the humans, is modelled on Trotsky. His challenger, the totalitarian Napoleon, represents the dictator Stalin.

It has been a long time since Stalin ruled over Russia. But, for some commentators today, the scenes described in Animal Farm remain strangely familiar.

American journalist Jonathan Russo believes the book “perfectly describes life in the era of Donald Trump”.

It is easy to imagine his catchphrase “Make America Great Again” scrawled alongside “four legs good, two legs bad” on the side of the barn.

So, is Animal Farm still relevant today?

“Four legs good, two legs better”

Yes say some. It may be 75-years-old, but Animal Farm remains one of the most brilliant analyses of unchecked political power. Orwell anticipated some of the most defining phenomena of the 21st-Century political arena: fake news, misdirection, and authoritarian rule.

Orwell was not a fortune teller, say others. If you search hard enough, anything could be relevant. Animal Farm was written about the horrors of life in Russian gulags in the early 1900s, not about 21st-Century USA.

You Decide

  1. Is it useful to compare real life and fiction?

Activities

  1. Animal Farm is an example of allegorical fiction, where a story is used to deliver a message about real-world events or issues. Write your own short story or fictional scene which delivers a message you think is important.

Some People Say...

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

George Orwell (1903-1950), English author and journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most agree that 20th-Century dystopian fiction has come firmly back into fashion. After Donald Trump was elected US president in 2016, publisher Penguin Random House saw sales of George Orwell’s 1984 rise by an astonishing 9,500%, propelling it to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. And when Margaret Atwood sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale was released in the UK last year, one copy was sold every four seconds in its first week on the shelves.
What do we not know?
Exactly why people like to read dystopian fiction. Some believe that dystopian novels help people question the world around them; classics such as Animal Farm provide both a warning but also a comforting reminder that humans have faced totalitarianism in the past – and overcome it. Others say it is simply a form of morbid escapism.

Word Watch

Pledge
Promise.
Repression
Control by force.
Napoleon
Napoleon the pig brutally overthrows all of his rivals to declare himself the supreme commander of Animal Farm. Eventually, he starts to walk on two legs and play cards.
Predecessors
People who held a job before the current holder.
Snowball
A committed believer in equality, and one of the original pig commanders of Animal Farm. He is chased away from the farm by Napoleon, who then steals his idea to build a windmill and claims it as his own.
Trotsky
A Russian revolutionary, politician, and communist. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929 following the rise of Joseph Stalin.
Totalitarian
When a political system or leader requires people to obey completely and unquestioningly. In a totalitarian system, people are not allowed to express their own opinions.
Stalin
Joseph Stalin was the president of the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953. He transformed the country from a farming society into an industrial superpower. However, he was a brutal leader, and millions of his own citizens died during his leadership.
Phenomena
Plural of phenomenon, a fact or event that you can see.
Misdirection
A form of deception to draw attention to one thing to distract it from another.
Gulags
Forced labour camps established by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, housing both small-time criminals and political prisoners.

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