I just finished reading Animal Farm for the second time.
I had a very different experience reading it this time than the first time I read it (last summer) for a number or reasons:
Firstly, I was re-reading the book because I’m going to be teaching it to a group of year 9 students (aged 13 and 14), so I wasn’t simply reading the book for pleasure (although it WAS still pleasurable) but looking closely at the various levels of meaning and thinking about how I can set up activities for the class, so they can access the different meanings and enjoy reading the book!
Secondly, I’ve always known that Animal Farm is an allegory for The Russian Revolution, but the first time I read it I was encouraged to read it simply as a story about animals, which I did and I found it a very enjoyable read.
However, this time I read the introduction too. It reminded and informed me of the context in which the book was written: The end of the Second World War, the tensions as the Cold War started to rear its ugly head and Orwell’s passionate and very active defence of freedom of speech and humanity. This passion is clear with even a simple reading of the novel. The animals are clearly subject to maltreatment and taken advantage of by the humans and the more intelligent members of the farm.
This time however, I brushed up on my Russian history. I read about Tsar Nicolas and Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin. I found out a bit about the forced labour camps and the propaganda and realised just how clever Orwell’s “Fairy Story” is. In one of his introductions, Orwell clarifies that he has changed the chronological order of the events and actually, in today’s world (in my sphere of experience [ignorance?]) where Stalin and Trotsky are little more than names in a text-book, the exact details are maybe not important.
Animal Farm is a story about what happens when the majority are ruled over my a minority who are not held to account. It is, perhaps, a story about the importance of education and the empowerment of the people – reflecting Orwell’s Socialist, anti-Imperialistic beliefs.
The novel is short: less than 100 pages. Orwell’s writing is plain and simple and hugely provocative (the manuscript was rejected by various publishers before finally going to print in 1945) and because of this not inconsiderable skill, the novel is hugely valuable on many levels.