Tagged: review

Animal Farm by George Orwell – An analysis/summary … thing?

This is a summary/analysis of Animal Farm by George Orwell that I wrote for yet another class. I think I messed this up a bit – it isn’t really clear what this piece is supposed to be. Regardless, still a great book (or novella, I suppose).

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Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England in 1945. Containing many of the elements and themes that would later define Orwell as a writer, it has come to be one of his most celebrated works, placed only alongside 1984 in terms of its impact and legacy. A symbolic retelling of the events leading up the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the subsequent Stalinist period of Soviet Russia, it incorporates Orwell’s keen awareness of social justice with the dystopian setting that has become so associated with his work. Through the setting of Manor Farm and the satirical animals that inhabit it, Orwell presents a metafictional work that draws attention to itself as a representation of history, but also serves as a warning about the dangers of power and the methods in which it is attained and used.

The initial conflict is between human and animal, as Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farm, is a cruel and irresponsible drunkard. He is seen by the animals as a representation of all that is wrong with mankind, and they soon resolve to overthrow him, with the pigs of the farm the driving force behind this movement. Old Major, an elderly pig, delivers a rousing speech to the assembled animals, and creates the philosophy known in the novella as ‘Animalism’. Espousing that all animals are created equal, Old Major myopically places blame on mankind for all of their troubles. This speech also illustrates the great power that language can have over crowds, and serves as the inciting incident for the story. He finds supporters in Snowball and Napoleon; two adult pigs who soon become leaders of the newly-found movement. Seven commandments are written upon the barn wall, to serve as a guiding reminder of the shared values they hold. Old Major also imparts a warning that will increase in relevance as the story continues – that ‘in fighting against man, we must not come to resemble him’. All characters are given easily identifiable characteristics, from the slow-witted but powerful Boxer, to the infantile and immature Millie, and all are united in the common goal of overthrowing their human masters.

After the death of Old Major, the animals soon rebel and drive the humans from the farm, destroying all traces of the former regime. The pigs are established as the new leaders, tasked with educating the other animals about Animalism. Snowball and Napoleon are established as the de facto leaders of the farm, which is renamed ‘Animal Farm’. However, conflict between these two characters soon arises, with Napoleon’s theft of communal milk serving as an early delineation between the two. In contrast to Snowball’s high-minded and noble ideals, Napoleon, a ‘fierce-looking boar’,  is concerned with power and is ruthlessly fixed on attaining it. At this point, their revolution has been successful, however it soon becomes clear that the difference between philosophy and implementation is far more marked than the animals may have believed.

At first, the farm operates well, but we soon see the character of the pigs begin to change, with Napoleon and Squealer, the fast-talking mouthpiece of the leadership, showing the most noticeable transformations. The pigs do not assist with any of the work, merely standing behind the other animals as they toil, and begin to appropriate food for themselves alone, which is relentlessly rationalised by Squealer. The overall goal of most of the characters has been achieved, but we now see that the pigs have a very different goal in mind, and are beginning to advance inexorably towards it.

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After a failed attempt by humans to regain the farm, the conflict between Snowball and Napoleon soon escalates to violence, and Snowball is driven from the farm by three vicious dogs, trained by Napoleon for this express purpose. This conflict is ultimately ended with Snowball being branded a traitor, with any mention of his name strictly forbidden. The history of the farm is rewritten, and all traces of Snowball are erased from record. After the defeat of the humans, the farm begins to adopt a militaristic tone, and the pigs begin to exert further control. Napoleon instructs the animals to construct a windmill, an idea originally proposed by Snowball, but now rather than being a project of self-sufficiency, it is now merely a justification for punitive methods of control.

Napoleon soon establishes total control over the farm, starving the animals and working them harder than they ever had under the rule of the humans. However, all thoroughly believe in the pig’s message, as displayed in the horse Boxer’s unceasing dedication to work harder, all the while constantly reassuring himself that ‘Napoleon is always right’. The animals are entreated to sacrifice for the common good, whilst history is rewritten further, the commandments painted upon the barn walls now subject to alteration. All characters have changed through this process, with the common animals becoming wearily accepting of their life, reduced to the recitation of mindless slogans, whilst the pigs drift closer to becoming the embodiment of the very thing they once rose up to fight.

By the end of the novella, years have passed, and the pigs have completed their assumption of power over the farm. The common animals have no concept of how much time has gone by, and are accepting of their life of toil and oppression, and in an echo of 1984, reason that it must have always been this way. The pigs have completed their transformation, and now resemble humans to such an extent that the common animals cannot tell them apart. The pigs now dress in clothes and carry whips, and all vestiges of the original revolution have been wiped away. In the conclusion of the novella, Orwell reminds us of the dangers of power – that even the most altruistic ideals can be warped into being merely the tools of the corrupt and the cruel.

Book review – Rubicon by Tom Holland

A short review of a great book by Tom Holland. I love Ancient Rome; I would love to try to write something involving it, but the research required is a little scary. Anyway, this is from yet another class I took, and it’s nice to practice other forms of writing from time to time.

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At its height, The Roman Empire stretched from Spain to Iraq, encompassing most of modern Europe. It persisted in various forms for 800 years, and much of its legacy can still be felt in Western civilization today, ranging from our legal system, to the names of planets. Throughout its vast and storied history, there are few periods less tread by academics and writers than the transition from Republic to Empire. This is not by accident – it contains some of the most famous people and events of classical antiquity. This is the time of Caesar and Pompey, of Cicero and Mark Antony, a period of tremendous upheaval where politics and the quest for power reached levels of brutality previously unseen. It is upon this period that Tom Holland and his work Rubicon are squarely focused, charting the decline of the republic with an accessible and entertaining work that avoids the impregnability and dryness of most academic writing.

Holland clearly has the credentials to undertake this kind of task. Educated in Latin at Oxford, he has adapted the works of Herodotus, Homer, Virgil and Thucydides for BBC Radio, and his considerable passion for antiquity shines through in Rubicon. Helped in no small way by a readily available cast of epic characters, he creates an informative and modern retelling of the events and major players of this period in history. Superbly paced, the book never feels heavy or dull, each character springing to life from the page unburdened by the two-thousand years of distance from which the reader is peering across. The characters feel alive, their motives and thoughts understandable, and Holland uses this to paint an engrossing and at times melancholy tale of the rise and fall of one of the greatest republics the world has seen. The author relates each character with care, but special mention must be given to the brilliant Cicero, whose story is perhaps most analogous to the republic itself, and for whom the author clearly feels a great deal of admiration. Holland does not gloss over the negative aspects of each figure however, stating succinctly of Cicero that he was “genuine principle fused seamlessly with inordinate self-regard” – a towering figure of the late republic who was nonetheless prone to bouts of unendearing self-pity and pomposity.

The book balances the necessity for information, without which the tale becomes incomprehensible and lacking in context, with the risk of becoming inaccessible and dull, and succeeds at this challenge. Tackling a narrative of such intimidating size is a daunting task, but Holland’s skills as a writer prevent Rubicon from ever becoming bloated or confusing, with the seeds of the continuing story sown into previous events, evolving and moving forward much like history itself. However, although the book relates the fall of the republic somewhat regretfully, the author refrains from placing its demise in the context of its effects upon following history, or from detailing its impact upon Roman citizenry, an omission that could hamper the full understanding of the influence these events would eventually have. This also raises the question of just why the fall of the republic should be mourned. This is a question which the book does not answer, and perhaps should.

Rubicon dispels the myths and dustiness of Ancient Rome, and exposes the enthralling reality of world that despite being totally alien, feels somewhat familiar to those looking upon it two-thousand years later. The fact that Holland succeeds in presenting a relatable vision of this world, that is both informative and entertaining, is a testament to his passion for this era of history, and Rubicon is a fine embodiment of the energy and focus this passion can bring to a work.