I have always heard people referencing George Orwell's Animal Farm. My high school teachers mentioned it in passing, my university English professor cited it as an excellent example of British satire, and my History professors' have recalled it as an adequate metaphor for the Russian Revolution. Yet somehow, after 18 years in BC's education system, I had never read this critical work. A few days ago I set out to do just that.
I reckoned that in one Friday evening I'd be able to read Orwell's work of a mere 90 pages, write a review, and move onto something with less barn animals and more humans. However, Orwell makes 90 pages last an eternity. It has been three days and I've only just finished reading.
I must admit that I agree with my professors - this book is most definitely a well thought out satire and an interesting portrayal of the Russian Revolution. Throughout his work Orwell suggests that Socialism is premised on good intentions and a Utopian vision of equality. Orwell also portrays the downfall of the revolution - the fact that once the animals (proletariat) work to remove the humans (bourgeois) they ineffectively create a new bourgeois class of animal leaders. Lenin and Stalin both make appearances as pigs leading the revolution. Orwell illustrates the manipulation of the government, preferential treatment of certain animals, purges, and show trials.
As a History major I found Orwell's work boring and predictable. Maybe it is because I knew how the revolution would pan out or the story's mono-dimensional characters and lack of dialogue... but, for one reason or another, the story felt flat.
Orwell's work also exudes 1940s gender dynamics. Though this isn't a surprise (especially for the time era) I did find it interesting and note worthy that gender came up in a barnyard story. While the males were portrayed as sturdy workers, leaders of the revolution, or seeking to destroy the newly created society, females were illustrated worrying about not having enough food and fashionable clothing. Orwell escalates this theme by having one of the mare's flee the farm in order to receive attention and grooming from humans.
While I was reading Animal Farm I began to wonder if it is possible to remove proletariat and bourgeois class dynamics. Can there be a classless society? Is equality between all people a societal goal that can be reached?
Of course the answer is no. There is no possibility of ever removing the tension between the bourgeois and proletariat. There is no possibility of living in a completely equitable society for people of all ethnicities, physical abilities, sexual orientations, ages, classes, genders, and sexes. Inequality would continue to exist even if we were to wake up in the morning and miraculously find ourselves in an equitable society. I believe equality cannot be reached as people have internalized their cultural histories of oppression and subordination, which in turn become reflected in one's self-identity.
Instead of searching for equality I believe that people should recognize diversity. For if Animal Farm has taught me anything, it is that whitewashing everyone as equal denies individuality and creates opportunities for further exploitation. Recognition and acceptance of differences are integral steps towards a harmonious society.