Almost everyone reads Animal Farm in high school. I did not. I read 1984 years ago, but despite being short, I'd never picked up Animal Farm. It's one of those books I was a bit embarrased to admit I hadn't read, so it was one of my first picks for The Classics Club.
The edition I read was a beautiful illustrated anniversary edition that I highly recommend. The pictures enhanced the story, an additional way of humanizing the animals. I became quite invested in the story and grew to love and hate many of the characters. That surprised me more than anything, although considering my love of animals it shouldn't have. And I should have remembered my rule about not reading books with animals on the cover. I bawled. I only teared up at The Fault in Our Stars, which I just finished tonight and will review soon. I'm an odd human.
I don't normally like allegories, and I think that's what I expected from Animal Farm. I expected something like Pilgrim's Progress, where the characters don't feel remotely real. Instead they jumped off the pages, more alive than many human characters. I actually think the characterization was better in Animal Farm than in 1984.
But, the heart of Orwell lies beneath the characters, with the philosophy behind their actions. I now understand how people on both the right and the left claim him for their own. He shows the good and the bad of socialism and democracy and everything in between. He shows the natural progression governmental philosophy, how we are doomed to keep moving in a never-ending circle. All of our governmental structures are flawed because humans are involved. Some will always "more equal than others." None will ever be perfect or work exactly as planned. Bit of a depressing guy, that Orwell.
After reading Animal Farm, I see how socialists pick up on his anti-capitalist ideas and how capitalists pick up on his anti-socialist ideas. It's interesting how they don't seem to see he's commenting negatively on both. A large part of the population is stupid and will go along with a charismatic leader until he/she becomes a dictator, then the people will rebel and form a democracy, then Mr./Mrs. Charisma will reincarnate and convince them to hand over control and repeat the process. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's what I got out of the story. I was reminded of the negativity of Hobbes, about man's life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
There was something freeing in reading it though. I used to be heavily politically involved, working on campaigns, constantly watching and analyzing the news, discussing politics with my husband. I've started to become disinterested, not that I don't care at all and of course I still vote and pay attention, but I'm not as emtional about it as I once was. Part of that may be that I'm a libertarian and I've learned most people will never believe like I do, so while I'll still support my beliefs I don't fight so hard to convince everyone else that I'm right. It's freeing and I'm actually much less stressed because I just accept the government is and always will be extremely flawed. That sounds terrible, but I actually feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I no longer feel responsible for persuading everyone else that they're wrong. :)
I wonder though, if teaching Animal Farm in high school is wise. I can see how it might teach kids to be apathetic and assume they can't make a difference and we're all screwed anyway. Hopefully teachers focus more on the importance of being educated and knowing the rules yourself so that no one can take control of your life without you at least knowing it.
Now that I've read Animal Farm, I'm interested in rereading 1984 with this as background. I think 2013 may be the Year of Rereading as I have quite a list of books I want to reread going!