October 25, 2016
By Asad Abbas, Junwoo Park, Sophia Sun
A farm with not only animals….
Who: George Orwell
What: Animal Farm
Where: the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union
When: During the 1940s in U.K. and until 1980s in the Soviet Union
Why: For the U.K., Animal Farm is critical to its U.S.S.R. ally; for the Soviet Union, its anti-Stalinist views were intolerable.
Animal Farm is an allegory and dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1945. It is famous for its use of political satire, which critiques the Soviet Union’s communist government. In the novel, Orwell depicts a group of intelligent pigs rebelling and overthrowing their owner’s leadership.
All characters have their reflections in the real world. The pigs represent real Russian and Soviet leaders as they establish their own socialist society. Mr. Jones, the original “tyrant” and human owner of the farm, symbolizes Tsar Nicholas II. After many years of poverty and protests in Russian, Vladimir Lenin threw Tsar Nicholas II out of his throne. (Moran).Using laws such as “All Animals Are Equal” (21), Napoleon, modeled after Joseph Stalin and the leader of the animals, ruthlessly takes control of the farm. Other animals figure into this leadership. Old Major, representing Vladimir Lenin, has a dream about a society in which all animals are equal. He calls this new philosophy “Animalism” (Moran).Modeled after Leon Trotsky, Snowball assists in the animals’ revolution, but is later exiled due to his resistance to his idea to create a windmill that would generate electricity and ease the work of the working class of animals. Napoleon disapproves this idea because the time it took to build the windmill was too long. Thus he has an argument with Snowball about whether to build the windmill or to produce more food. In addition to Snowball, a noteworthy character is Boxer the horse. Orwell states that pigs are an obvious selection as rulers because of their intelligence; however, this “is hardly “natural” according to the GREAT CHAIN OF BEING…, a metaphorical hierarchy via which Europeans for centuries imagined the order of life” (Hamilton 33). In this hierarchy, horses are considered superior because they are smarter and Boxer is a harder worker (Hamilton 33). However, pigs are more inclined to create inequality which emulates people’s perception of rulers (Hamilton 34).
Overall, the book explores the negative consequence of a dictatorship. It suggests that, like Napoleon, the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, is a power-hungry pig, intolerant of any behavior or philosophy that goes against his ideals. According to the table below, while the novel can easily be interpreted as a criticism of Soviet Russia, it criticizes controlling governments more broadly.
Orwell’s controversial depiction of Soviet leadership drew concern from publishers throughout U.K. and Russian. In the U.K, its primary concern was based upon the fact that the Soviet Union and UK had formed an agreement against Germany. As war-time allies, the British officials did not want to publish any texts that would potentially disturb UK-Soviet relations.
For the Soviet Union, the novel had defamed its supreme leader as a pig. To protect Stalin’s reputation and to preserve communism, the book was forbidden to circulate in the Soviet Union after it was first published in 1945, and the ban continued until the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Orwell faced an uphill battle in other ways while trying to get the novel published. Animal Farm was denied four times by different publishers. One publisher agreed to publish the book at first but later changed his decision after the Ministry of Information suggested that they shouldn’t infuriate Britain’s ally.
In his proposed preface of Animal Farm, “The Freedom of the Press,” Orwell shows that despite the amount of published books in U.K. was quite low due to the war while people were yearning for more books, his book was still rejected by publishers. He describes how the British press was controlled by wealthy men and the government.
I can see now that it might be regarded as something which it was highly ill-advised to publish at the present time….Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable.
By expressing his concerns with the severe censorship around the world, especially in the UK, he asserts that writers and novelists have the right to defend themselves and their ideals, just as Russia has the right to defend its own belief in communism. Finally, on August 17, 1945, Animal Farm was published in England. It was then published in the United States one year later by the Harcourt Brace & Company.
But among his peers and other fighters on the battle field against censorship, Orwell received a pretty high reputation. In his famous Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green described Orwell as “a staunch believer in human freedom and social justice” . Green states that Animal Farm was “subject to censorship challenges,” because it “protested totalitarianism”(471).
What’s more, the famous American social critic, Noam Chomsky, also discusses Orwell’s reaction to the censorship of Animal Farm in Britain. In his “On Power and Ideology” speech, Chomsky points out that, as the author of 1984, Orwell is normally associated with the suppression of thought in dystopian, authoritarian societies. But what people usually ignore about Orwell is his stress on “thought-control” in a supposedly free society such as England, where a system of censorship blocks unpopular ideas. To support his view, Noam Chomsky also cites the Preface Orwell wrote on The Freedom of the Press for Animal Farm:
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…
In his view, Animal Farm was self-censored by the publishers due to market and political factors even before it came to the government level.
Unlike most of other banned political satires, Animal Farm is unique because it was censored due to the war-time relationship between the UK and the Soviet Union. The history of its censorship, as well as Orwell’s experience, still provide an invaluable fortune for us. Like professor Richard Keeble, the chair of the Orwell Society said in the interview, “Orwell’s essential aim was to try to understand life and to engage his readers in this search. There is a lot we can learn from Orwell.” Even in modern democratic countries, people still have to fight for the right of free speech and publication, just like Orwell did over seventy years ago. In fact, our way to free expression and a real democratic world can never be smooth.
- Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1954. Print.
- Dag, O. “George Orwell.”: The Freedom of the Press. The Times Literary Supplement, 15 Sept. 1972. Web. 15 Nov. 2016
- Hamilton, Craig. “Allegory, blending, and censorship in modern literature” Journal of Literary Semantics, 40.1 (2011): 23-42. Retrieved 20 Nov. 2016, from doi:10.1515/jlse.2011.002
- Green Jonathon, and Nicholas J. Karolides. The Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York: Facts On File, 2005. Print.
- Noam Chomsky on George Orwell, the Suppression of Ideas and the Myth of American Exceptionalism. N.p., 22 Sept. 2015. Web.
- “The National Archives | Research and Learning | Exhibitions | The Art of War | Propaganda | Personalities.” The National Archives. The National Archives, 06 May 2005. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
- “Animal Farm Presentation.” Emaze Presentations. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
- Moran, Daniel”Animal Farm.” Animal Farm: The Russian Revolution | Critical Essays | CliffsNotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Key words: Animal Farm, George Orwell, Censorship, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Russian-UK relations, Joseph Stalin