Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who will believe that I did not do this on purpose?

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This is the story of a bunch of animals. (Or is it the story of the RUSSIAN REVOLUTION? WHO KNOWS?) Okay, but seriously, folks. We've got some animals living at a place called Manor Farm, which is owned by Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is an evil evil man (or so we're told) who doesn't feed the animals enough, works them to the bone, and then murders them. As the book begins, Old Major, a very old prize boar, has a dream where the animals take over and run their own world as comrades. He comes up with a few rules, e.g., in fighting Man, we cannot come to resemble him, no animals shall live in a house, sleep in a bed, wear clothes, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, touch money, or engage in trade. Old Major promptly dies (at the ripe old age of 12) and Snowball and Napoleon, two young pigs, set about making Old Major's dream a reality. The animals revolt against Mr. Jones and successfully run him off the farm. They create their own society, make Old Major's rules into commandments, and set about running the farm by themselves. Mr. Jones eventually returns with a few men, attempting to regain control of Manor Farm (which has now been renamed Animal Farm) but the animals fight back, and only one animal dies in their victory. Snowball and Napoleon are competing for the animals' loyalty, and Snowball hatches a plan to build a windmill and streamline work on the farm. Napoleon systematically attacks Snowball's ideas and eventually has him run off the farm. Snowball does not return to the farm, but is blamed for everything that goes wrong for the rest of the novel. Napoleon tells the animals the windmill was his idea, and the animals build it, but it is ruined once by a huge storm and then again by men who blow it up. Napoleon proceeds to break all the commandments set forth in the beginning of Animal Farm, moving into Manor House with some of the other pigs, supervising instead of working, making and drinking beer, sleeping in the beds, wearing ribbons, and eventually, even walking on two legs and trading with men. In the end, Napoleon makes a deal with the local men, and shows them that on his farm, the animals are actually treated worse than anywhere else, but they're happy because they think their "society of equals" is working perfectly.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

First, I wanted to mention that I think everyone in the Google group ended up receiving a series of emails exchanged between me and Gina. Sorry about that, guys! Next time, I'll make sure I email Gina back directly. :)

I wasn't wild about this book, but I can still dig it. I appreciate its relevance (as a metaphor for many things, not just the Russian Revolution, which I didn't actually experience, nor did most of its readers nowadays) but found it to be somehow less frightening or upsetting than 1984.

Favorite animals:

Mollie - she's a horse, and she likes the humans because they give her sugar and tie ribbons in her pretty pretty mane. She has to be convinced that humans are bad, and is told that "liberty is worth more than ribbons". She eventually disappears, and some of the animals catch her living with humans who feed her sugar and tie ribbons in her mane. Good work, Mollie.

Boxer - Boxer is a horse, and he works tirelessly on both windmills. His mottos are "I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right", which don't really serve him that well in life. He ends up with a collapsed lung, and instead of retiring and living out his "pension" in the pasture, he gets sent off to a horse slaughterer. Napoleon claims he died in hospital, but I know he's really glue. Sad. Oh, and the title is a line from Boxer. In the first battle, he thinks he's killed a man by accident, and he says "Who will believe that I did not do this on purpose?" It's such a tender moment in this otherwise callous tale.

Snowball - He's kind of a badass! And the windmill was probably a good idea in the beginning. He also gets a medal in the first battle against the humans.

The cat - The cat tries to eat rats in the beginning of the book, which prompts Old Major to ask for a vote on whether rats are counted in the "all animals are comrades" rule. The animals agree that "rats are comrades", but it comes out that the cat voted on both sides.

--I think the slippery slope with the pigs started with the fact that they only supervise while the other animals work. Clearly that is a problem. Although, what was that, Mom Mom? Supervision's half the job? Half the job. Cancellation's the name of the game.

--All the commandments are broken in this story, which I suppose smacks of blatant irony. Can you imagine breaking all of the ten commandments? Or any set of religious rules, for that matter? I mean, I'd have to kill, steal, worship idols, lie, mistreat my parents, and it just goes on and on and on! I guess they figure if you break 'em all, you're not really making the cut. It certainly made me think the animals were REALLY stupid when they didn't quite notice that Napoleon was breaking all the rules. I mean, a lot of the animals couldn't read, and the animals that could only read the modified commandments (Squealer, Napoleon's numero uno, added choice phrases to the end of the commandments to make sure that Napoleon was still up to code). But still! I guess I'm supposed to feel angry at the stupidity and the "let's just go along with things" attitude. I think that's the point.

--Rewriting history is brought up again, which reminded me of 1984. Not sure which book was published first, so don't know which one used the idea first. But still a very thought-provoking and distressing thought. What if we are all written out of history someday? How many people already have been?

--It's mentioned several times that some of the animals "would have protested if they could think of the right arguments". This hardly seemed realistic to me. I recognize that awful things have happened before where people get steamrolled into being on board with an idea, but is it really because people can't think of the right arguments, or is it because they're cowards? Or is this more irony? Shouldn't it be easier for me to tell if it is irony? But then I think someone said Orwell wrote this in code. Gosh, maybe I missed the whole point. Ah well. Worse things have happened. I'll read up when I finish this post.

--The moment when the pigs start walking on two legs is both comical and horrifying. I especially liked the sheep being taught to sing "4 legs good, two legs better!" to replace their old song of "4 legs good, two legs bad". It made me wonder if there were songs (or other musical propaganda) used in the Russian Revolution to stifle dissent.

Well, I'm going to end this blog, as it's only made me feel very stupid and very uninformed. But I don't like to read about the books before I blog! It changes my whole opinion of them!

Okay. I've already started The Lord of the Flies. Oddly enough, they're both on the reading list for my students this summer. Funny that they're back to back on the list.

Maybe the 8th graders will understand this book better than I did. ARE YOU SMARTER THAN AN 8TH GRADER? I'm not, apparently.


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