Monday, May 24, 2010

George Orwell, Animal Farm, and Down and Out in Paris and London

Long before 1984, I read Nineteen Eighty-four, but I wasn't impressed. I was a teenager. I wanted larger-than-life heroes and happy endings. I'm not sure how I avoided Animal Farm then. I didn't like talking animal stories, and I thought I knew the  basic riff: It was about how communism was stupid.

Recently, I decided I should read Down and Out in Paris and London. I thought it was great. It's the George Orwell book I would assign to every teenager.

So I decided to read Animal Farm. I'm amazed that any capitalist can stand it. It's damning of totalitarianism, not communism: the farm is a great success until Napoleon takes over. The last paragraph should be very telling: Napoleon's crew are horrors because they've become effectively indistinguishable from humans, who are the book's capitalists.

Incidentally, the use of pigs isn't as simplistic as some people think: the heroic Snowball is a pig, as are four pigs who oppose Napoleon.

Orwell's advice to writers In "Politics and the English Language" is among the best I know:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.