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.


  1. I've always been rather fond of Animal Farm. Still haven't managed to get past the first few pages of 1984, though. For some reason it puts me to sleep almost instantly even if I try listening to it as an audio book.

    Mind you, anything related to Dr. Who also does that to me. Plus Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. My brain, she is a peculiar thing.

  2. I would love to see an animated version of Animal Farm. Not Disneyfied with songs. Hmm. Actually, Disneyed with songs could be great.

    I saw a bunch of short essays somewhere about bad or over-rated books. Their Eyes Were Watching God was included.

    Down and Out is different than his fiction. Maybe it's the first-person that made it more engaging for me.


  4. I loved Down & Out, but it's more of a fictionalized memoir, as is Burmese Days, which I liked better than 1984. I read Animal Farm in with all the other talking animal books around age 7, and was thoroughly horrified.

    Best quote from Down & Out: "He grew very perturbed because one of the books was called The Imitation of Christ. He took this for blasphemy, 'What the hell they want to go imitatin' him for?' he demanded angrily."

  5. Jim Henson's creature shop made a good Animal Farm movie, though you won't like the new epilogue.

    IHMO, the best thing to come out of 1984 was a really good Apple commercial. I generally regard 1984 comparisons in a political discussion as a red flag that the speaker doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

    I have much love for Brave New World, though. And the Road to Wigan Pier is great stuff.


  6. Joel, thanks. After I left the comment, I went googling. That one's available for free on youtube. There have been a couple of others. Sounds like they really screwed up the most recent, which is a shame, because the voice cast was great.

    desultorie, I loved that line. I did come across a mention of the fictionalizing somewhere, prob'ly Wikipedia. He marked up a copy in which he mentioned that the chapter about the hotel in France was straight.

    CC, maybe I should watch the first 9/10s. Apparently, the ending has them all going back to live happily with the humans. (I hear there are a lot of Russians who don't feel like they've been well-served by capitalism.)

    I'll get to Road to Wigan Pier fairly soon, I suspect.

  7. I have always liked Animal farm. I would love to see the animated version.
    I liked your post!!

    This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News