Animal Farm – George Orwell (Book Review)

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George Orwell’s classic novella has been sat on my shelf for some time now, but I can finally say I have read it:

Animal Farm is the most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories. Its account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one of the very few modern satirists comparable to Jonathan Swift in power, artistry, and moral authority; in animal farm his spare prose and the logic of his dark comedy brilliantly highlight his stark message.

The story follows an uprising on a farm where the animals, convinced that they would be better off without the rule of humans, decide to overthrow and run the farm under their own commandments. The list include the necessity for all animals to not aspire to be like the humans, and that all animals are equal, summarised as “4 legs good, 2 legs bad”.

As the story develops, the pigs, who are the most intelligent animal, begin to make decisions in regards to the farm, and by propaganda, convince the animals to patriotically accept the long work hours and reduced rations as a better alternative to human rule – all the while the pigs don’t work and get increased food.

The book is an allegory for a political state known at the time of Orwell, namely the Soviet Revolution. The inability for true equality and the consequences of the new order making a good comparison, and is strikingly important even today. The methods employed politically being perhaps similar no matter the political system adopted by any given country.

Overall the story is quite bleak, with the feeling of deception and hopelessness throughout. An important read for everyone, and one some are fortunate to read during their education.

I have discussed before the ideas held by Orwell in contrast to Huxley (see Brave New World and 1984 reviews), but nonetheless I feel that this is an important read. I’m not aware of any modern equivalents tackling our own political systems in the west.

Certainly a book to consider if you have no read already – it something I think everyone should read for the importance of the message within.

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Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (Book Review)

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I read this after reading much about it in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I often saw it in book shops on the “Must Reads” tables, and so reading it was inevitable:

Hundreds of years in the future, the World Controllers have created an ideal civilization. Its members, shaped by genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning, are productive and content in roles they have been assigned at conception. Government-sanctioned drugs and recreational sex ensure that everyone is a happy, unquestioning consumer; messy emotions have been anesthetized and private attachments are considered obscene. Only Bernard Marx is discontented, developing an unnatural desire for solitude and a distaste for compulsory promiscuity. When he brings back a young man from one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old unenlightened ways still continue, he unleashes a dramatic clash of cultures that will force him to consider whether freedom, dignity, and individuality are worth suffering for.

The book essentially follows two main characters who are living in a future where amusement and consumership are held in the highest regard, and where it is considered the height of barbarism to commit to only one other human in a monogamous relationship, or to (worst of all) became a parent. Babies are grown in test-tubes in this future, and abortion clinics are there for emergencies (though from a very young age, contraception is taught to be of the utmost importance).

Bernard Marx struggles in this society as he has found within himself another desire – a desire to be an individual. This world which humans exchange sex and drugs so casually sickens him, and he wishes to abandon his base desires in order to search deeper meaning – though this is actively discouraged!

Upon bringing back a “savage” (raised by a mother, taught monogamy, and to whom religion is very important) to “civilised” society, the savage shocks many with his views and disgust towards this world. Even when the girl he is in love with offers him sex so casually, he is infuriated and refuses this meaninglessness she has attached to offering her body to men.

The book is a strange one as it differs from Orwell’s 1984 in a few stark ways:

Firstly, the world is controlled through the means of pleasure and an abundance of amusement. This keeps the population so disinterested in seeking out individualism or meaning, as they are kept sedated from doing so by having all they seemingly need.

Secondly, the characters revolt against the system isn’t so much a physical one in attacking the government, but a mental one in which he must battle the things he has been taught as normative since birth (and often failing to do so).

Thirdly, the number of those in revolt against the system are so few as to make their impact near negligible. Rather than groups of “rebels”, there are only two people within the novel who seemingly want to change the world, or at least survive it differently.

There are moments when the book took a little inferring due to leaps in character development with little build-up, but otherwise it was written fairly well and with haunting clarity.

Postman suggests (and I would tend to agree) that insofar as predicting the future, Huxley was much more on target: We now have an abundance of entertainment and attach a great deal to being constantly amused (affecting all areas of our life from religion to education); we take little to no interest in politics or meaning unless it directly affects us and our comfort; and (without perhaps sounding prudish) we have diminished the meaning of sex to little more than a physical exchange, and monogamy to little more than an outdated way of viewing relationships. We are entering this “Brave New World”, not in such a dramatic way, but step-by-step.

1984 – George Orwell (Book Review)

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After much delay I finally got around to reading the famous “1984” – perhaps it following so closely after Shades of Grey is somewhat telling, but nonetheless it had been on my reading list far too long:

Nineteen Eighty-Four revealed George Orwell as one of the twentieth century’s greatest mythmakers. While the totalitarian system that provoked him into writing it has since passed into oblivion, his harrowing cautionary tale of a man trapped in a political nightmare has had the opposite fate: its relevance and power to disturb our complacency seem to grow decade by decade. In Winston Smith’s desperate struggle to free himself from an all-encompassing, malevolent state, Orwell zeroed in on tendencies apparent in every modern society, and made vivid the universal predicament of the individual.

It is likely that you have heard of this book: in a dystopian reality, there are now 3 major world powers – one of these being Oceania, ruled by The Party and their political head: Big Brother.

Within this state, people believe what they are told and think only what the party allow, or else face punishment from the Thought Police. Winston secretly has anti-Party thoughts, however, and with the similar thinking Julia, begins seeking revolution.

The story is sometimes a difficult one, and I read one person describe it as “an essay”, which I get – many chapters feel like the characters are decoration to something Orwell really wants you to understand. That being said, there certainly is a plot, the conclusion of which will have you squirming.

What is interesting about this book, and is surely intentional, is that it reflects much of society as it began changing and certainly some ideologies held highly now. Not least among this we would recognise as the post-modern thought that somehow we should no longer fight for the reconciliation of subjective thought and external truth, but that we decide what truth is – if we all agree that 2+2=5, then it must. This is something Winston argues against vehemently, and I with him – we don’t determine our external reality, simply because we don’t like it.

As news is fabricated and reports constructed in order for the thoughtless mass to believe anything, the struggle in the society where “Big Brother is watching” is surely a terrifying one. The ending left me feeling a little defeated, and it certainly had an impact.

If this is a classic you have been delaying reading, it may be worth your time. Be prepared though as it isn’t particularly light reading!