Animal Farm: Best (yet) history of the Russian revolution

                                      

I’ve only read a few histories of Russia. N. suggested the category “Books set in Moscow,” but I find Russian everythings (history, literature) daunting and intimidating, and so I’ve done my best to avoid finding out how little I know by avoiding reading anything too Russian (notable exception: City of Thieves, which is really, really, awesome). If I had known all I needed to do to understand the Russian revolution was to read Animal Farm I might not have spent so many years in self-imposed ignorance.

In any case, after reading (well, listening to) Animal Farm I feel I have a grasp on the main players and events of the Revolution. I appreciate the extent to which propaganda was used (have I already forgotten the book I read earlier this year about propaganda? what was it? set when Trotsky dies? Sigh.) to lead the “masses,” and the ultimate capitulation of communist/socialist/marxist ideals. That said, I do not have any better understanding of the differences among communism, socialism, marxism. I did not appreciate the representation of the animal masses (the sheep, the dogs, the ducks, the people) as unthinking and blithely following orders.

As for the classification of this book as a book with “non-human protagonists,” I feel somewhat reluctant to class it as such. This book has human protagonists, who happen to be pigs/horses/ducks. The only non-human character is the cat (unnamed) who behaves as a cat ought to: with a total disregard for the expectations and desires of others.

I do have a much better appreciate for why this book makes such frequent appearance on high school curricula: it perfectly demonstrates allegory and symbolism. That it does a poor job of characterization is probably an effect of the allegorical focus. What I mean is, I wonder whether a straightforward allegory can have interesting and complex characters if the whole point is to replicate/represent real events in symbolic/narrative terms? Maybe?

All said and done I feel braver in approaching Russian history because now I’ll picture dueling pigs and subservient horses and all will make perfect sense.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Fiction, Prize Winner

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