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Animal Farm as a Fable Essay

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Animal Farm as a Fable

 

Traditional fables are moral stories that usually feature animals. Aesop's Fables, which are probably the most well known, tell tales about animals that have clearly human characteristics, like the sly fox, the patient crow and the selfish dog. Since Aesop's stories have been told for over 2,500 years, they are clearly a form well suited to telling a universal truth in a way that is accessible to children and memorable for adults. In writing Animal Farm, Orwell wanted to express a particular set of ideas about revolutions - ideas that he thought were more or less universal. The success of the book since its publication would seem to indicate that he had the right idea.

 

The plot of Animal Farm is clearly based on the events of the Russian Revolution. Old Major's ideas about animalism correspond to those of Karl Marx, and the way in which they are taken up and put into action represents the activities of Leon Trotsky (Snowball) and a combination of Lenin and Stalin (Napoleon). The haphazard nature of the rebellion closely parallels the opportunistic response to events that brought the Bolsheviks to power in 1917, and the history of the farm roughly follows events in European history up to the Second World War. The fact that we are still reading Animal Farm long after these events have passed into history again suggests something of Orwell's achievement.

 

The fable format allowed Orwell to reduce complicated events to a level that almost anyone could understand - the workings of the Russian Politburo or of the NKVD (the secret police) are complex matters but the story of Squealer and Napoleon's trained dogs is much more accessible. Similarly, the lives an...


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...such as when he speaks of Squealer, "who had unaccountably been absent during the fighting." Again, young readers are likely to enjoy this kind of statement where the real meaning is only slightly below the surface.

 

Fables are meant to have a moral, and the moral of Animal Farm is that all revolutions fail in the end. Orwell could have written a long essay expressing such ideas but it is doubtful that many people would now be reading it. The success of Animal Farm is that it tells the sad tale of a group of creatures we care about, and how their hopes and dreams were dashed. Beyond the surface story, however, is the message that for ordinary people revolutions simply change one set of rulers for another. It is a depressing message but people are prepared to listen to it because it is told in a simple and entertaining way like all the best fables.


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