Guest post: From Animal Farm to Tahrir Square

Author Dirk van Nouhuys  fears that Orwell's 1944 allegory may foreshadow events in North Africa.
It is by chance that I happened on the fine recording of Animal Farm by Bill Nighy on BBC audio at this time. The reading includes a rousing choral rendition of the animal’s anthem, Beasts of England. It is a piquant time to reconsider Animal Farm. So many revolutions seeking democracy and/or social justice are sweeping the Middle East. Animal Farm, an allegory written out of Orwell’s righteous bitterness over what had developed from the Russian revolution, reminds us of how many such hopeful revolutions have accomplished regime change but failed to deliver democracy or social justice. Can we not count the ones that failed on our fingers and toes, whereas for the ones that succeed hands and feet will do?
 I can’t exactly remember when I first read Animal Farm, but at the time I was aware of the allegorical level, but did not focus on it. It seemed a moving animal fable made richer by its social implications.  I remember reading it later with a key and admiring how exquisitely he plotted in the politics of Russia -: this pig is Trotsky, that horse is the working class, etc., though the correspondence is not exact, for instance no pig corresponds to Lenin. Later yet I read it to my children, which they liked, and again was most sensitive to the animal fable. The prose is always Orwell’s decent writing that is clear, a little flat, and does not call attention to itself. The animals are figures, not characters. In every reading, what stuck me most was the dedication and sincerity of most of the animals. So uncritical, so increasingly wrapped in lies by the pigs. Hearing it now I confess it seemed somewhat forced and mechanical, the faults for me of allegory. But it was moving because of my fear and hope for the people of the Middle East.
 [Editor: The Nighy recording may be unavailable. But check out this amusing video of Animal Farm by Scott Pettersen.]

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