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Intro to “Animal Farm” Essay

Animal Farm is a story that cannot be understood and appreciated without a basic understanding of 20th-century European history. While author George Orwell may have featured talking, thinking animals and labeled the story a fairy tale, it very clearly references events in Europe in the time period leading up to and during World War II. Animal Farm is openly critical of all of the major players in the European theater of that time, and each is referenced by an animal at the farm. This should come as no surprise, given that Orwell lived in Europe and was politically active during that time period.

Like many Europeans who were tired of the confines of rigid class-based systems, Orwell could have been considered sympathetic to Communist or Socialist ideals, but was seemingly disappointed by Stalin’s subversion of those ideals for personal gain. In fact, this disappointment is what helps characterize Animal Farm as anti-utopian literature. There are dueling traditions in literature in which authors either describe a utopia, or a seemingly perfect world, or else they take an anti-utopian standpoint in explaining how there is no way to maintain such a perfect world. Animal Farm, which describes the descent of Old Major’s proposed ideal world of animal equality into a totalitarian state run by Napoleon, is decidedly anti-utopian.

One of the interesting characteristics of Animal Farm is that, while it is critical of Communism in practice, it is not critical of Communism as an ideal. Nothing in the novel suggests that Old Major’s ideas about ending the exploitation of animals were somehow wrong. In fact, Orwell describes the animals as being mistreated while under the farmer’s control. This leads one to believe that Orwell believed, theoretically, in the ideal of Communism or Socialism, and was critiquing not the ideal, but the possibility of the ideal. This is an interesting perspective, given Orwell’s own background, which would have placed him in the petty bourgeoisie social class.George Orwell was born Edward Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, in India.

His father was an English civil servant in India. At age eight, Orwell returned to England, where he was sent to boarding school. In 1917, Orwell went to Eton on scholarship, where he was first exposed to the political ideas that would eventually form the foundation of Animal Farm. Upon graduating in 1921, Orwell followed in his father’s footsteps and went to Burma, India, as a member of the Civil Service, where he served from 1922 to 1927. After that time, Orwell seemed to abandon the privilege that came with being a member of the upper class, even if he was a poorer member of that group. He spent a year living among the lower class in Paris and in England, even spending some of that time with homeless people.

It was around that time that he began writing seriously and adopted the pen name George Orwell. While he was gaining respect as a writer, he also had “day jobs,” first as a teacher, and then as the proprietor of a pub and a general store.Orwell became a Socialist in the 1930s, and when asked to report upon the Spanish Civil War, actually fought in defense of his political beliefs and in favor of a Socialist Spain.

However, he was adamant about the differences in the Communist and Socialist philosophies and believed that Communism was a threat to Socialism. He joined in the battle, fighting on the side of the Republicans as a member of a Marxist political party, and he was injured during this service. While the Republicans were successful in the war, the Marxists were not; pro-Stalin factions took over the Republicans. This historical part of Orwell’s life undoubtedly helped contribute to his criticism of Stalin and helped serve as a foundation for Animal Farm, though he would not write the novel for several years.

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