George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

67.

Northrop Frye, Canadian Forum

December 1946, pp. 211-12

Northrop Frye (b. 1912), Canadian critic, Professor of English at the University of Toronto, author of Fearful Symmetry (1947) and The Anatomy of Criticism (1957).

George Orwell’s satire on Russian Communism, Animal Farm, has just appeared in America, but its fame has preceded it, and surely by now everyone has heard of the fable of the animals who revolted and set up a republic on a farm, how the pigs seized control and how, led by a dictatorial boar named Napoleon, they finally became human beings walking on two legs and carrying whips just as the old Farmer Jones had done. At each stage of this receding revolution one of the seven principles of the original rebellion becomes corrupted, so that ‘no animal shall kill any other animal’ has added to it the words ‘without cause’ when there is a great slaughter of the so-called sympathizers of an exiled pig named Snowball, and ‘no animal shall sleep in a bed’ takes on ‘with sheets’ when the pigs move into the human farmhouse and monopolize its luxuries. Eventually there is only one principle left, modified to ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, ’ as Animal Farm, its name changed back to Manor Farm, is welcomed into the community of human farms again after its neighbors have realized that it makes its ‘lower’ animals work harder on less food than any other farm, so that the model worker’s republic becomes a model of exploited labor.

The story is very well-written, especially the Snowball episode, which suggests that the Communist ‘Trotskyite’ is a conception on much the same mental plane as the Nazi ‘Jew, ’ and the vicious irony of the end of Boxer the work horse is perhaps really great satire. On the other hand, the satire on the episode corresponding to the German invasion seems to me both silly and heartless, and the final metamorphosis of pigs into humans at the end is a fantastic disruption of the sober logic of the tale. The reason for the change in method was to

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