Animal Farm & 1984
This combined edition of two George Orwell classics into one hardback volume contains a new introduction by Christopher Hitchens, who wrote a successful biography of Orwell in 2002 (and is well-known in recent years for his anti-religious stance and his death in 2011 from oesophageal cancer).
1984 is the truly outstanding of the two Orwell novels, but with two for the price of one in this book, and Animal Farm also a great read, this is a package not to be missed.
Animal Farm is an allegorical novel that parallels the events and personalities of the Russian Revolution. It is set on a farm on which the animals, finally driven to rebellion by the cruelty of their human farmer, drive him out and set up their own perfect society in which ‘all animals are equal’.
You can have great fun identifying which animals are which historical figures, but there is a serious underlying moral to this story, as of course there always is in a fairy tale. As the years pass, the animals’ perfect society begins more and more to resemble the system they once overthrew.
Animal Farm was written by 1944, but Orwell was not able to get it published till late 1945, as Joseph Stalin and Soviet Russia, at whom the novel is aimed, were feted as trusted allies until the hot war (World War II) started to turn “Cold” after Victory in Europe.
1984 was written in 1948; also directed against Soviet Russia, the choice of date points out that the hard-won freedoms of that present could be reversed into something horrific both by reversing the date and the freedom in what was then still a fairly distant future. It is the 2nd great Dystopian novel of the 20th Century. (The other is Brave New World).
In Brave New World, where at least most people are blindly happy, if ignorant, 1984 is an altogether far bleaker picture of the future.
The world is perpetually at war, and Airstrip One, as Great Britain is now known, is ruled over by the Party, which controls every aspect of life. Every action of citizens is scrutinised through two-way telescreens on most walls, even within homes, and Big Brother watches symbolically from posters out in the streets and public places. Yes, this is where the name “Big Brother” first appeared, and how terms such as Newspeak, proles, doublethink, thoughtcrime, the Thought Police, Room 101 and Big Brother is watching you became part of the vocabulary of Orwellian warnings about the future. As well as those wonderful government contractions we have all learned to hate, such as Minipax, for the Ministry of Peace.
The protagonist is Winston Smith, a writer in the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) which deals with propaganda. Winston writes unpersons – people who have been “vapourised” – out of the the historical records. But deep down Winston is a thoughtcriminal because he hates the Party. When he discovers that Julia, a young woman he previously thought a fanatical member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, also hates Big Brother, they begin a cautious, illicit love affair.
Which of course ultimately leads to personal experience of the thinkpol (Thought Police) in Miniluv (The Ministry of Love, which tortures people in order to maintain Law and Order). And here Winston discovers that the Party seeks to mould even the experience of reality in the individual mind. And it is not interested in the good of others. The Party is solely interested in power – solely for its own sake.
If you think Brave New World is frighteningly close, 1984 is the flip side of the same coin, and even more terrifying in its implications about what is going on around us today.