I’m really excited to share with you my first post in my “Back to Classics” series, where I pick up and review five classics from a specific place on earth. This month is going to be devoted to English classics, and I am going to post three blog posts about what I have read.
This post and the next one are going to be a summary and some thoughts about the classics I’ve read. My third post will be a conclusion on these classics and will also go a bit deeper into some topics common to these books and why they are classics.
Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
In view of the recent disastrous world events, culminating with Trump being elected president of the United States, there has been a renewed interest in dystopian literature in lots of countries. That’s one of the reasons why I absolutely wanted to read George Orwell. As I had already read 1984, I picked up Animal Farm, which is not a dystopian novel but may be his second most famous novel. Animal Farm is a fable whose main characters are anthropomorphic animals. Urged by Old Major, a boar with relentless eloquence, the animals from Manor Farm become allied in order to kick out their master, farmer Jones. They want to end a life of misery and oppression, and declare men as their primary enemies. The rebellion is led by two boars, who take over after Old Major’s death: cunning and powerful Napoleon, and idealistic Snowball. These two boars elaborate a complete system of thoughts based on old Major’s sayings, Animalism, and supervise the running of the farm after the animals have gotten rid of Mr Jones. But, against all expectations, the animals work even more under this new system, and things don’t go exactly as planned.
This book satirizes the Soviet Union. I read it as a satire of totalitarianism in general (and you can totally read it this way) but there are crystal-clear references to the USSR and this is the regime that Orwell specifically meant to target with this book. Napoleon embodies Stalin, the “Beasts of England” song is a reference to The Internationale anthem and so on. I wish I knew more about the USSR history to pick all the references but no matter what you know about that, it is a very pleasant book to read, short and charged with dramatic tension, which goes straight to the point and efficiently deliver its message. Its message is very clear. The book shows how part of the oppressed can become the oppressor under the disguise of helping their fellow-oppressed, and how language and history can be manipulated in order to control the people. Napoleon (aka Stalin) is the real enemy of the farm and its animals. I also really enjoyed Orwell’s remarkable preface to this book, which evokes the difficulties of having this book published and the censorship it faced, the freedom of the press and intellectual liberty (but more about that in my third post). I now want to read more books from Orwell, and also books about him, because he seems to be a fascinating author who has always fought against injustice.
“I merely repeat, remember always your duty of enmity towards Man and all his ways. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.“
“‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not image, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.“
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
We were mentioning dystopian literature with Orwell, and now we are really into dystopian literature. Brave New World takes place in a futuristic world where everything seems to be perfect, under the scrutiny of “Our Ford”, the new God-like figure. This world is governed by ten Word Controllers and a strict social order that allows it to prosper. People are not born from a mother and a father anymore, they are made in labs, where they are also conditioned to be part of a specific class (the Epsilons are the lowest class and do manual and repetitive labour only, the Alphas constitute the intellectual class and hold the highest governmental functions and so on). People are polygamous and always happy thanks to a drug, Soma, which they can take whenever they like and which allows them to “take a holiday from a reality” without any consequences. Most of the books have been banned (especially poetry, classics, the Bible) and replaced with Fordist scientific and propaganda books. Old age has been eradicated too. But in this perfect world, Bernard Max, an Alpha-Plus male, has always felt like an outsider… until he takes vacation to go to one of the few remaining “Savage Reservations” of the world, in New Mexico. There, his meeting with John, a Savage, will change his life.
I really enjoyed this novel. Huxley managed to create a properly terrifying world: a world without meaning. Behind an utopist appearance, Fordism has not made people happier, it has only made them less human. People cannot think or feel anymore. They are just a bunch of consumers doing their work like good soldiers and convincing themselves that they are happy through various gimmicks (drugs, sex, consumerism). It is extremely well-depicted and extremely scary, especially because some flashbacks, references and characters remind us of the “old world” and its freedoms (although the old world as it is depicted here, through the New Mexico Savage Reservation that Bernard and Lenina visit, is a very primitive old world where religion and beliefs are extremely present and it is not exactly similar to our contemporary world nor that great).
At the same time, I also found that some parallels could be drawn between this dystopian world and our society, which sucks quite a bit. For instance, this tendency to seek entertainment everywhere, including in politics, is very present at the moment. Debates are also being shut down in a lot of Western countries, thanks to demagogic politicians. I’d recommend this classic to everyone who tries to understand what is currently happening in our western societies (and there’s a lot going on, we can all agree on that) but also to those who like reading sci-fi or discovering new universes through their readings.
“‘When the individual feels, the community reels’, Lenina pronounced.“
“They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr Savage. Liberty!’ He laughed. ‘Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!‘“
Have you read any of these books? Any thoughts to share about them? See you soon with more English classics!