Animal Farm

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First edition. Don't ask how much it's worth.
Great and terrible
Icon books.svg
On our shelf:
Writer's block
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Animal Farm[1]
Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter had done their job.
—George Orwell, December 1946 letter to Dwight Macdonald[2][3]

Animal Farm is an satirical allegorical novella by George Orwell first published in 1945.[4] It is on the rise of the Soviet Union and Stalin, using the 'beast tale' format popularised by Aesop's Fables,Wikipedia (for centuries a mainstay for British children's reading) and using the method developed centuries before by Jonathan SwiftWikipedia - to 'get crap past the radar' by wrapping their tale in something entirely different (as popularised in Gulliver's TravelsWikipedia, another childhood staple).

Eight decades on, it has become a mainstay for Anglosphere school reading lists, partly due to it's relatively low reading age, simplicity of plot and simple brevity. Not that all this is necessarily a bad thing; the work generally gets decent 'ratings' (either at the time or as adults) for enjoyability in polls and listicles prepared à la Buzzfeed. It also means it is fairly solidly within the 'pool of common cultural references'; it's the source of such lines such as 'all X are equal, but some are more equal than others' and 'I will work harder!' which shall come up in everyday discussions sooner or later. If you've not read it, you should. And as all Orwell's work in the English language is (believed) to be in the public domain,[5] 'I can't afford it' is no longer an excuse, that is unless you live in the USA, in which the copyrights might be extant until 2045.[6]


The road to Animal Farm threads through Catalonia, where Orwell was fighting in the Trotskyite POUM militia against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. There he saw first-hand the actions of Stalin's Great Purge,Wikipedia as performed on the NKVD's behalf by the Spanish secret police; Orwell had to flee Spain incognito while other members languished to rot in political prisons. Once out, he discovered that few, if any of the leftist/centrist press in the UK wanted to hear of his experiences (as they contradicted the official line being put out by the Soviet Union and other national communist parties) while some accused him of peddling fake news or at least reporting things which were 'unhelpful' for the cause of the Spanish Republic and/or the Popular FrontWikipedia.

This 'denial of reality' (as Orwell would have put it) was then seen in full force during the Second World War, where the Anglo-American commentariat not only remained silent on various current and historical Soviet 'wrongs' (e.g., the Molotov–Ribbentrop PactWikipedia of 1939) but didn't call out the blatant pro-Soviet propaganda swirling around (such as the 1943 film Mission to Moscow.Wikipedia) With the vision of Stalin being painted as a friendly 'Uncle Joe' to Allied audiences and almost nil discussion about what the Soviet Union was actually like, Orwell felt it was his own mission to blow a whistle in a manner which would reach a larger audience than a straight-up political tract. It might also be that simple necessity prompted Orwell to write it in a novella form; at this point paper shortages were severe and strict rationing was in place[7] so a short book was more likely to get printed sooner than a long one.

Naturally, this was not a popular line to take in the final months of WW2. His contracted publisher declined it (as Orwell knew he would) and many other publishers rejected it (for reasons included but not limited to 'viewpoint contrary to our organisation's own', 'now is not the time to be ungrateful to the state which helped us defeat Hitler', 'a man from the Government advised us to not to' and 'we are concerned about blowback from Communist Party activists/unionists') until finally finding one. Not to be outdone, the Luftwaffe also came close to destroying his original manuscript with a V-1 bomb in 1944.[8]

But (as he had predicted at the end of the book) the political needle began to shift due Orwell; as the world slipped from World War to Cold War, more foreign translations and adaptations appeared. As it was mainly viewed as 'anti-Soviet' and/or 'anti-Communist' in nature, some of these were organised in part by Western intelligence services (such as the 1954 filmWikipedia) and became a staple of subversive literature they tried to get through the Iron Curtain as well as self-printed samizdatWikipedia versions circulating illicitly behind it.[9] The man himself would have approved of the latter, as he had personally authorised a royalty-free Ukrainian edition for distribution to former Soviet prisoners of war in Germany.[10]

Going into it's eighth decade, the book is still continuing to piss people off. Still banned in places like Cuba and North Korea (though admittedly everything is banned in the latter), and appears to be on a 'legal, but discouraged' list in Xi's China.[11] It also appears to occasionally have trigged the occasional conservative complaints with American school boards and at one stage the United Arab Emirates banned it - the former due to the politics, the latter due to the existence of pigs and alcohol within it (both banned in Islam).[12]

External links[edit]


  1. George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945, via Project Gutenberg Australia.
  2. George Orwell: A Life in Letters. W. W. Norton & Company. 2013. p. 334. ISBN 978-0-87140-462-6. 
  3. (June 16, 2014). "Arion Press publishes a new illustrated edition of Animal Farm with a foreword by Peter Stansky". The Orwell Society.
  4. Peter Davison, George Orwell: ‘Animal Farm: A Fairy Story’: A Note on the Text.
  5. DJ Taylor, George Orwell is out of copyright. What happens now? The Guardian, 1 January 2021.
  6. Orwell’s Works Have Now Entered The Public Domain Which Presents Both Opportunities And Challenges., 21 January 2021.
  7. George Orwell, As I Please. Tribune, 20 October 1944, via
  8. Rachael Getzels, Plaque unveiled where George Orwell’s Animal Farm almost went up in flames. Ham & High, 12 September 2012.
  9. An original Polish ‘samizdat’ of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Bella Caledonia, 5 November 2012.
  10. Darcy Moore, The Ukrainian Animal Farm., 27 February 2022.
  11. Amy Hawkins and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Why 1984 Isn't Banned in China. Archived from The Atlantic, 13 January 2019.
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Banned Library, 21 January 2017.