Animal Farm (which, after 1984, is probably Orwell’s best know work) is an allegory critical of communism.
Ok, I lie.
Just a little?
Communism in its simplest form is both the classless and stateless ownership of the means of production. At the time Orwell was writing Animal Farm (1943-1944) Russia under Stalin was arguably far from what someone like Marx had envisioned. The fundamental problem with a classless system that I see is that someone has to make decisions about what needs to be done. That, and greed. Greed always creeps in. So if it’s not about communism then what is it critical of? Orwell was strongly critical of Stalinism led by (you guessed it) Stalin, the leader of Russia at the time. Orwell believed that Stalinism was a corruption of the socialist ideals that Marx originally had in mind. It’s not hard to imagine the kind of political embarrassment for the West when it was first published in 1945. At the time Russia was an ally of the West, having just defeated the Germans in Berlin a few months before.
Animal Farm is set on a farm with your typical range of animals and a farmer, the dreaded (by the animals) Mr Jones. One night one of the aging animals incites the animals to take action against their human suppressors. An uprising occurs not too soon after his death and soon the animals have the farm to themselves and free to live in the society they have always dreamed of.
At first, everything goes swimmingly. The power vacuum does start to prove to be too great however, and as I alluded to earlier, when you have a group of people trying to achieve something, someone always ends up leading. We see this familiar trend emerge soon enough and the ‘slippery slope‘ thoughts will start creeping in to most readers minds.
What is charming about this book as a criticism is the narrator is completely objective and doesn’t pass judgement about any of the occurrences on the farm. It would be way too easy to slant this way towards Orwell’s argument but he lets the reader take away from it only as much as they want to. If you had no idea that communism/Stalinism even existed then you may just see the unfolding events as sad or scary. I would like to think though that most people would have a vague idea about the circumstances surrounding the book (as if the references to “Comrade” wouldn’t be enough).
If you read this book make sure you have a look at Wikipedia to see the correlation between characters in the book and figures of the era. See how many you can fit together before you look. My opinion of the book sky-rocketed when I found out who all the characters were meant to represent (I had many “ohhhhhhhhhh………I get it now” moments).