[Saturday Reads] Timeless Lessons Gleaned from George Orwell’s Animal Farm Illuminated by Ralph Steadman

SaturdayReads

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

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As we celebrate rebels and revolutionaries in literature, I believe it is just right that we also feature this timeless novel that is supposedly a “fairy story,” and as such is meant to be a cautionary tale, as most fairy tales are. While this is considered a classic, I have not had the opportunity to read this and learn from its wisdom. It’s just as well, because this version illustrated by Ralph Steadman is simply worth the wait.


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Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

Written by: George Orwell Pictures by: Ralph Steadman
Published by: Original copyright by Harcourt, Inc. 1945; Illustrations Copyright, 1995; 50th Anniversary Edition ISBN: 0151002177 (ISBN13: 9780151002177) Book Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novella (1946), Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (2011). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

I do believe that books come to us at the perfect time when we need them. Given what is happening now with the world, Philippine politics, the US and their upcoming elections, I am glad I waited for that singular moment when I could appreciate the world (or fairy story as it is called by Orwell) of Animal Farm in such a visceral fashion, and bask at Ralph Steadman’s disturbingly-real art.

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This 50th anniversary edition also contains Orwell’s unpublished preface to the original edition and his preface to the 1947 Ukrainian edition. Both appendices clearly referenced the historical zeitgeist that inspired Orwell to write this story.

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As I was reading it, I feel more than ever how this novel should be considered required reading for anyone who wishes to be mindful of indicators of potential oppression and tyranny, and how uprisings/revolts are usually formed, maintained, and eventually dissolved.

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It is also highly instructive to take a look at the original seven commandments originally put forth by the animal rebels in Mr. Jones’ Manor Farm as they attempt to set forth their own community as comrades-at-arms, and how this has radically changed despite their best intentions as can be seen in the image below:

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With all the political rhetoric going on about how some people have lesser rights than others (the disenfranchised, the disempowered, people with a substance misuse disorder, the immigrants, the misfits), this book hits home with the force of the proverbial sledgehammer, that it gave me goosebumps while reading it. Then there are also the insidious dangers of fanaticism and where such blind faith can ultimately lead people who have compromised most everything for the sake of a common ideal that the checks and balances have been removed entirely – see below:

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More than anything, what frightened me most of all as I was reading the novel, is when people have lost all powers of discernment. This becomes so much easier now compared to Orwell’s time, such that even black can be painted white, as lies and misinformation abound – exacerbated by the digital age where unexamined memes, dubious weblinks, questionable online sources are perceived as facts or absolute truths. This book reminded me why I tend to avoid radical extremes and why I am acutely aware of inauthentic people with forked tongues whose primary objective is to discover your weaknesses only to exploit them.

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Among all the characters in this story, my heart went out to Boxer whose unwavering faith and loyalty, strength and spirit of service went unrecognized, a dispensable soldier as soon as his comrades-turned-masters observed that he has outlived his usefulness.

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This is not a story with neat endings and feel-good resolutions. Rather, it makes the reader thoughtfully consider how absolute power can corrupt absolutely, as the trite adage goes; and how people need to be vigilant about preserving their rights and dignity, and the capacity to discern truth from absurdity, right from wrong, good from evil, the sane from the certifiably insane who hears voices while on a plane.

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