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British Dystopia

Or the Curious Case of Animal Farm

By Matthew FrommPublished 9 months ago Updated 9 months ago 5 min read
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British Dystopia
Photo by Shraddha Agrawal on Unsplash

Ahh Orwell, you bane of American High School students everywhere…at least those who don’t get their books banned. I pity them.

I’ve gone on a quest this year to read forty novels and novellas, a hefty goal for anyone, let alone when you have to balance work, life, families, and setting some time to write as well (praise be the audiobook). More to come on this quest, as I plan on reviewing all of them at the end of the year. Stay tuned! At some point, I’ll write up an in-depth explanation of my methodology, but for now, suffice it to say that anything I rate over a 70 would qualify as a “good book I would recommend.”

But since the book club community debuted, I wanted to dive in on an observation I made. I also have a few British subscribers and would love to hear their take on the matter.

You see, I loved 1984. I have it at a 95/100 on my book rankings chart, which puts it second only to Lord of the Rings at a 97/100 (though, there is a book I’m reading right now which might break that 97. Again, stay tuned), but I had never read Animal Farm. Due to the wonder of audiobooks, I gave the fairy tale of Napoleon and Snowball a listen while I read the also fantastic graphic novel V for Vendetta. This led me to an interesting observation.

Warning, below are potential spoilers for the following: 1984, Animal Farm, V for Vendetta, The Man in the High Castle, Fahrenheit 451, and Watchmen.

So what is Animal Farm about?

“It’s a satirical novella, about Stalinism!” - Sterling Archer.

And that’s not wrong; Orwell himself said as much.

But there are a few details that take it beyond a retrospective novella about the founding of the Soviet Union, despite the obvious inspiration.

First and foremost is that Orwell was adamant that it be described as a Fairy Tale. There are plenty of smarter people than I that have written about it at length, so I’ll keep it short. I believe that the intentional listing as a fairy tale is meant to serve as a cautionary warning in the vein of the Grimm Fairy Tales. This is a key tenant to the observation I described at the beginning; we’ll get there.

What’s the lesson that this modern take on the Grimm Fairy Tales is trying to teach? It’s that the wolves are within the hen house.

Orwell goes out of his way to detail how none of the animals are angry at Napolean. They may have misgivings, they may not be able to fully articulate their emotions, but they do not have disgust for Napolean. Quite the contrary, even as the pigs are turning back into the human overlords, the animals' disdain is reserved only for Mr. Jones. We, as the readers, extrapolate their feelings to unhappiness, but this is never articulated within the text.

Mr. Jones is well-detailed as the embodiment of the status quo of Orwell’s England, both by Orwell and others. I’m of the opinion that the real message of Animal Farm is not “Stalinism is bad” as it is so often reduced, but that if the nation-state neglects your duty of stewardship, you will experience the same fate. Reducing it to “Stalinism is bad” ironically echos “Four legs good, two legs better," by relieving the reader of their agency in preventing the coming of a new animal farm.

This is not a unique take, nor do I claim it to be. It is also not the observation I made that I have such an interest in.

But that observation is something I did not notice until I finished V for Vendetta, and it’s something that I think distinctly separates British dystopia from American Dystopia. In Animal Farm, there are no outsiders. Sure, there are other farms, but all are described as being within England and not abroad. In V for Vendetta, there is an ominous war beyond the horizon of the past, but all of the antagonists are distinctly British (sometimes to a fault).

In contrast, American Dystopian books often studied in connection with Orwell’s, Fahrenheit 451 and Man in the High Castle, rely on the “Other” to create the dystopian setting.

In Man in the High Castle, this role is reserved for the conquesting Axis powers. Fahrenheit 451 has a much more subtle take on it, but at the end, the feared “Other” arrives to bomb the city and create the cycle of the phoenix.

There’s plenty to unpack as to why these differences in settings exist. I’ll leave that to someone more qualified than me.

I think they are intentional, and Watchmen, also by Allen Moore and David Loyd, addresses these differences directly. The level three conflict, the conflict of entities that guides the narrative between the panels, is a classic cold war “Red vs. Blue” conflict. However, it is revealed finally that it is none other than one of their own who is the driver of the conflict. I believe this to be an intentional commentary about the underlying cultural philosophy on societal collapse, and also an expert use of providing a twist on the setting to create a deeper conflict.

Final Review:

Animal Farm by George Orwell: 89/100

Short review: A classic for a reason and a cautionary tale of a myriad of societal shortcomings. Animal Farm is a true masterpiece that should be studied by all and is, therefore, under intense pressure across the USA. This will rank highly in my 2023 rankings–it currently sits as my highest-rated novel/novella for 2023.

Plot: 8

Characters: 9

Conflict: 9

Theme: 10

Setting: 8

Prose: 8

Tone: 10

Quality: 10

Impact: 9

Enjoyment: 8

V for Vendetta By Alan Moore and David Lloyd: 88/100

Short review: A fantastic work on an underrated literary medium. It’s a work that is timeless in many ways. I have a few critiques about the characters and how the accents are translated in the dialogue, but the overall quality of the conflict and theme more than makes up for those. This is currently my second highest-rated novel/novella of 2023.

Plot: 9

Characters: 7

Conflict: 8

Theme: 10

Setting: 8

Prose: 8

Tone: 9

Quality: 9

Impact: 10

Enjoyment: 10

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About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Comments (3)

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  • Paul Stewart2 months ago

    Can't believe I never came back and commented. Animal Farm ranks as one of my favourite books and although I thought I had read it...I think I did not until I read it last year. I liked your take on it - I need to read V is for Vendetta and the American books you mentioned to get a flavour but it does make sense. I am not entirely sure why that is...because from my POV, Britian or at least certain factions have a strong disdain for outsiders...so it's interesting that in the famous dystopian sorta novels are about English/British being the bad eggs. You've got me thinking Mr Fromm. As bloody usual. What I thought, from a technical point of view, was how bloody amazing Animal Farm was in terms of it only being a novella and still packing a sizeable punch. The word economy that Orwell employs and his storytelling style is just impeccable. I still have to read 1984. 2023 didn't turn into the big read year I thought it was going to lol. But, I will get there...Funnily enough, as you noted...in 1984 it is the British state and powers that be that bring forth the dystopian conditions...so not outsiders again. I also think you've hit the nail on the head in that...it's not just Stalinism is bad. That's too easy and simplistic a take anyway...as I do agree...we all to an extent make the bed we lie in based on the decisions we make...whether we have any sway or not. Well done on a great piece and sorry it took me so bloody long to reply to this!

  • Naomi Gold9 months ago

    I haven’t read either of these (spoilers don’t bother me). This was a great review which leaves me wanting to read both. I do love the V for Vendetta film. Can’t wait to see the review for what you’re currently reading, since it sounds like it might be a new favorite.

  • Ariel Joseph9 months ago

    Really interesting observations. Animal Farm is one of my favorite books, I always find myself coming back to it. I haven't read V for Vendetta, just seen the movie 😬, I'll have to add it to my reading list!

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