Yann-Mail: Animal Farm


Dear Mr. Martel,

I was excited to find that I already owned more than one copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Even more excited to find out that I had the same version you sent Stephen Harper. Mine, of course, didn’t have a personalized note in it, and was salvaged from my step-father’s high school book collection.

I’m a bit of a collector when it comes to books, but there isn’t any method or logic to my register.  I simply can’t help but bring books home that look interesting and jam them on my shelf.  Sadly, I bring about three books in for every one that I do read, and more if the book is long. I got a first edition of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden from a good friend, and that is a prized possession, but otherwise, the condition or version of the book doesn’t matter to me. Intriguing cover designs are nice, but not required for my library.  Also, I always take the dust cover off and put it in a drawer; hard-cover books always look nicer to me when they are bare.

I’m going to read John Fante’s Ask The Dust before I read Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Akroyd, namely because I haven’t had a chance to locate a copy yet.  I’ll find it though.

I feel like I should have done some research on Orwell and Animal Farm before I started writing, but I’ve found my rhythm and I can’t stop or I’ll blow the whole thing.

I read Animal Farm again and it made me think a lot.  I find the shower a great place to think, so each shower I’ve taken has left me deeper and deeper in thought over what Animal Farm is really about. As a former student of comparative literature, I like to think that what a book is “about” has as much of a personal connection as it does to the author.

What occurred to me while reading the novel was that a corrupt communist is a good capitalist. There’s a part near the end where the humans, or capitalists, and Napoleon, the corrupted communist, are talking and the humans are admitting their awe in convincing the animals to work longer and harder for less and less.  Is it not true, that in capitalism, the ideal practice is to get your employees to do as much as possible for as little as possible?

The idea of communism has always appealed to me. I think it appeals to a lot of creative types. The world would be a better place if everyone could just pitch in and do their assigned job, granted that assigned job wasn’t a bad one.  I can see that communism is great if your job ends up being something fun, like racecar driver, but not so great if you are assigned to pick up trash or scrape gum from under tables. I guess what I like about it, and I suspect a number of writers too, is that your chances of getting a middle-of-the-road not so terrible job are pretty good.

The problem, as I am well aware, is that power corrupts.  Eventually, the smarter and more cunning find ways to get a marginally larger piece of the pie. In fact, doesn’t the scientist or doctor deserve a little more than the lowly scraper or wall-painter?  And from there things devolve, someone gets assigned the role of politician and everything falls apart.  One politician in the mix and you’ll inevitably wind up with a very large capitalist society.  Some countries seem to make it work; I’ve heard that Denmark has a pretty fantastic socialist state, but I’m certain that has it’s limitations. Then again, you don’t see that many young Danes around North America these days.  Unfortunately, this is a discussion I’ll save for another day.

The state of Denmark leads me to my next point. Throughout the book, Napoleon and his minions spread propaganda about the humans and the neighboring farms, as well as about Snowball.  At the same time, the humans are spreading their own rumours about what goes on within Animal Farm.  This, of course, really happened during World War II, and it’s very easy to examine the propaganda that Germany and Russia spread within their borders, but it gets trickier to look at our own propaganda.  We can admit that a lot of things clearly aren’t true from our own propaganda.  But does it seem logical that after the war everyone decided to just not make propaganda anymore?  We got a lot smarter and knew more, yet it never occurred to us to make better propaganda?  Of course, places like Walmart play certain types of music and arrange their stores in certain ways to influence our purchasing decisions, but when it comes to politics, well, that would be downright immoral!

I am sure this is making me look just a tad paranoid, so I’ll stop.  I don’t let these fears run my life, but I try to keep my eyes open when it comes to the world around us.

My last observation is significantly less paranoid.  It’s about Napoleon the pig, and about the humans.  In the end, I felt like I was angrier at Napoleon than I was at the men.  And I wondered why that was.  The men were exactly the same as Napoleon.  They used animals for their gain and tried to keep their costs down by offering less and expecting more, but for some reason, Napoleon was the real villain.  And now, having to put into words what separated Napoleon from the men, I can’t. I can’t think of one good reason why Napoleon is worse than the men.  The fact that he rose from the animals is immaterial.  The men, at one time or another, rose from the beasts and became their masters.  Perhaps the men are worse because they have been doing it longer, but that seems irrelevant. Napoleon intends to continue his lifestyle.  So who was the real villain?

In the end Mr. Martel, I think reading Animal Farm as an adult stirred up more questions than answers, and when it comes to Orwell’s work, I’d label that a success.

I’m looking forward to reading your third selection.

Your friend,

These letters were written to Canadian author, Yann Martel. They are in response to a book list Martel sent to a certain Canadian politician to inspire his thoughts and actions. Find out who, and why, here.

Feature Image sourced on Google.


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