Written in 1964 as an allegory of the Stalin era, this distopian novella aims to criticize socialist regimes. Orwell details the story of the animals of Manor Farm who overthrow their farmer, a man too drunk to care about the conditions of his farm, and reestablish their home as an "Animal Farm". They quickly assert seven animal commandments, namely that all animals are equal. As time passes the smartest animals (pigs) slowly become more powerful than the rest of the animals, leading weekly meetings and allowing themselves special privileges. Soon the other animals begin forgetting the seven animal commandments and the pigs quickly assure them there was only a single commandment: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Eventually the pigs begin sleeping in the farmer's house, drinking alcohol and walking on their hind legs- essentially becoming the very figure they worked so hard to overthrow.
Finally, the pigs invite other farmers to Animal Farm to resolve misunderstandings. Napoleon, the lead pig, declares the name "Animal Farm" is abolished and "henceforward the farm will be known as Manor Farm- from which he believed was its correct and original name". Clover, a horse looking in on the pigs and men, notices something had altered in the face of the pigs. "Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing?" After Clover watches the scene for a bit, Orwell concludes his novella with my favorite passage; "No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it was already impossible to say which was which."
I highly recommend Animal Farm to anything looking for a quick, thought-provoking read. Orwell uses allegory not only to highlight the dangers of totalitarian regimes, but also to comment on what happens after a community establishes their freedom; inevitably that freedom is suppressed and leaders rise again to oppress. There were aspects of this story that reminded me of my favorite short story, "Harrison Bergeron" by Vonnegut- read it.
Animal Farm was my introduction to Orwell and I am going to put Nineteen Eighty-Four on my shelf to read. In her introduction to Animal Farm Ann Patchett highlights the very reason I liked this novella so much; "Like pledges and nursery rhymes, [Animal Farm] stays with us, a promise of what will happen if we ever surrender control of our fate to the system. Orwell never gave his readers the answers, just the worst case scenario for the questions".
On a side note, Animal Farm made me happy to be a vegetarian :)