Animal Farm and 1984
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Orlando Austin New York San Diego London
Introduction copyright (c) 2003 by Christopher Hitchens
"Animal Farm" copyright 1945 by Harcourt, Inc.
and renewed 1973 by Sonia Orwell
"1984" copyright 1949 by Harcourt, Inc.
and renewed 1977 by Sonia Brownell Orwell
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Orwell, George, 1903-1950.
Animal farm; 1984/George Orwell.--1st ed.
1. Domestic animals--Fiction. 2. Totalitarianism--Fiction.
I. Orwell, George, 1903-1950. Nineteen eighty-four. II. Orwell,
George, 1903-1950. Animal farm. III. Title: 1984. IV. Title.
Designed by Cathy Riggs
Text set in Garamond MT
Printed in the United States of America
DOC 20 19 18 17 16 15
THE TWO NOVELS THAT you now hold in your hands have become "modern classics" in every sense of both those terms. They are taught in many schools as examples of moral weight and political prescience, and they are still read for pleasure, excitement and instruction even by young people who have not been subject to adult inculcation. They contain several terms and expressions--"Thought Police," "Doublethink," "Newspeak," "Some animals are more equal than others"--that have entered our discourse as surely as "Catch 22." (Tina Turner's album "Private Dancer" even included a song written by David Bowie entitled 1984, replete with menacing references to mind-control and cruelty, which conveyed the vague but frightening premonition of a frigidly-controlled future, as apprehended by those to whom 1984 is a date in the remote but recent past.)
In the less distant past, these books used to be banned in every country under Communist rule, and are still occasionally suppressed in the remaining single-party despotisms that disfigure the globe as I write, while Animal Farm is sometimes forbidden reading in the Islamic world--because of its focus on pigs. Even as I began to write this introduction, a stage version of Animal Farm was being produced by a bold theater group in Beijing, where the novel itself is still officially unobtainable.
So wide and so secure is Orwell's reputation, in other words, that it can be shocking to realise that both of his masterpieces were very nearly aborted or strangled at birth. Animal Farm was almost denied publication, and 1984 had to be finished in a terrible, desperate burst of energy on the part of a man who knew that he was dying. Probably nothing would have surprised their author more than the near-orthodox esteem in which his last two novels are now held: he never in his life expected to be "required reading" in respectable schools. The continuing censorship would have surprised him much less.
Animal Farm was written during the Second World War, at a time when London was being bombed by the Nazis and Churchill's Britain was an official friend of Stalin's Russia. Orwell despised Hitler and fascism and had fought and been wounded as a volunteer soldier for the Spanish Republic, but he chose this unpropitious moment to write a deadly satire on the illusion of Soviet Communism. The original manuscript had to be dug out, in a somewhat scorched and crumpled state, from the ruins of Orwell's blitzed North London home. In this condition, it was sent to T. S. Eliot, the author of The Waste Land, who occupied the extremely influential position of editor at Faber and Faber. Eliot was a political and cultural conservative of the determined Right, and might have been presumed sympathetic to an anti-Stalinist project. But he turned the book down in a letter of extreme condescension which described it as "generally Trotskyite."
This was, bizarrely enough, the same objection that had been made by Orwell's leftist opponents. A senior official in the British Ministry of Information named Peter Smollett made it his business to warn publishers against accepting the book. His ostensible rationale was that Josef Stalin was an ally of Great Britain, and that it would be tactless to publish a satire upon him. The likelihood that the Red Army would have stopped fighting Hider in 1944 for this reason was clearly not very great, but conformist and loyalist opinion is always easy to elicit and the evidence that publisher Jonathan Cape, for example, dropped the book on Smollett's instigation is very strong. (Smollett himself was later exposed as an agent of the Soviet secret intelligence, whose job was to defend the prestige of Stalinism rather than to support the war effort.)
Other publishers like Victor Gollancz--a leftist sympathiser who had printed earlier Orwell works--needed no persuasion in denying him an audience for the twentieth century's most successful satire. In the end, the small house of Seeker and Warburg agreed to publish Animal Farm in a very small edition, for an advance of forty-five English pounds (or $2,020 expressed in today's value).
However, a group of Ukrainian socialists, living in refugee camps in post-war Europe, got hold of a copy of the book and immediately understood its profound relevance. They contacted Orwell, who agreed to write the only introduction to Animal Farm that he ever composed, and who gave them the right to reprint the work in the Ukrainian language, for free. This edition was distributed among refugees in Germany, but most copies were seized by the American military authorities (this, well after the war against Hitler was over) and handed over to the Red Army to be burned.
In the United States, the book fared somewhat better. Though it was originally refused by the Dial Press on the absurd grounds that animal stories did not sell well in America, and though it was declined by Angus Cameron of Random House after Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., had sent him a copy (Cameron was a leading Communist fellow-traveler), it did eventually see print, from Harcourt, Brace, in 1946. By that time, Orwell had only a few years to live and was to exhaust himself physically and mentally by writing and then typing out 1984. The contrast between the two books is an extraordinary one, which partly reflects Orwell's own race against time.
Animal Farm, with its original tongue-in-cheek subtitle "A Fairy Story," is biting but essentially good-natured. The pastoral setting has a reassuring patina; Mr Jones, the wicked farmer, is also a figure of farce. The fate of some creatures, most obviously the noble work-horse Boxer, has additional pathos and tragedy--in Boxer's case because of his dumb, equine bravery--but the pigs are the pigs and they are amusing as well as nasty in their anthropomorphism. (Many children have enjoyed the book for its own sake, heedless of the history of the Soviet Union and its ruthless, witless collectivisation, and Martin Amis in Money has a hilarious passage in which his dumb-ox of a narrator, John Self, is given a copy of the novel and laboriously makes the self-same mistake.)
In 1984, by contrast, Orwell made extensive and almost melodramatic use of his own buried knowledge of cruelty. In his life, he had witnessed sadistic and authoritarian behavior among small boys at English boarding-schools, again while serving as a policeman in colonial Burma and further as a journalist pretending to be a loser in slums and sweatshops. He had also gained first-hand experience of political terror as a fighter against both fascism and Stalinism in Spain. The novel makes a double-distillation of every nightmare of monstrous entrapment and powerlessness to which the average human brain is vulnerable. It also makes an almost conscious attempt to destroy the very concept of hope. Those who read it first, like its original publisher Fredric Warburg, were made physically afraid. I still come across students in their twenties who were terrified by their initial reading.
The original title of the novel was The Last Man in Europe, as if to summarise the utter loneliness and despair of Winston Smith, but it was a stroke of genius that changed this into the almost hieroglyphic title--often rendered in numbers rather than in Orwell's words--that we know today. No more than an inversion of the year 1948 in which it was being completed, the date gave an immediacy and urgency to the menace of totalitarian rule. This time, no outright attempt at censorship was undertaken. Instead, there were efforts to make the novel into something that it was not. The Book-of-the-Month Club in the United States, for example, asked that the passages of Emmanuel Goldstein's "Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" be dropped--because they, too, were too "Trotskyist" as well as too dense. Orwell declined this demand, at the risk of losing a highly lucrative promotion. He also issued a written statement repudiating those who interpreted or conscripted the novel as an attack on the socialist movement in general. Having known continuous neglect and suppression because of his principles, he was to experience a final, closing moment of literary success partly because of those who wished to use his principles against him. Having set 1984 in England, in order, as he put it, to show that the English were no better than anyone else and that the totalitarian danger existed everywhere, he was in a strong position to appreciate the irony of this exploitation. A later CIA-sponsored cartoon-film of Animal Farm, produced for purposes of Cold War propaganda, cut out the closing passage about the restoration of Farmer Jones as head of the farm. That chapter just did not, for immediate practical purposes, quite "fit" the needs of the Agency. This makes the same point in a slightly different way.
Despite being set in England, the book is obviously drawn from Orwell's literary knowledge of Russia and of the Soviet Union. The manipulation of numbers by the authorities (most famously the Party's ability to insist that Two and Two can if necessary make Five) is anticipated in Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. And Evgeny Zamyatin's We, an early dystopian fantasy written in the early years of Communism, was among Orwell's acknowledged inspirations. During the hideous period of Stalin's "Five Year Plan," it was at one point claimed by the authorities that the goal of the plan had been attained early, in two heroic two-year spurts. This huge lie was sometimes rendered for the stupider believers as 2 + 2 = 5. Orwell's novel is full of meaningless announcements about the continuous achievement of ridiculous "production targets," which form a sort of background noise to the drabness and scarcity of daily life.
It was details like this which won Orwell a tremendous literary compliment that he didn't live to see. Today, Czeslaw Milosz is the acknowledged literary laureate of his native Poland. But in 1951, he was a minor cultural official in recently Stalinised Warsaw and experiencing the first stirrings of dissent. In his incisive book The Captive Mind, which was eventually published in 1953, he wrote about his fellow heretics within the apparatus:
A few have become acquainted with Orwell's 1984; because it is both difficult to obtain and dangerous to possess, it is known only to certain members of the Inner Party. Orwell fascinates them through his insight into details they know well, and through his use of Swiftian satire. Such a form of writing is forbidden by the New Faith because allegory, by nature manifold in meaning, would trespass beyond the prescriptions of socialist realism and the demands of the censor. Even those who know Orwell only by hearsay are amazed that a writer who never lived in Russia should have so keen a perception into its life.
So--Orwell writes a book that is published in 1949. His novel describes a secret book that is circulated clandestinely within an "inner party." And within two years, it is itself being passed secretly from hand to hand, by members of an inner party....
I am writing these words in January 2003, the first month of Orwell's centenary year. (He only lived to see the first half of the twentieth century, dying in January of 1950.) As I write, all political discussion is dominated by an impending confrontation with two totalitarian states--Iraq and North Korea. In these countries, absolute power is held by leaders who demand incessant worship of themselves. Membership of a party--the Iraqi Ba'ath Party or the Workers Party of Korea--is a prerequisite for access to power at any level of the army or the police. Total control is exercised over all forms of printing and communication. The citizen is unambiguously the property of the state and can be tortured or murdered or made to "disappear" on a whim. In each case, a nationalist form of collectivist socialism is the ruling ideology, though in the service of an individual Caligula. I have visited both of these states and seen their "hate" parades, their youth rallies, their round-the-clock cult of the Big Brother and their exaltation of force and cruelty. In each case, my fellow writers and I had little choice but to employ the term "Orwellian" to describe what we had seen. We knew it was a bit of a cliche, in other words, but we also knew that it could not be improved upon. In a lesser way than Milosz, and at much less risk, we too pay our compliments.
It is also true that Orwell warned against militarisation, especially in its nuclear form, wherever it occurred. (It's not often pointed out that the slave society he evokes in 1984 has been created in part by the misery that follows a short atomic war.) There is no doubt that Orwell meant his work to put people on guard against chauvinism and regimentation and hysteria in all their forms: he was highly suspicious of the emerging Cold War system of competing superpowers who might use the excuse of each other's existence to impose their will at home and abroad. And in the United States, which has recently taken extraordinary measures in its fight against theocratic nihilism, the excesses of "Homeland Security" and "Total Awareness," with their new bureaucratic vocabulary, have also led people to reach for the expression "Orwellian." This, again, is a tribute to his persistent relevance. The insistence upon the importance of language, and of the danger posed by sloganised thinking and official idiom, is among the debts we owe to Orwell. In "The Principles of Newspeak," an appendix to 1984, the author quotes Jefferson's preamble to the Declaration of Independence--"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."--as an instance of something that would be quite impossible to re-cast in Newspeak terminology. Long may this incompatibility continue and be upheld.
Neither of these two novels is faultless in historical terms. To take one example that is so glaring that few people notice it, there is no Lenin either in Animal Farm or 1984. There is a Stalin figure in each--Napoleon and Big Brother respectively--and a Trotsky figure in each--Snowball and Goldstein--but a whole phase of history and indeed of allegory seems to have been skipped. We have no means of knowing what Orwell intended by this astonishing omission, of which he may only have been semi-conscious himself, but it seems probable that he regarded the self-immolation of Communism to have been at least partly a great tragedy, as well as a great crime. It was this insight and this perspective that allowed him to re-create the mental atmosphere so hauntingly. It is also this imaginative gift that posthumously made him one of the moral heroes of the revolution of 1989 in Eastern Europe, and of those who led it. It will, one day, give him the same eminence in China and North Korea.
Having been among the bullies and among the bullied at different times of his life, Orwell had an innate understanding of what Nietzsche called the "master-slave" relationship. He knew that there are guilty thrills to be obtained from domination, and he also realised what few people fully appreciate--that there are also guilty thrills to be had from subjecting and abasing oneself. These books can be read, independently of their time and place, as a strong preventive medicine against the mentality of servility, and especially against the lethal temptation to exchange freedom for security: a bargain that invariably ends up with the surrender of both.
I have dwelt somewhat on the circumstances in which these works were written and published, because they illustrate another point. It took courage, physical and moral, to write these books and to fight for their right to be read. Orwell's life was a struggle in which the distance between what he said and what he meant was as near to nil as made no difference. He was a participant as well as a witness. He suffered a good deal in making the discovery, but he has assisted us in realising that, while the drive to power and corruption and cruelty is certainly latent in human beings, the instinct for liberty is innate as well. This battle takes place within ourselves as well as in the world we inhabit, and these books are weapons of self-respect as well as of self-defense.
January 20, 2003
MR. JONES, OF THE Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.
As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that old Major, the prize Middle White boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished