Wednesday, March 22, 2017

From My Reading, 3/22/17

From Animal Farm, by George Orwell:

Meanwhile life was hard. The winter was as cold as the last one had been, and food was even shorter. Once again all rations were reduced, except those of the pigs and the dogs. A too rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism. In any case he had no difficulty in proving to the other animals that they were not in reality short of food, whatever the appearances might be. For the time being, certainly, it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations (Squealer always spoke of it as a "readjustment," never as a "reduction"), but in comparison with the days of Jones, the improvement was enormous. Reading out the figures in a shrill, rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones's day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy, and that they had more straw in their stalls and suffered less from fleas. The animals believed every word of it. Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail to point out.

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I grew up watching the 1954 animated version of this at school. I've lost track of how many times I saw it, but the messages and images are pretty deeply-ingrained: the cruelty of Mr. Jones, the animal uprising, the Seven Commandments of Animalism. Napoleon's takeover. Good and faithful Boxer working himself nearly to death before being carted off to be made into glue. I always understood the movie as a warning about what had happened in the Soviet Union, but underneath that there was always what I now see as the core message: a warning about what we humans are tempted to do with power. What history has shown we do. That is what haunts me now about this book--that and how the truth flickers and shifts in the hands of some. How easily the others lose track, and go along with what is happening. This isn't just the story of a faraway place, locked into one point in time, it is something that happens over and over in our world. How simple it might be to just lose track, go along.

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