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I first heard of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in high school when a teacher mentioned that it was an allegory of the Soviet State. So I read it 2 years later with that understanding.

While recently reading another novel on the same subject I was led to wonder: If I had come across "Animal Farm" at age 12 in a second-hand bookshop in India without any pre-knowledge of its allegorical significance might I not have read it like a regular (if highly imaginative and quite sinister) children's story about talking animals? And might not somebody else read it thus without being aware of its political significance?

That confusion would not occur if that information is explicitly stated in the book itself. The Wikipedia article on "Animal Farm" doesn't seem to clarify this point, but does mention that Orwell's very explanatory 'Preface' was for some reason not published in most editions.

Orwell originally wrote a preface complaining about British self-censorship and how the British people were suppressing criticism of the USSR, their World War II ally (...) Although the first edition allowed space for the preface, it was not included, and as of June 2009 most editions of the book have not included it.

So did George Orwell or the publisher actually state anywhere in the text that it is an allegory?

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The closest thing to a statement of allegory is the often-ignored subtitle of the book "A Fairy Story". This was on the cover of the original editions, but was dropped by U.S. publishers and most subsequent editions followed suit. Fairy Stories, traditionally, contain a moral lesson or imperative. So this indicates that the novel is to be read as such.

Cover "Animal Farm A Fairy Story"

There is no doubt that the central moral lesson of Animal Farm is a direct and purposeful critique of Soviet History, and the novel works best when understood as such. However, it also works as less specific critique of the dangers of political personality cults and how they form the basis of totalitarian regimes.

This is made explicit by the author. He was a socialist who fought against fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In the preface to a 1947 Ukranian edition of Animal Farm he wrote that the experience of Communist purged in Spain showed him:

how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries

Prior to writing the book, he was also distressed by the pro-Soviet propaganda put out by the British Ministry of Information during World War 2.

Orwell was one of the few British socialists of his age who was openly critical of Soviet politics. While a committed socialist all his life, he felt it was necessary to implement socialism within a democratic framework to avoid the risk of tyranny and dictatorship. He believed the Soviet communists had corrupted the original ideals of Marx and made the lives of common folk in Russia worse as a result.

It is worth noting that his later dystopian novel, 1984, presents these themes even more strongly, and drops the facade of Soviet history entirely. Yet the identity of the ruling "party" as INGSOC - English Socialism - shows it is still clearly inspired by the politics of Soviet Russia.

There is, therefore, no need for Orwell to state the allegorical nature of the book. Its main goal is to warn people against the dangers of totalitarianism and it functions as he intended without knowledge of Soviet politics and history.

References:

  • Why the Allies Won - Dr. Richard Overy
  • Destroying the Myth: George Orwell and Soviet Communism - John Newsinger , Journal of Socialist Theory, 1999
  • Thanks for the very clear answer @Matt Thrower.You have confirmed my idea that the allegorical nature of the book was left 'elegantly unstated' and any reader with minimum literary awareness ought to know that it's a political satire. However, high literature can be found mixed up with children's books at second-hand bookstores in India.So I can imagine a parent buying 'Animal Farm' for his 12 year old son unless he is himself aware, or it says somewhere in the book that it's a political allegory. Still it would be a great experience for a young person to reflect upon and maybe re-read, later! – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 12:36
  • Best part: "it also works as less specific critique of the dangers of political personality cults and how they form the basis of totalitarian regimes" -- so many examples of ruthlessness and misery from 1920's to present day: I appreciate and upvote! – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 12:40
  • "Fairy Stories, traditionally, contain a moral lesson or imperative." That's interesting; I read books of fairy tales as a child and had no idea they were supposed to have moral lessons. Do you have a reference for that? – user14111 Sep 28 '17 at 12:49
  • @user14111 Perhaps I should have defined "fairy story" better. I was thinking of the oral folk tales written down in the 19th century, such as those collected by the Grimms. That the majority of those contain a moral lesson is not, to my knowledge, in dispute: indeed I believe the Grimms actually added morality to some tales that lacked it. – Bob Tway Sep 28 '17 at 12:56
  • The most notorious 'moral lesson' relevant to this case is "be careful what you wish for" @Matt Thrower -- people who wished for political change (from an exploitative and inefficient feudal/ capitalist regime) got their wish 'fulfilled' with the totalitarian terror. – English Student Sep 29 '17 at 7:10

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