Animal Farm revisited


Recently sifting through the archives of George Orwell I came across a long letter apparently written by one of the late writer’s friends. The letter purports to be a follow-up to the events which took place on Animal Farm, that unique experiment in animal self rule:

Dear George, My research brought me to the Farm in **shire, which you described so vividly in your book. I can’t tell you how excited I was to receive the Academy grant to study the only Farm in the world where Animals managed their own affairs.

I knew that full democracy at the Farm had been substituted almost immediately by the harsh rule of Pigs and their ferocious Dogs, so I was rather afraid to cross its well-fortified perimeter. As I was driven in a Horse-cart through the wide avenues of the Farmstead, Linda the Piglet told me that the horrors of oppression described in your book were now consigned to history and a liberal system had come into existence.

The place was one of the least efficient farms in the area. But the Animals were well fed and decently housed, though in rather shabby shacks. It was not a place of total equality; a small band of specially bred Pigs was in charge. But even their superior conditions did not seem to differ greatly from the rest – a bit more grub, a slightly bigger shack, access to a Farm- owned cart.

The Animals were not content. And the closer an Animal was to the pinnacle of power, the more dissatisfied she or he was. Linda’s dream was to go into the world of Humans and become the star of the Muppet Show. That evening she brought some friends round to my Human Lodge room. They were ruling Pigs and intellectual Foxes – the only kinds of the animals which a stranger like me would meet at the Farm. The proletarian Horses and peasant Cows couldn’t speak Human language anyway.

All the visitors complained. The Pigs compared their sty with palaces of Texan oil millionaires (they watched ‘Dallas’). I met one prominent Pig, Stinky, who had everything the Farm could give. He was the boss of the Massage parlour for the Ruling Pigs and therefore belonged to the elite. That meant unlimited grub, a nice sty in the Centre, a comfortable country cottage and opportunities to go to London and Paris.

‘You must be content with your life,’ I commented.

‘No, I am an unhappy creature,’ he whined, ‘whenever I go to Paris or New York I have to economize and stay in our own service flats. The joys of the Cote d’Azur are not for me, I cannot shop in the Faubourg St Honore.’

‘But you have your own pretty vacation resorts, your own jewellers,’ I argued.

‘They are not as good as yours,’he said firmly.

The Foxes were even more unhappy. ‘We are forced to live in the same houses as horses,’ a Red Fox told me. ‘We with our superb education – living with those coarse beasts.’ The Silver Foxes proudly proclaimed their North American origin; one showed me an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica attesting to this fact. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘we could be living in Beverly Hills. I have a relative who moved back to America and has landed on Nancy Reagan’s shoulders.’

‘Life is so gorgeous outside,’ exclaimed Linda. ‘I once went to a Pig exhibition in Montreal. We stayed in golden sties, washed in huge bathtubs and were served real French fries. Just think: we all could have such a life. But our bosses will not have it. They keep telling us that Humans would eat us, slaughter us, take away our children… Tell us, how can we get rid of the ruling Pigs and join Humankind?’

I found myself in a dubious position. This enthusiasm for Human society was exciting and contagious, but the vision was patently too optimistic. I mumbled something about pork chops. Linda looked at me with horror: ‘I should have figured it out for myself – if you were invited to the Farm, you must have agreed to support Rotten’s brainwashing machine. It’s good that not all Humans are like that. Mr Johnson, for example…’

‘Who is Mr Johnson?,’ I inquired.

‘I am Mr Johnson,’ said a tall, blond, clean-shaven man in a well-cut grey suit who entered my room without knocking.

‘Dear Mr Johnson,’ the others greeted him. ‘You are back. Did you bring those little things you promised?’

‘Yes, I did. Here is a pack of Marlboros for you, Linda, and some Christian Dior for you, Stinky, and blue jeans for you, Rose…’

I learned that Mr Johnson was the heir to the huge Johnson Ranch to the West and was a regular visitor to Animal Farm where he would buy up surplus produce and sell nice things from the Big World.

He later told me that his father, Jamison Johnson senior, dreamed of making his eastern neighbour’s lands part of his estate. If modernized, Animal Farm could be a good source of income, producing milk, meat and hides…

Business aside, Mr Johnson senior was quite obsessed with the idea of regaining Animal Farm for people. ‘The thought of animals ruling themselves is a horrible profanity,’ he would say, ‘it could lead my cows and horses into temptation.’

Anyway, Mr Johnson junior had come that evening for a special religious occasion – to celebrate the Cargo Cult. Its Chief Priest was Stinky.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Stinky proclaimed, ‘let us thank our Great Benefactor, dear Mr Johnson. And let us thank The Great Box of Goods.’ The animals cheered.

But Mr Johnson had some bad news: ‘We tried to convince Chairman Rotten to sell us some meadows which border with our Ranch, but he didn’t agree. That is why you cannot have all the sweets and goodies you asked for, dear Stinky.’

‘Bloody Rotten,’ fumed Stinky, ‘What do we need those meadows for? We have enough meadows. It’s sweets we are short of. Next week I’ll come to your ranch and we shall see what we can do.’

They walked away hand in hand.

I did not understand then that I had witnessed the great moment: the beginning of the revolution which was to change the face of Animal Farm…

(Mr. Israel Shamir, is one of best-known and most respected Russian Israeli writer and journalist. He wrote for Haaretz, BBC, Pravda and translated Agnon, Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Tel Aviv and writes a weekly column in the Vesti, the biggest Russian-language paper in Israel.)