Sunday, October 16, 2005

Animal Farm (by George Orwell)

Can you believe I'd never read Animal Farm? I was always scared it was going to be horribly traumatizing. (That's the same reason I avoided Watership Down for years.) But of course it was nothing like I expected. It's too obviously allegorical to traumatize me.

I had to go and check Sparknotes to make sure I was right about the whole communism thing. I mean sure it's obvious, but what if I was wrong? What if it was too obvious? That would have been embarrassing. I actually don't know enough about Trotsky to have figured out that he was in there, but I did get the whole Stalin thing. Ten points for me. Also, killer ending; loved the last line.

It's good timing, this book, because when we talked about symbol and allegory in the lit class I'm teaching, we had an interesting discussion about which we preferred. Some students like allegory better; these tend to be the students who get frustrated when they don't know the "right" way to look at a poem, so they enjoy having a right answer that they can puzzle out. Symbols, on the other hand, don't have such pinned-down meanings; they tend to be more expansive and open to interpretation.

I have to say that I fall on the side of enjoying symbolism more than allegory. (Although I am not putting the allegory lovers down at all; I loved their take on the whole debate.) The first example that comes to mind is Moby Dick. The fact that it (the whale) is a symbol that can mean so many different things is so fascinating to me. Whereas with Animal farm you go, okay, Russian Revolution, communist propaganda, totalitarianism... and then that's it. It's an entertaining story and an interesting allegory, but it funnels down into a point and there you are. Whereas symbols start with the point, and expand upwards into the funnel, and you can play with them forever.

I possibly am not explaining this well. But it did reinforce the fact that I like symbols more than allegories. I still enjoyed reading Animal Farm though, as a story, because it was excellent. Certainly didn't take as long as reading Moby-Dick, either.

"Benjamin was the only animal who did not side with either faction. He refused to believe either that food would become more plentiful or that the windmill would save work. Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on--that is, badly."


Blogger K said...

I read Animal Farm for school when I was 13, and being a little swot went off and read 1984 of my own accord. That was traumatizing.

It's nice to read about someone's "fresh" reactions to the book. We were told all about the allegory as we went through it (they didn't assume 13-year-olds would know all about Communism) so in a way were told what to think.

I love the crossword-puzzle elements of allegory, but my gut feeling is that symbols are more intellectually fruitful precisely because you don't need that prior knowledge of what is going on - and (trying not to go all Roland Barthes here) you as a reader can participate in the text, because of that very multiplicity of meaning. Another reader might pick a different set of meanings.

And I liked the funnel metaphor, which says all that much more elegantly, frankly.

2:46 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

I totally agree with you. I enjoy multiplicity of meaning better than the didactic approach.

6:10 AM  

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