I am not a re-reader. Outside of my academic life I have re-read two books, The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse Five. That is it. There are just too many books out there and if I ever hope to read through as many as I can I can’t be bothered with re-reading.
Yet, as a college professor once said to me, re-reading is reading. Not because we miss so much our first time through a book or that we suddenly understand it better, but because we come to it from a different time in our lives. We might bring with us a broader base to build upon and therefore are better able to understand what the book is telling us or we understand more about either human nature or the time period a book was written in.
With all that being said I suddenly have a hankering to re-read Animal Farm. The main reason for this is not that it has been over 20, almost 30, years since I last read it when I was in the 8th grade around 1995 or ’96, but because I don’t think it was taught to me correctly. Every now and then I will think about the book and a character name or something along those lines and think, my god that should have been obvious.
The problem is that in 8th grade I had a much more limited knowledge base and I was also not that interested in learning. 8th grade me was a very different person than now me, and I’m not sure now me would get along with 8th grade me all that well. In fact one of my biggest fears is that my children are too much like me in their teenage years.
As much as I disliked school and my teacher in my 8th grade year I enjoyed Animal Farm. I even enjoyed the assignment of writing a sequel to the story. Mine was Animal Farm 2: Boxer’s Revenge, where a zombie Boxer returned to the farm and sought vengeance upon all that had done him harm.
The last time I had a hankering to re-read Animal Farm it was because of the name of the character Napoleon. It was taught to us in my 8th grade year that Napoleon represented Stalin. A couple years ago I was listening to a podcast about the French Reign or Terror and suddenly the thought came into my head that maybe Napoleon the pig best represented Napoleon the French emperor and tyrant and that Animal Farm wasn’t an anti-communist novel but a warning about the cycle of violence and revolution.
This time I came across a mention of the Chinese boxers that revolted against the British empire and I thought you know, maybe Boxer in Animal Farm was a representation of the working class but perhaps he represented the working class as oppressed by the imperial British and not Soviet Russia.
Animal Farm was taught to me in the 8th grade from the point of view of an American a few years after the Cold War had ended. It was all rah-rah go team, Capitalism good, Communism bad, and thinking about it now I have my doubts that was what a British Socialist in post WWII Europe was going for.
WWII bled almost seamlessly into the Cold War, but was Animal Farm really a rallying cry for the British government against a new enemy or was it a warning to British citizens or is it a simple allegory on the cycle of Revolution and how the revolutionaries of today are the tyrants of tomorrow.
I think to know this I have to re-read Animal Farm along with some of Orwell’s essays. Particularly Shooting an Elephant. Understanding how Orwell felt about the politics of his day, including times he was critical of British Imperialism, would give a much deeper and better understanding of Animal Farm. Better even than my more expanded knowledge base could allow.
I don’t know when or if I will get around to this, but it is something I want to do, and neither Animal Farm or the essays of Orwell are long reads. I think I can find a time to squeeze them in this year.