George Orwell on what Animal Farm is really about

How to interpret Animal Farm has long divided critics, but Peter Davidson’s newly published George Orwell: Life in Letters includes a letter that directly addresses this issue. Orwell’s friend Dwight Macdonald asked him for the final word on the topic, and Orwell responded by writing:

Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves. If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right … What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.”

Orwell’s intentions, then, were clear enough. That, however, hasn’t deterred the critics so far and is unlikely to do so now.

George Orwell: Life in Letters, edited by Peter Davison, was published in the UK on August 12 by Liveright. A longer extract of Orwell’s letter appears in the New York Review of Books.

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