Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Marxist's approach to Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton

Here is Eagleton on Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies:

....There are various ways in which narratives can load the dice in their own favour. George Orwell's Animal Farm is about a group of animals who take over their farm and try to run it themselves, with disastrous results. As such, the novel is meant to be an allegory of the collapse of socialist democracy in the early Soviet Union. Yet the fact is that animals are incapable of running farms. It is hard to sign cheques or ring up your suppliers when you have hoofs rather than hands. It is true that this is not why the animals’ experiment fails, but it has an unconscious influence on the reader's response to it. So the story is slanted from the outset. The way it sets up its terms helps to prove its point. The allegory might also imply, no doubt against its leftist author's intentions, that working people are too stupid to manage their own affairs. The title of the book, incidentally, can be read as ironic. ‘Animal’ and ‘Farm’ go naturally together. But they do not go together here.

The cards are similarly stacked in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, which shows a bunch of schoolboys on a desert island gradually reverting to barbarism. Among other things, this is supposed to illustrate the case that civilisation is only skin-deep. As in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, we are all barbarians under the skin, a view which effectively puts paid to any hope of social progress. Scratch a schoolboy and you find a savage. Yet choosing children for your characters helps to make the point rather too conveniently. Children are only semi-socialised in any case. They are not yet capable of such complex operations as running their own communities. In fact, some of them are not much more advanced in this respect than Orwell's pigs. It is not surprising that the social order they try to build on the island rapidly breaks down. Lord of the Flies thus makes things rather too easy for itself. The way it sets up its case makes it more plausible than it might otherwise appear. It may be that men and women are fallen, corrupted creatures, as Golding himself believed; but you cannot prove the point by showing a group of frightened schoolchildren failing to evolve the equivalent of the United Nations....

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