Despite its 75-pages, I kept putting off Animal Farm assuming it will require mental and time investment. Of course it did, but over the last weekend I finally finished reading the petite novel. My copy of Animal Farm comes packed with an introduction and notes. Still not confident of my capabilities of understanding the classic, I read the introduction that gave me a gist of the story and compares Orwell’s fairy tale as a metaphor for the Russian Revolution.
This is a simple tale. Unlike most fairy tales that have a happy ending, this one does not. It tells the story of a revolution that fails because its leaders have been corrupted by power.
Thanks to my poor History, I did not know the exact details of said revolution so I skimmed over those parts of the introduction. I decided to avoid the notes that were at the beginning of every chapter, wanting to continue with the non-political inference that had begun forming from my own understanding of the tale. This, I think, is the perfect example of ignorance is bliss.
So while George Orwell’s Animal Farm is popularly known as a political satire – my mind that tends to lean towards the spiritual realm, saw the story as Orwell’s meditation on the human mind and its workings.
One of the things that makes Art great is the various interpretations it can spark off, generating newer ideas no matter how old the story. So indulge me as I decode, as per my curious understanding, the first chapter (and if I feel courageous enough – more chapters in future posts) of Orwell’s simple but layered fairy tale.
The story is set in Manor Farm that belongs to a Mr Jones. It opens with the animals, who work and reside on the farm, gathered together after their owner has fallen asleep. They are there to listen to the wise Old Major.
Old Major was regarded by all the animals as an elder statesman and listened to for advice and guidance.
Let’s say Old Major is an enlightened being, you can call him whatever you want or identify him with any of the religious figures we see with a halo around their head.
I do not think I shall be with you for much longer. Therefore, before I die I feel it is my duty to pass on to all of you all the wisdom I have gathered in my life because I think I understand the nature of life on this earth as well as any animal now living.
An enlightened being, who perceives the truth as it is, also usually knows when his time is near. Thus he feels it is his responsibility to pass on the truth he has learnt, not allowing it to die with him. Propagation is a natural instinct because he who knows the truth also knows that it is freely available and accessible to all, only if they make the effort.
What is the nature of this life of ours?
Like any enlightened being, the old boar begins the discussion by urging the animals, ie. us human beings, to question the nature and purpose of life.
Let us face it, our lives are miserable, laborious and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very moment that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty.
The first revelation is of the apparent truth. It lies on the surface. We all know it but aren’t deeply aware of it. Perhaps because it seems apocalyptic.
Here, let’s consider that the reference is to the human mind and not life as we know it. We are born with this mind, one that we do not fully understand, but we give it the basic truth, enough to keep us alive. We know we have to earn a living and support our families – that is the most primitive purpose of human existence, we are told, and so it goes.
Those minds that are capable of more, on an intellectual level, are employed in ways that demand more out of their existence. They continue to work till they reach their saturation point. There’s something known as mental fatigue. The human mind can only take so many decisions in a lifetime before spinning out of control and going berserk. When the malnourished human brain has reached its peak, it cannot think clearly anymore. It ceases to serve the material world. Once the mind has lost its sense of purpose, it leaves the physical body.
No animal knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.
Our minds have forgotten the meaning of real joy that comes from liberation, one that we experienced as children. No mind is free. It is miserable due to its own thoughts and is a slave to the identity given by our environment. That is the plain truth.
But is this simply part of the order of Nature? Is it because this land of ours is so poor that it cannot afford a decent life to those who dwell upon it?
Orwell pushes us to consider whether this is how Nature intended the human mind to be. Are our minds incapable of experiencing real joy in life?
No, comrades, a thousand times no! The soil is fertile, its climate is good, it is capable of affording food in abundance to an enormously greater number of animals than now inhabit it…
Through the character of the elderly boar, Orwell reassures us that our minds in fact have the potential which can enable us to lead rich and abundant lives. Our mind is capable of widening its spectrum and looking at the bigger picture, making previously confusing questions known to us. An enlightened mind enriches not just the human being that possesses it, but many more minds through its ideas.
Why then do we continue in this miserable condition?
If we all have it, up there in our mind – this real joy and happiness – why then does humanity find itself in such a dire condition?
Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us. There is the answer to all our problems.
Our mind is constantly preoccupied, all its energy is focused on things, situations and people that are external to it.
Man is the only real enemy we have.
Here, in my opinion, Man is a reference to the Ego.
Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.
We are constantly feeding our ego. All our thoughts, action and speech are performed to protect this identity. It is not something we were born with, rather a role that we adopted after coming to consciousness in this life. The nature of ego is such that it can never be satisfied. It always wants more than what it previously desired.
Man is the only creature that consumes without producing.
As long as you are feeding the ego, the efforts that you make in life are limited to benefiting yourself and your immediate surroundings. You do not create any value, beyond the material, with your efforts.
Yet he is the lord of all animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.
Yet, all our thoughts, action and speech are driven by the ego. We continue making efforts to please this ego but rarely in life do we feel genuinely satisfied, except for momentary, fleeting pleasures that keep us going without actually nourishing us.
Even the miserable lives we lead are not allowed to reach their natural span. Such is the natural life of a pig. You young porkers every one of you will scream your lives out at the block within a year. To that horror we must all come.
A life lived based on the foundation of the ego is miserable. The mind becomes toxic, its own thoughts work against it, making us lose our energy and zest for life as we grow older. It’s the bitter truth that once our mind is no longer in our control, we lose the will to do anything and eventually the will to live at all.
Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?
The first step of enlightenment or awakening to the truth is realising that all our problems stem from our own ignorant mind. As long as we continue blaming something or someone outside of ourselves as the source of all our problems and misery, we continue to be slaves. It is because, when we think our problems are not of our own doing, we invariably assume that the solution or happiness will also come from outside.
Only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we could become rich and free.
Only when we stop living our lives simply to feed the insatiable ego, will our mind free itself and become capable of perceiving the truth as it is. Almost instantly we can free up our mental energy and employ in better pursuits.
Sooner or later, justice will be done. Fix your eyes on that, comrades, throughout the short remainder of your lives!
Sooner or later, we will win over the ego and experience bliss. It is something that requires focus and hard work thus Orwell urges us to utilise the rest of our life for this purpose.
Above all, pass on this message to those who come after you, so that future generations shall carry on the struggle until it is victorious.
The unmistakable sign of a mind that has released the ego is its compassionate and selfless desire to help others. Once the human mind has achieved clarity, something it attains with independent effort and determination, it feels compelled to help others do the same.
Man serves the interest of no creature except himself. Let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle.
The ego only works to serve itself but a mind free of ego works for its own benefit as well as that of others, helping them in the struggle against the ego.
In fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. All the habits of Man are evil.
Although you are working to dissolve the ego, it is easy to slip. You may begin to feel you are better than those around you who have still not perceived what you have. Thus, it becomes important to remain vigilant and not adopt the self-serving habits of the ego that continue to work in deceiving ways.
Above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, cleaver or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must kill any other animal. All animals are equal.
Ego is what makes humans turn against their own kind. It’s our sense of identity that sets us apart from another person making us believe we are different in some way. But Orwell says that no matter what the characteristic of a particular mind, we are all the same.
And now, I will tell you about my dream of last night, I cannot describe that dream to you.
Like every enlightened being, even Orwell’s boar finds it difficult to put in words his experience of enlightenment.
It was a dream of the earth as it will be when Man has vanished. It reminded me of something that I long forgotten. I had known that tune in my infancy, but it had long since passed out of my mind. Last night it came back to me in my dream.
He says it’s a state when the ego has completely dissolved. It resembles what children are like in their infancy when they still don’t understand their identity and role on this planet. Their ego is not fully formed. But as we grow up, and navigate through life, we lose touch with this essential nature of the self sans ego.
The boar then goes on to sing a song, ‘Beasts of England’, that attempts to paint a picture of an egoless mind. This could be compared to the sermons of religious leaders, sutras, scriptures, religious texts, myths, etc.
The singing of the song threw all the animals into the wildest excitement. Even before Major had finished the song, all the animals, even the stupidest, had picked up the tune; and the clever ones, such as the pigs and dogs, had learned the song by heart.
Sermons of the truth tend to excite human beings quickly regardless of whether they have grasped the full meaning or not. They yet see liberation from their suffering as something external. In this excitement, there are some who become blind believers. They accept something only because it’s coming from a mind wiser than theirs. There are those who recite the words as it is without applying them. These people tend to impress lesser awakened beings with their self-proclaimed knowledge, thus using it as a means of oppression.