June 27, 2010

More Equal

On one afternoon seven years ago I heard a girl review George Orwell's Animal Farm. It was during a college course attended by students trying to outdo each other through the books they had read and digested. I was yet to outgrow my suspicions on anybody who read books, academic or otherwise. During the Q&A slide one of the smart guys asked the girl what Orwell meant when he ended the novel with, "All men are equal. Some are more equal than the others." I didn't know. She didn't seem to know. I wonder whether he knew. The professor didn't explain. That or more probably I wasn't paying attention. And Orwell himself was conveniently dead.

A few years later I read the book. I still didn't know what Orwell meant, but I held on to that line. I may have even quoted it during intellectual conversations centered around exchanging trivia, the way we quote famous movie dialgoues without fully knowing which movie they come from and why. But it was more than a showpiece to me, occasionally confusing my mind when I willed to think about it. What could have Orwell, whose books and essays have a divine clarity, possibly be implying? What would have Koteshwara Rao sir thought of an impossible expression like "more equal"?

While reading another of Orwell's essays yesterday, it struck me. Animal Farm starts with an uprising, much like a proletariat overpowering a bourgeois. And it ends with a totalitarian regime, much like what appears to eventually happen in non-capitalist governments. Orwell wrote about totalitarian regimes that evolved from socialist ideals, which at their core spring from a desire to achieve (attribute) absolute equality among all subjects. The impossibility of such equality (impossibility of its success) is aptly implied using the impossible expression "more equal", as is the implication that such societies would subsequently tilt (undesirably).

When I read that the animals stood for proletariat, I missed the double-significance of there being different species. That different species stand for different capabilities (jobs) amongst people is easily seen. But they also contain a reverse implication that people are as different as different species, and thus they can't possibly become equal regardless of their temporary illusions.

7 comments:

  1. "
    When I read that the animals stood for proletariat, I missed the double-significance of there being different species. That different species stand for different capabilities (jobs) amongst people is easily seen. But they also contain a reverse implication that people are as different as different species, and thus they can't possibly become equal regardless of their temporary illusions."

    I liked this decoding of Orwell's thoughts. So neat this is!

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  2. "Very True" what you wrote about the equality among people... Equality as I feel is also just a conjuration!!

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  3. @Trinath
    As neat as it seems, I have my doubts about the validity of the interpretation. There's still some vagueness in my mind, even if the words seem to conceal them well.

    And it's a very small point. The only reason I keyed them in is because I haven't written anything (other than that translation) in a long time, nor have I written anything on this blog.

    @Saurav
    What Orwell wrote, you mean. A few equalities like that before law, I think, are mostly achievable and available. But yes, "absolute equality" seems far-fetched

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  4. From very first page Animal Farm looked like a depiction of USSR after Russian revolution of 1917. (I recently read 'we the living' by Ayn Rand, and maybe that effected my thoughts)
    Reading it was like... You know the story and characters and then you try to fit that in a different framework by creating new characters. ...but truth remains same and certain things in bureaucracy are still same in many parts of world.

    I agree to your interpretation "That different species stand for different capabilities (jobs) amongst people is easily seen. But they also contain a reverse implication that people are as different as different species, and thus they can't possibly become equal regardless of their temporary illusions"

    But I think there is another meaning to this as well. I also doubt if Orwell ever thought that people can't become equal. what he suggested here was view of a bunch of rulers (politicians) of a totalitarian regime.

    Logically and literally 'more equal' doesn't make any sense but that’s what the point is !
    It shows that politicians can and do manipulate things in a totalitarian regime to reflect something completely absurd to justify what they are doing! Manipulation is also in line with what pigs did earlier with other commandments.

    So animals are still equal but that rule doesn't apply to some (pigs in this case). The truth is still same but manipulated to fool animals (public). That’s what I thought of a ‘relative equality’.

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  5. About We the Living influencing your thoughts, I think Ayn Rand's arguments in her books seem very persuasive (aggressively?) despite their complexity (including in words and sentence structures). I only read her For the New Intellectual, but that is enough for me.

    Anyway, interpretations like these more than anything else remind me the theory about books being written by the writer but completed by the reader.

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