Reading Animal Farm with eighth-graders

This particular re-reading of Orwell’s classic novel has been brought to you by my eighth grade English class, who picked Animal Farm over two other books, the names of which I can’t remember right now. The book was almost unilaterally beloved by my class -one girl called it “the exact opposite of a John Greene book”, a comment that she meant as high praise and gave me plenty of chuckles. While not a particularly delicate or subtle piece of satire, I was still very impressed by how much the kids got out of it, considering the lack of knowledge they had of the 20th century political revolutions that informed the novel.

Animal Farm can be a bit heavy-handed, but in light of its fairy-tale sensibilities, this isn’t even a flaw. And it isn’t preachy, which was one of my fears about this re-reading. I loved Animal Farm as a teenager, when I was going through my anarchist and libertarian phases (don’t worry -I never stooped so low as Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead). 1984, while more well-known and having had a greater impact on popular culture, didn’t hold up to my post-university criticisms nearly as well. None of the complaints I had about that book apply here.

Animal Farm demonstrates Orwell’s masterful command of simple, Anglo-Saxon prose on a sentence-by-sentence level. Finding a single passage in here that wouldn’t be a good sample paragraph in a creative writing course would be a challenging task. The book is a pleasure to read, and it reads easily. Having read many of his essays recently, this was not surprising to me. What was surprising, though, was his perfect pacing. I’m not throwing around the superlative lightly -in teaching this book, I’ve read it three times, and the progression of the narrative is literally perfect in a way I’ve seldom encountered in any genre of fiction, although literary fiction is notoriously bad in this regard. This book was educational, and is inarguably a masterpiece.

Recommendation: Read it, re-read it, and read his essays. Goddamn.

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