Mary Petersen | Column Misinterprets ‘Animal Farm’

Letters to the Editor
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Stephen Smith’s column “A Cautionary Tale from Animal Farm“ (Aug. 8) is indeed a cautionary tale, but not in the way he intended. It’s hard to believe that he actually read the novel based on his interpretation of it. George Orwell was a democratic socialist and a staunch critic of totalitarianism. (No, they’re not the same, Stephen.) The novel is an allegory paralleling the rise of Stalin and totalitarianism after the Russian Revolution in 1917. 

The novel traces the overthrow of a farmer, a despotic oppressor, by a democratic coalition of animals. The liberation gradually disintegrates, thwarted by the pigs, Napoleon in particular, who through violence and intimidation establish themselves as the ruling class. The pigs, corrupted by power, abandon the ideals of equal rights and become as abusive as the human they had overthrown. Orwell’s novel illustrates the hypocrisy of tyrannies that co-opt democratic principles only to distort them into totalitarian corruption. 

In Smith’s skewed interpretation, The Marxist revolution of the animals is evil (incongruous with Orwell’s view). Conflating communism, fascism, and democratic socialism, he misses the point that in the novel, totalitarian leaders take control and thwart the ideals of democratic socialism that the revolutionaries had fought for. Unlike the protesting animals in the novel who are the good guys (the working class), Smith depicts current protesters (whom he refers to as rioters and anarchists) as evil. Oddly, he claims the perpetrators are both seeking to overthrow the government and supporting an all-powerful central government. Not only does he contradict himself, but also he abandons any parallels to characters in the novel. 

In Smith’s reference to the last line of the novel, in which the animals can no longer distinguish between the authoritarian, tyrannical pigs and the humans, he likens Democratic congressmen to demons serving a dark and angry God. (No hyperbole there.) First he depicts Democrats as evil Marxist demonstrators and now as evil totalitarian leaders. He wildly asserts that Democrats embrace the totalitarian regimes of China, the Soviet Union, Venezuela and Pol Pot’s Cambodia (Pol Pot is dead, you know). 

Smith asserts that Democrats are the creators of institutional racism and that police departments suffer from institutional racism because Democrats support unions. His logic? Since Democrats support teacher and police unions, and since George Floyd’s murderer had 18 previous unsanctioned charges against him, then the Democrats are responsible for his crimes. (Logic aside, he’s now drifted so far from the novel there is no turning back.)

One of the themes of “Animal Farm” is that the abuse of language is instrumental to the abuse of power. The “10 Commandments,” the doublespeak propaganda used by the leaders in the novel for political purposes, defies logic and rationality. Ironically, Smith’s reckless assertions exemplify the very abuse that Orwell cautioned against in his novel “1984.” Orwell asserts that a decline in precise, reasoned language goes hand in hand with a decline in thought. It’s troubling that Smith spews his groundless and often irrational views, but it’s egregious that he appropriates the novel for his own political purposes despite it being the antithesis of his views.

Smith urges you to read “Animal Farm.” I urge you to read his column. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers to a democratic society of reckless and irresponsible rantings.

Mary Petersen

Santa Clarita

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