I finished “Animal Farm” recently. I am not certain that I read it in high school, though I remember it was assigned to us. Reading “Animal Farm” now, much of the story feels familiar, even in its details. I think in fact I probably read it in high school and the meaning went over my head. In later years I would have seen instantly its condemnation of Stalinism (though that is clearly not the only meaning of the novel); I also would have seen many of the parallels to World War II more clearly.
In any case, I’ve been reading a lot of allegories recently – “Pilgrim’s Progress“, “A Masque of Mercy,” “A Masque of Reason,” “East of Eden” – and while I found “Animal Farm” masterfully disturbing as well as engrossing, it doesn’t come up to “1984” as a novel. And purely as an allegory I found it a little too precise, therefore less interesting than “East of Eden” which allegorizes Genesis quite loosely and less predictably.
But then again, there is something appropriately horrible about how “Animal Farm” quickly and efficiently goes to its conclusion even if you see it coming. The story somehow manages to feel universal precisely because it has taken something real in history and rendered it faithfully and accurately. That’s how you end up feeling that the story told in “Animal Farm” repeats itself constantly throughout history.
Incidentally, during the two sittings in which I read this novel, I got drawn into some YouTube videos of a kind I don’t usually watch: these are videos in which we watch scientists reacting to animal attacks in movies like “Jaws”, or even “Jurassic Park”, and telling us how realistically the animals have been portrayed. Again this was one of those non-coincidences that I only noticed after the fact.
If “Animal Farm” the novel were subjected to the expert judgment of, let’s say, a farmer, it would of course receive an “F” for its accuracy about animals. So when I realized Orwell’s influence on my subconscious mind I had to laugh. “Animal Farm” is so very obviously not a literal story about animals, yet on some level we read it that way, and rightly so, since that is how the author is telling the story.
And I think the story ends up feeling more universal to you, ironically, if you take in the story and enjoy it as presented — as a story about an animal rebellion — instead of consciously holding “the fictional” aside and saying to yourself, “This pig is just allegory; what the pig really stands for is ….” If you do the latter, I think, you just end up diminishing the potential meaning(s) for yourself.