La valse lente des tortues

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Katherine Pancol

The story begins with a community meeting at Manor Farm. Old Major, the oldest of the boars and the de facto leader of the animals at the farm, has called them together for a meeting. At the meeting, he discusses what he perceives as the inequitable treatment the animals have experienced at the hands of Mr. Jones. After pointing out that the animals live in a state of virtual slavery, given only enough to sustain them to provide labor for the farm and slaughtered when they are no longer useful, he brings up his belief that this condition is not a result of the natural order. Instead, he suggests that man has intentionally created this subjugated position in animals in an effort to benefit from the animals in his care. Old Major suggests that by eliminating man, the animals would benefit because they would be entitled to the fruits of their own labor. Therefore, he suggests an alliance between all of the animals, such that those with four legs or wings are friends, and those that walk on two legs are enemies. This is cemented with a vote by the farm animals as to the issue of whether or not rats are considered comrades, with the animals deciding that they are comrades. Old Major admonishes the animals not to engage in the same type of behavior as men; they should never live in homes, wear clothes, engage in trade, drink alcohol, or attempt to control other animals. Old Major teaches the animals the song “Beasts of England.” They all join in singing the song. Mr. Jones hears the singing and thinks that there is a fox near the barn, so he shoots at the barn, which scatters the animals. The animals all return to their places on the farm.

Old Major dies shortly after his talk with the animals. The animals slowly begin to organize, but the early progress of any Rebellion seems very slow and halting. Three pigs emerge as leaders of this growing rebellion: Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer. Together, the three pigs develop a philosophy known as Animalism. When Mr. Jones goes to sleep at night, the animals meet in secret, where the pigs teach Animalism to the other animals on the farm. The animals are initially resistant to the pigs, but whether that is because they oppose Animalism or because they do not initially understand the philosophy is unclear. Furthermore, Moses works against the pigs by spying on the animals, and talking about Sugarcandy Mountain, a Heaven-like place where animals go when they die. Boxer and Clover embrace Animalism. While the animals might not embrace the pigs’ philosophy, there is growing discontent on the farm. Mr. Jones and his workers neglect the farm and the animals. The breaking point comes when Mr. Jones goes to town and gets drunk, leaving the animals unfed for the night. One of the cows breaks into the grain shed, and all of the animals congregate to help themselves to the grain. Mr. Jones and his helpers advance upon the animals with whips in hand, and the animals resist their attack. The animals chase Mr. Jones and his helpers off of the land. Mrs. Jones sees the attack, and flees the farm, as well. Once the humans are driven from the farm, the animals work together to erase the evidence of humans from the farm. They gather up whips, harnesses, chains, and sharp weapons and place them in large bonfire. While watching the bonfire, the animals sing “Beasts of England.” Then the two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, call their meeting. They dramatically go to the front gate of the farm and cross out “Manor Farm” and write “Animal Farm” instead. In doing so, they reveal that they have learned to read and write. They also give the Seven Commandments to the animals. When the animals are heading to the fields to start harvesting hay, the cows begin to low because they have not been milked. The pigs milk the cows, and someone asks what will become of the milk. Napoleon distracts the questioner, but when the animals return from the fields, the milk has disappeared.

The animals experience tremendous initial success at the first harvest. The animals have all worked hard and initially enjoy both greater amounts of food and leisure time. They take Sunday as a day of rest from labor, using it to engage in meetings. Initially, the process at the farm seems very democratic; while the pigs may suggest the changes to Animal Farm, the other animals vote on the changes. The animals begin to learn how to read and write, but different species prove more adept than others at acquiring written language. The pigs and dogs are able to read and write. Napoleon begins to focus his attention on Jessie and Bluebell’s puppies, which he secludes from the other animals on the farm while he teaches them. The other animals do not find success in their efforts to read and write. In fact, many of the animals are unable to memorize the Seven Commandments. To help them, Snowball reduces the Seven Commandments to a single phrase: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” However, cracks are starting to show at Animal Farm. The animals learn that the pigs have been taking the cows’ milk. Likewise, when there is a surprise windfall of apples, the pigs commandeer it. Squealer goes out among the animals to explain away the apparent inequities by stating that the pigs need extra nourishment to keep the farm running smoothly and to keep Mr. Jones from returning.

The animals have not been content to limit the Rebellion to Animal Farm, and have sent out pigeons to other farms to tell about the rebellion. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones has been trying to get sympathy from other farmers. The farmers initially dismiss Mr. Jones but, when their animals begin to act out, they begin to fear similar rebellions in their own farms. An armed contingent of humans goes to approach Animal Farm. However, Snowball has prepared for an attack from the humans and has a two-phase plan to drive all of the humans from Animal Farm a second time. This battle becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed. The animals emerge victorious, but they experience some casualties. The Battle of the Cowshed also leads to the establishment of the first military heroes; Snowball and Boxer are both honored for their exploits.

While the animals are able to keep people from retaking possession of Animal Farm, they become vulnerable to internal divisions. First, not all of the animals are happy under the Socialist system of the farm. Mollie, who was shown favor before the Rebellion, is unhappy at Animal Farm. The other animals believe that Mollie is not doing her fair share of the work. They also accuse her of talking to humans at another farm. Mollie disappears, and is reported to have been seen eating sugar from a man’s hand. At this point, the animals cease to speak of Mollie.

Over time, the other animals have basically ceded control of Animal Farm to the pigs, under the joint leadership of Snowball and Napoleon. However, Snowball and Napoleon begin to diverge tremendously on their views for the farm. Snowball concentrates significant effort on trying to determine what will make the farm the most productive and beneficial for all of the animals. He is able to convince the other animals that his approach is the best one. However, Napoleon is working against Snowball. Napoleon speaks to the animals in small groups, focusing most of his efforts on persuasion tactics. He also begins to question the efficacy of Snowball’s plans. This rivalry comes to a head over Snowball’s proposal that the animals build a windmill. The windmill would require an initial large investment of labor, but would provide significant long-term benefits for the animals. However, Napoleon foments resistance to the idea of the windmill before Snowball can even give his proposal to the large group of animals. As a result, when Snowball actually presents the plan, there are two groups: one pro-windmill, and one anti-windmill. Snowball is able to convince the animals that the windmill is a good idea, and the animals seem poised on the brink of voting to accept the windmill. It is then that Napoleon reveals his viciousness. He summons nine attack dogs, the missing puppies that the animals basically forgot, to attack Snowball and chase him from the farm. The rest of the farm animals are shocked by the suddenness and viciousness of the attack, and allow Napoleon to become the single ruler of Animal Farm. He is backed by his attack dogs, which he has already demonstrated he is willing to use against the farm animals. With Snowball out of the picture, Napoleon reveals himself as a dictator. He ends the Sunday meetings, and instead of putting decisions to a group vote, announces that a group of pigs will make all decisions. The animals do not necessarily support Napoleon, but they fear the consequences of dissent. Squealer continues to work as Napoleon’s mouthpiece. Squealer explains how Animal Farm will work under Napoleon, including Napoleon’s plan to build a windmill.

Although the animals’ workloads initially decreased under the Animal Farm, they increase dramatically under Napoleon’s regime. Initially, Napoleon introduces a 60-hour workweek, but the animals still have Sundays for leisure time. Napoleon then introduces the idea of voluntary work on Sunday, but the voluntariness is illusory, since animals who do not volunteer for Sunday work are subject to having their food ration cut in half. Napoleon then announces that he will trade with people. Squealer explains to the animals that Napoleon’s decision is necessary because they need additional tools and supplies to build the windmill. When the animals voice concerns that trade with people was prohibited under the Seven Commandments, Squealer turns their questioning against them, and suggest that Snowball, the traitor, is who made them uncooperative. The pigs also break another of the Commandments by moving into the farmhouse and beginning to sleep in beds. When the animals question this, Squealer asks Muriel to read the commandment, which has been changed from “No animal shall sleep in a bed,” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.” This keeps the animals from questioning him further. The animals work on the harvest and continue work on the windmill, which is destroyed in a storm. Napoleon’s reaction is to blame Snowball. He sentences Snowball to death for his role in destroying the windmill.

The animals face a difficult winter, which helps to reveal some of the major inequities that exist at Animal Farm. First, the animals face a decline in the food supply, which puts many of them, but not the pigs, on the brink of starvation. Napoleon requires the animals to sell eggs, which leads the hens to revolt, but Napoleon threatens and intimidates them and any animal supporting them. Squealer tells the animals that Snowball has been seen conspiring with humans on a neighboring farm. Squealer also begins to tell people that Snowball helped Mr. Jones at the Battle of Cowshed. However, the animals do not initially believe Squealer; instead, they remember Snowball’s heroic behavior and question his assertions. Squealer insists that Snowball was a traitor. Napoleon then accuses some pigs and hens of being traitors by conspiring with Snowball and has his dogs rip out their throats. This increases the animals’ fear and stifles any resistance to Napoleon.

Napoleon becomes increasingly reclusive, continuing to use Squealer as his mouthpiece. However, while Napoleon has become elusive, he is somehow omnipresent on Animal Farm. “Beasts of England,” which has always been the theme of Animal Farm, is replaced with a song honoring Napoleon. Napoleon engages in more and more business with neighboring farmers—even Mr. Frederick, who has a reputation for misusing the animals on his farm. He carries out this business in secret after the animals object to the deal. The animals complete the windmill. Then they discover Napoleon’s business dealings with Mr. Frederick. Napoleon contends that the rumors about Mr. Frederick’s treatment of his animals are false propaganda spread by Snowball. However, Mr. Frederick’s banknotes to Napoleon are forged, and, along with a group of other men, Mr. Frederick attempts to storm Animal Farm. The Battle of the Windmill, as it comes to be known, results in several deaths and injuries among the animals. Boxer is seriously injured in the fight. Moreover, the men manage to destroy the windmill. The animals are eventually victorious against the men, however.

The animals start to rebuild the windmill. Boxer, who is still injured from the Battle of the Windmill, works particularly hard. The animals continue to suffer from highly oppressive living conditions, while the pigs continue to see improvements in their daily lives. Not only do the pigs receive more food, but they enjoy signs of superiority, such as the other animals having to step aside when they encounter a pig. Animal Farm also decides to build a new school, largely because of Napoleon’s growing family. Despite these obvious inequities, the animals elect Napoleon as president of the republic of Animal Farm. Boxer’s health continues to decline, and Napoleon has Squealer announce that Boxer is going to the hospital. However, Napoleon actually arranges to send Boxer to the slaughterhouse. Benjamin sees the writing on the truck and tries to get the other animals to help intervene on Boxer’s behalf, but Squealer calms the animals and eventually tells them how Boxer (supposedly) had died in the hospital.

The book ends several years after Boxer’s death. In the time since the rebellion, the animals have purchased more fields and have completed another windmill. Animal Farm is profitable, but the living conditions for all of the animals (except the pigs and dogs) have not improved. The animals continue to be inspired by “Beasts of England,” though none of them dare to sing it. Napoleon has taken to walking upright and carrying a whip. The Seven Commandments have been replaced by a single new commandment: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Perhaps even more telling is that Napoleon announces to the men that the new name of the farm is Manor Farm. Napoleon also interacts regularly with men, and at the end of the novel, one cannot distinguish Napoleon from a human.

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