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Essay: Taming George Orwell’s Animal Farm

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Books are often seen as key elements to advancing ourselves as people, much less our knowledge. Curiously enough, any book on display at a local Barnes and Nobles store could potentially be on a list of banned books worldwide. These books tend to have ideas or views that are seen as controversial. With controversial books being produced, school districts, cities, even entire countries try to crack down on what should or should not be allowed to be read: censorship. With banning and censoring books come major disputes. Is the reason for banning the book reasonable? One of the books that is surrounded by a mass of controversy is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Published in August of 1845, the book written by Orwell sparked complications between countries due to the ideas used in the political satire. Therefore, because of the transgressions George Orwell’s Animal Farm holds to nations, religions, and beliefs, it has been banned throughout multiple cities across the world.
Mystic Middle School is one of the latest instances of controversy against George Orwell’s Animal Farm in a school district. In February of 2017, the school board of education in Stonington, Connecticut decided to remove the novel from the curriculum for 8th grade students, despite teachers’ protest. Mr. Ed Goldberg, a teaching instructor in Mystic Middle School who has been using the book for over 20 years, was especially distraught about the news, “None of the reasons I have been given make much sense… I have heard 1) whole group discussion of a single book, 2) the book is age inappropriate, and 3) it’s not part of a ‘list’ approved books. I don’t understand this either” (qtd. Gomez). The book was removed from the districts’ “anchor books” list and instead was placed on a secondary/enrichment book list. Due to Mr. Goldberg’s opposition to the removal of the book, he has been reprimanded by school officials. Penny Ann Boddle, the mother of a student at Mystic Middle School informed reporters about her disapproval of the way the school was handling the matter, “The question is why is a tremendous and respected teacher not being given the latitude to teach books he wants to use” (qtd. Gomez). The cause for the removal of the book was unknown to people outside of the principal and school board itself. “Nobody knows why it was taken off the list. I don’t know what the rational was”, said Dan Kelly, the father of a 7th grader who attended Mystic Middle School (qtd. White and Naples). After further questions from the 790KABC radio show, the principal released a statement claiming that the motive behind the banning of the book from the school’s curriculum was due to other middle schools using more challenging books. Parents of the Mystic Middle School students got together to attend a school board meeting on Wednesday, February 2nd to dispute the removal of the book. During this interview, superintendent Van Riley contradicted his previous statement, saying that “Stonington Public Schools does not ban books. Animal Farm was never banned” (qtd. Gomez). Bob Stachen, also a parent of a student from Mystic Middle School, expressed his disappointment for the lack of communication the school district held with the parents in regards to the situation, as well as with the way the district handled Mr. Goldberg’s opposition to the removal. “I was not satisfied with the answers or the transparency as to how this curriculum decision was made. I think it’s a retrograde step when talented and experienced teaching are not trusted to make smart decisions on how to teach students” (qtd. Gomez).
In addition to the ruling in Connecticut, another school district in Panama City, Florida, protested leaving Animal Farm in their curriculum. Defendants Mowat Junior High School superintendent, Mr. Joel Creel, as well as school board member, Mr. Hall, stood strongly behind the removal of the banned book from the school’s curriculum because of the book’s “vulgar and obscene language” that was not justified as appropriate for the junior high school level students (Goldberg). The district changed the books allowed in the curriculum by implementing a policy that places books into 3 separate categories of description, leveling from minimal vulgarity to lots of vulgarity, which would indefinitely cause the book to be off limits in the classroom setting. The policy states, “it shall be the policy of this school district not to use instructional material which contains vulgar, obscene, or sexually explicit material unless they are outweighed by the work’s literary value” (Goldberg). Therefore, in April 1987, Animal Farm had been banned in the Bay District of Panama City schools (Stewart). Regardless, parents did not stay quiet. A board action preceded by a fellow parent from a 7th grader raised a complaint backed by 40 plaintiffs with help from Pamela Dru Sutton representing them as an attorney. “Our clients have said they want books, not bucks” stated Sutton as the case was in process (qtd. “Florida Officials Yield”). The case addressed the question of whether students’ and teachers’ rights abided by the 1st amendment are compromised through the school district’s decisions. According to Education Week’s website, “By banning two novels and adopting a policy that prohibits the use of more than 60 other books, the Bay County (Fla.) School Board has violated the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and parents, a lawsuit filed in U.S District Court charges” (“Florida Officials Yield”). John Buchanan, the chairman of People for the American Way, also felt that the ban not only seemed to violate the First Amendment rights of both students and teachers, but felt that the situation impacted the children’s views on literature. “The Superintendent has now turned out many of the greatest works of American and World Literature. At the same time, he has thrown out the First Amendment rights of students and teachers, and the idea that education should be about excellence” (qtd. “Florida Officials Yield”). Followed by an eight-hour board meeting, the plaintiffs were able to argue their way through the school board to reverse the policy, approving all books that were already included into the school’s curriculum before the original policy change.
Another area Animal Farm is found to be banned in is China. China is known to be a country that censors most sources of information available to its citizens, such as social media websites known as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Just recently in the year, China advanced to banning Animal Farm from the search ability in their country. The political satire has aspects that reflect the government system China is governed by today. Orwell’s book challenges authoritarianism: advocacy of strict obedience to authority in expense for personal freedom, the surveillance state, as well as ideas of repressive governments (Dreiblatt). With these ideas, it is clear that people will have a variety of opinions regarding the communist party’s advancement in paving the way for China’s current ruler, Xi Jinping, to become “a dictator for life” (Coulter).
Animal Farm is also banned in Moscow, Russia. In September of 1977, Moscow held its first international book fair, though some books were not allowed to be showcased. Soviet authorities have banned a total of 44 American books, including Orwell’s classic, from being showcased in the fair (“Moscow Banned Books”). The Russian government claims the books seemed to have “preached violence, racism, and anti-Sovietism” (“Moscow Banned Books”). American publishers which included one of Orwell’s, became furious at the fact that their work was not allowed to be displayed. In fact, representatives from these publishers, including Martin Levin, publisher of the Times Mirror Co. Publishing Company who represented Orwell’s books as well as Chester Kerr of Yale University Press, protested and fought for the censorship to be lifted from these books at a conference. Boris Stukalin, chairman of the Soviet State Committee on Publishing and one of the fair organizers, held tightly to the idea that the books promoted “a study of the Soviet secret police and a history of modern American poster art” created a “customs matter” (Klose). A Soviet publisher furthermore mentioned that the publishers with banned books tried to “poison the atmosphere of hospitality and businesslike cooperation” at the fair (“Moscow Banned Books”). The deputy chairman of the state publishing committee, Vasily Slastenko, compared that only a few dozen books were banned out of the 150,000 that were on display. He proceeded to comment on the ban mentioning that, “The preaching violence and racism and anti-Sovietism has never been a mark of culture or progress” (“Moscow Banned Books”).
With more books being published integrating new ideas in regards to political views and government ordinances, readers will tend to come across more instances of these books being banned across the world. Censorship will always contain both double sided and equal arguments when it comes to protecting readers from certain ideas included in these books, as shown through George Orwell’s censorship of Animal Farm in many areas of the world due to the transgressions it holds.
In regards to my opinion on the controversy, I don’t think that George Orwell’s Animal Farm should have been banned anywhere. When it comes to books, I am a strong believer in the fact that everyone is given the opportunity to write and publish work that contains their personal beliefs. Returning to the case in Panama City, Florida, I agree with their motives in filing a case under the First Amendment: the right of speech and the right of press. Under these amendments, we are given the right to express our beliefs, giving the right to anyone to read it and interpret it to their ability. If we start banning these books based on threats from the topics or the ideas they cover, I believe that it’ll be harder for people to form their own opinions, and instead allow officials with higher rank to determine what we may or may not read.. Therefore, I do believe that the banning of Orwell’s literary work was unjust. Expressing political views shouldn’t cause a problem. Through this, people are opened to new ideas which can lead us to a better living world and an even better cooperating society.

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