Animal Farm is, famously, an allegory of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its aftermath. If you didn't know that -- much as I didn't, when I read it as a teenager -- it nonetheless stands up on its own. While the symbolism, from what I recall, is obvious, it doesn't scream in your face.

What techniques did Orwell use to add subtlety to his allegory (besides framing it as a fairy tale with talking animals?) What techniques are generally employed when writing such things, to avoid them becoming garish while not veering too far away from the meaning one is trying to convey?

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A fable, such as Animal Farm, usually isn't a direct translation of the situation, on which it is a commentary, into fiction. There is an intermediary step in which the original situation is interpreted, and it is this interpretation which is represented in the tale.

For example, if Animal Farm were a simple retelling of how the rule of Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown by the Bolsheviks etc. using animals instead of humans, there would have to have been a world war, the help of the UK and France during the Russian Civial War, and so on, all of which are missing from Orwell's tale.

Instead, Animal Farm is a retelling of how Orwell understood those events. Orwell has stated that he wrote Animal Farm not to chronicle historic events, but to "expose the Soviet myth". That is, he viewed those historic events in a certain way – that a "violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people[,] can only lead to a change of masters" – and wrote an allegory of that view.

It is important to note that that view isn't a fact or truth in the same way that the existence of Tsar Nicholas and the revolution of the Bolsheviks are! It is the common Western view on those events. There are of course other possible interpretations of that part of history, and I am sure fables have been written from those views. If you take your understanding of Animal Farm as the reality behind it, you miss how fables work.

The intermediary step of interpreting reality and writing a fable about that interpretation is what makes the fable both internally coherent and, because it is one step removed from reality, "subtle". Reality isn't usually coherent at all, because it is full of parallel, unrelated chains of events, that only coincidentally intersect, as well as random forces, that have no aim or purpose at all.


One technique, I think, is a bit of misdirection: Only retain the spirit of what you wish to mock; but change the circumstances to fit what your characters would actually be concerned with.

If your characters are animals, the stakes must matter to the animals.

If your characters are a feuding neighbors, make the stakes matter to those people. Make them smaller stakes, but with the same arguments, or recognizably similar arguments, as the situation you want to satire.

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