One of my earliest memories is my mother reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm to my older brother and me; I was about three years old. In junior high school, when I read the book myself, it all came back to me. I asked my mother about it, and she confirmed that she had, saying “It’s kind of like a children’s story – it’s a fable; the animals talk.” She also told me, “I used to read all kinds of stuff to you – not just books for kids.”
Orwell’s tale made a big impression on me – it revealed the lying, the backstabbing, the lengths to which some pigs (or people) will go to gain power, how that power is abused, and how some sheep (or people) are so easily led around by the nose. It could have been the beginning of the distrust of authority figures that has stayed with me my whole life.
That distrust was fueled by the behavior of some teachers and school administrators. As a child, I attended a small elementary school with only one class for each grade. When I was in fourth grade, there was a new fifth grade teacher who was a bully and a jerk – among other things, he once told several of his students to beat up a younger boy. I told my mother I wanted to go to a different school the next year. The other school was a lot bigger and at first a little scary, as I didn’t know anyone, but I was happy my parents entrusted me with making my own decisions about the teacher and which school to attend.
Things weren’t any better in junior high and high school. I was treated to a vice principal announcing, at an assembly regarding the dress code, that “Jap flaps” were not acceptable footwear. I saw a teacher grab a student by the hair and stick his hand in the kid’s mouth in an attempt to find some non-existent gum. One teacher called on me and asked what the price of tea was in China. Two female friends of mine were told by a vice principal that they couldn’t hold hands on campus. I was repeatedly asked by a teacher what day it was, before he finally hissed “It’s Pearl Harbor Day!” Things like this happened all the time.
It seems I’ve always known that just because someone is in a position of power, it doesn’t mean s/he is competent or has anyone else’s best interest in mind. I was still young when I’d seen enough to know that no mere title deserved any respect from me. It’s possible the seed of that knowledge was inside Orwell’s little book, or, given my background – my family was interned by this country – maybe it was just built into my DNA. Either way, Animal Farm spoke to me, and over the years, I’ve re-read it several times. It is always emotionally engaging because it is always pertinent. Some animals continue to be more equal than others.