8 Parabolic Books like ‘Animal Farm’

Copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell on a white surface, under sun rays

George Orwell’s allegorical novella looks at power, the control it breeds, and the corruption it nurtures. By exposing the manipulation tactics of the pigs running his titular farm, Orwell shows us how authority figures often quell and distort revolutionary ideals to keep a firm grip on control. By doing so, he challenges us to dig beneath the surface, where humanity is known to thrive. Here are eight parabolic books like Animal Farm.

1. ‘Filth’ by Irvine Welsh

We feel rage. The feelings must be followed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ideologue or a sensualist, you follow the stimuli thinking that they’re your signposts to the promised land.

Welsh’s work hones in on the perverse nature of corruption. Detective Sergeant Robertson is looking forward to his yearly, sex-driven holiday in Amsterdam. 

However, dreams of his hedonistic escape are not as imminent as he would like them to be. The matter of his missing wife and child, eczema on his nether regions, an aggravated cocaine addiction, and an itch for a promotion at work all threaten his fast-living ways.

Robertson is an anti-hero through and through. No excuses are made for his controversial behaviour, and no quarter is given to the victims of his alarming motives. 

The depth of the novel’s satirical voice is uncovered when the tapeworm living inside Robertson takes on the role of his advocate, referring to itself as The Self. 

Its proprietary grip on Robertson seems to stem from the intimacy it gains with the man’s mind. The debauchery in the book is addictive, as is Welsh’s dissection of the parts of ourselves few have the stomach to inspect.

2. ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding

Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.

Following a plane crash, a group of boys find themselves stranded on a desert island. Their first taste of freedom, offered by the absence of rule-asserting adults, quickly takes on a foul aftertaste. As their survival instincts kick in and a need for order is begrudgingly addressed, the boys set about forming a hierarchy. 

The class stratification is based on their ruthless perception of each other’s weaknesses, which they covertly seek to exploit. As fear of the island’s hidden dangers threatens the system they’ve established, the boys soon find themselves grappling with the loss of innocence. 

What remains is only the darkness unleashed by the loosened hold of civilisation, and the violent impulses it demands.

Golding’s novella traces the link between human depravity and the forces that trigger our return to base instincts, much like Animal Farm. What we end up with is a reflection on both the human psyche and the societal mechanisms used to keep it chained. Power appears as the common denominator, and its poor handling leads us to a similarly horrifying conclusion.

3. ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams

They did not talk for talking’s sake, in the artificial manner that human beings — and sometimes even their dogs and cats — do.

A group of wild animals sets out in search of a new home after the intrusion of man, an event that has disastrous consequences on the order they’ve come to rely on. As a result, their journey turns into the pursuit of a perfect society. It’s spurred on by reflections on the nature of man, as well as the “animality” he lacks. 

It’s seen as a quality that purifies instinct-driven animals but condemns the conniving ways of man. Fraught with dark adventures and loveable characters, Watership Down questions the ethics of captivity by alluding to the inherent darkness of the system in place.

4. ‘Heart of a Dog’ by Mikhail Bulgakov

Nobody should be whipped. Remember that, once and for all. Neither man nor animal can be influenced by anything but suggestion.

Bulgakov’s satirical novel tells the story of a stray dog that is found and later operated on by Filip Filippovich. On his first attempt, the surgeon transplants human organs to the animal’s body, including the pituitary gland, which controls growth and development. 

As the dog turns impossibly rebellious in the aftermath, Filippovich decides to reverse the operation, transforming the dog into a man.

The work serves as a scathing criticism of Soviet society, in particular the excesses of the Russian Revolution. Much like Animal Farm, the plot thrives on the tension between the classes, which fuels a corrupt ideology. 

This becomes clear when the influential and the newly rich are given the power to manipulate the law. And so, Bulgakov questions the essence of human nature, famously stating that “the ability to speak does not make one a human being.”

5. ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus

I know that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.

The large Algerian city of Oran is gripped by a plague. The silently encroaching threat first lays claim to rats, sweeping their lifeless bodies onto the streets to feed mass hysteria. 

As death claws its way to the human population, Dr Rieux struggles to come to terms with the authorities’ denial of the ongoing calamity. But as quarantine is imposed on Oran, the inhabitants’ perspective begins to acclimatise, leaving them aware of the collective nature of their suffering.

Camus’ work is a testament to how quickly we forget scenes of human suffering. And by incorporating elements of absurdism, he’s able to transform the horrors he describes into a haunting allegory. What we end up with is an outline of the fear and paranoia that influence the workings of the human psyche.

6. ‘The Outsider’ by Colin Wilson

The Outsider is always unhappy, but he is the agent that ensures happiness for millions of ‘Insiders’.

Wilson’s novel portrays an outsider’s influence on society and vice versa. The Outsider abides by his own rules, challenges the status quo in the name of self-exploration, and suffers from a crippling sense of alienation as a result. 

In the end, we follow both the transformation of the Self and the effect it has on a society that seeks to draw it in. The novel is most memorable for its pursuit of a “new religion” that would breathe life back into a broken system.

7. ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks

Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn’t really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.

Frank is a dysfunctional teenager. He survives by shaking off his conscience, which leads to moments of shocking cruelty. When Frank’s brother, Eric, escapes from a psychiatric hospital, a deeper dive into the mysteries of the past threatens to unsettle Frank further. As a result, we begin an exploration of moral deviancy.

By loosening the processes of Frank’s psyche, Banks succeeds in challenging societal values. He does this simply by depositing us in a world controlled by an unhinged mind. 

Its mechanisms become even bleaker when Frank’s values appear in direct opposition to the ones that manage the system he has to navigate. Power becomes a key factor, one that links rules to violent acts of defiance.

8. ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka

You do not need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, a bank official named Joseph K. is arrested without justification. Outraged and confused, he embarks on a journey to rationalise the actions of the Law, which he has never doubted before. 

His quest proves exhausting and alienating and sees him caught in a whirlpool of mindless bureaucracy. When, a year later, he’s presented with an impossible sentence, K. finds himself resigned to his fate.

Kafka’s surreal novel captures the anxieties of an individual struggling against an obstructive authority. In a society, which preaches that justice is a moral good, ideals appear corrupted. Kafa also shows us how systems of power are easily manipulated by those, who seek to hold fast to the control they have been given.

Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

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