Response: Literature as Conversation


Animal Farm, by George Orwell; Chapter 1


Weak response, example #1:

      This book is about some animals who live on Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm. It talks about an old boar named Old Major who talks to the other animals and tells them about his vision of the future. It talks about how the animals or slaves who only live to serve humans. Then it talks about.…….


This is considered a weak response because it is only a PLOT SUMMARY. Again, that may be useful to refresh your memory, but that is NOT a response. You will never be asked to simply summarize the plot on a literary or academic essay, on the Regents exam, and especially in college. This is simply not enough; basic comprehension is no longer our goal.


Weak response, example #2:

      I don’t like this book. It’s stupid and boring. I don’t understand any of it. I don’t like animal stories and this is for little kids. I hate reading, it’s a waste of time. I don’t understand some of the words and it doesn’t make any sense to me. I have no idea what’s going on….


This response is weak because it is an OPINION, an evaluative judgment, and while we do tend to do that, it is not useful for the purpose of literary response. None of us is qualified to judge literature this way, and again, you will never be asked for this sort of opinion on an essay, or on the Regents exam. You must not let your opinion, especially a negative one, get in the way of your response. The key is to write what you are getting from the reading; you must be getting something. You can only be wrong if you get nothing.



Fair response, example #1:

      This book is interesting. There are animals that talk. One of them is Old Major, who I guess is the oldest and maybe he’s the leader. He tells the animals that they should form a rebellion and overthrow the farmer. He has some weird ideas, but they’re interesting. I never thought animals could think or talk this way. That song they sang was kind of like a National Anthem.……


This is better; it does show evidence of reading and understanding, and some evidence of meaningful thought and insight, but it touches on many different ideas without exploring any of them. This is a start, as it shows the reader beginning to think beyond the text, but it’s really more of a reaction than a response; the writer would have to explore these ideas in order for this to be effective.


Fair response, example #2:

      My uncle Angelo is a farmer, he lives in upstate New York. I went to visit him last summer. There were a lot of cows on his farm, and chickens, and a huge red barn. Aunt Sylvia cooked a big meal for everybody. It was really quiet up there, and peaceful. You could see so many stars at night. Angelo let me drive the tractor….


This one also is better than the weak responses, and it’s wonderful that the text reminded the student of his own life, but the writing here drifts too far away from the text. He would need to come back and make the connection between the farm in the novel and the one belonging to his uncle. As interesting as it is, the writing doesn’t really show evidence of reading without making those specific and explicit connections.



Strong response, example #1:

      Old Major’s ideas would be radical for anyone, let alone farm animals. He speaks for quite a long time, addressing almost all the animals individually, or at least by species, as he outlines his vision of rebellion and ultimate freedom. He’s not much different from any other revolutionary with a utopian vision; change this, change that, and everyone will be happy, and no one will be oppressed. Of course, it’s never that simple, but as we see.…


This is an effective response which shows a clear understanding of the text and significant thought, consideration and insight by the student. It also draws direct connections to the larger concepts (themes) of freedom, revolution, and “utopian vision;” the student is likely to go on writing about the details of Old Major’s speech, perhaps drawing connections to actual historical figures.


Strong response, example #2:

      Orwell’s technique of using anthropomorphism to dramatize the ideals and events of the Russian revolution is intriguing in its simplicity, and its subversiveness; who would suspect a political tome disguised as a story about farm animals? Old Major’s speech and ideals clearly represent those of Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto (total economic equality, with the people’s labor benefiting the people as opposed to the leadership), with Farmer Jones as Czar Nicholas II, the “oppressor;” of course, as we saw with Communism, things are not likely to go quite as planned……..


This is more of a literary analysis, as the student here notices the literary techniques and elements that are at work in the text, specifically anthropomorphism and tone, as well as historical allegory. This is especially useful on Task III of the Regents exam. Again, the response shows evidence of reading and thorough understanding of the text, as well as significant thought, sophisticated insight, and the beginnings of critical analysis.