In the first few chapters of George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, how and why is milk important?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In the first few chapters of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, milk plays an important role as a symbol of privilege. The first reference to milk occurs when Old Major, in his important early speech, associates it with the privileges of humans. Humans, he says, do not produce milk; instead, they take it from those who do produce it and they use it for their own benefit. Expanding upon this charge, he asks,

You cows that I see before me, how many thousands of gallons of milk have you given during this last year? And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone downthe throats of our enemies [that is, humans].

Major’s charges will later seem ironic when it is animals themselves (specifically, the pigs) who take milk from the cows and keep it for themselves. After the Rebellion occurs, the cows are milked, and although various animals (including chickens) express interest in the milk, Napoleon tells them not to worry about it. Later, when they return from other activities, they notice that the milk is gone. Later still, the animals discover that the pigs have appropriated the milk for their own benefit.

Inevitably, it is Squealer, the propagandist, who is given the task of explaining this situation to the other animals:

'Comrades!' he cried. 'You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty?'

The other animals quickly agree that only the pigs should have the milk – a very specific example of Orwell’s point that the communist revolutionaries in Russia quickly became a new elite after they overthrew the traditional aristocrats. The milk thus functions as a specific symbol of the way Soviet leaders appropriated many privileges to themselves and justified their luxuries on the grounds that they were only working tirelessly to promote the greater interests of the people.