In Animal Farm, why is the disappearance of the milk significant?

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The disappearance of the milk demonstrates that the pigs are starting to exert control.  The animals assume that the milk and apples will be shared by all animals.  The cows have to be milked, and the apples that fall on the ground have to be eaten.  Animal Farm is supposed to be a collective effort. 

This also demonstrates the sneaky manner in which the pigs took the milk and apples.  They did not announce that they were doing it, and did not explain until they were questioned.  Napoleon said, "Never mind the milk, comrades!"  He obviously had plans for the pigs to steal it.

The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed every day into the pigs' mash. … The animals had assumed as a matter of course that [the apples] would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness room for the use of the pigs. (Ch. 3) 

Squealer explains that the pigs are the brainworkers of the farm, and they need the milk and apples because they have to work to keep the farm running.  The pigs are making themselves in charge.  They are taking the best things for themselves. 

The way the pigs took the milk and apples is only the beginning.  Slowly, the pigs alter all of the Seven Commandments as they find they need to.  They begin sleeping in the house, they drink alcohol, and kill sheep and hens that were supposedly in league with Snowball, whom they say is a traitor.  They also begin trading with the humans. Eventually, the pigs actually walk on two legs and carry whips in their trotters.  They are soon no different from the people they replaced.

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

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.

 

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