From the beginning of the novel, Tess is associated with birds. They twitter warnings to her before the disastrous accident involving Prince. They call out “prophetic” warnings to her when she leaves Marlott for her job at the d’Urberville estate. Birds are guardian angels, albeit ineffectual, when Tess sleeps in the Chase. Singing, they accompany her to Talbothays Dairy: “She heard a pleasant voice in every breeze, and in every bird's note seemed to lurk a joy.” Indeed, throughout the novel, birds are never far from Tess whom Hardy portrays as synonymous with Nature, a goddess of sorts.
Her first job is caring for the blind Mrs. d’Urberville’s caged fowls. Tess is like one of these birds, dependent upon the whims of others for her subsistence and forced to live in a cage of sorts, unable to break free of her fateful life and her destiny, try as she might. After spending the night outdoors near her in-laws home, Tess uncovers a flock of pheasants forced by hunters into the brush to die and takes solace that her own life is not as miserable as theirs: "poor darlings—to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o' such misery as yours!" She feels for these “kindred sufferers” and puts the yet-living birds to death by wringing their necks out of pity, a scene which foreshadows her death by hanging soon after. Indeed, she is put to death by hunters of a sort after her capture at Stonehenge when she is brought to “justice” at the end of the novel. Just before this, Angel declares “the sight of a bird in a cage used often to make me cry."
Milk is the elixir of life and Tess spends her days milking cows in the fertile lush farm in the Valley of Great Dairies, the site of the happiest days of her life. Cows and milk are ubiquitous: “The red and white herd nearest at hand, which had been phlegmatically waiting for the call, now trooped towards the steading in the background, their great bags of milk swinging under them as they walked.” Here, Hardy uses milk as a metaphor to emphasize Tess’s purity.
Upon her arrival at Talbothays Dairy, Tess refuses the ale offered by Mr. Crick and just takes a cup of pure white milk instead to quench her thirst. This surprises the farmer because the other workers rarely drink milk. Also, this is likely Angel Clare’s first view of Tess at the dairy and well in keeping with the earth goddess role that he ascribes to her. Earlier, Tess is seen wearing a white dress, carrying white flowers and milk becomes an addition symbol of white to emphasizes her a “pure woman,” the qualifier Hardy designated her in the novel’s title.