Life is like… a hunk of cheese? You know, it's not so far off if you live in Ratbridge, where wild cheeses roam the woods and everyone remembers the great cheese trade of bygone days.
On the literal front, cheeses are timid creatures with legs. When Arthur first glimpses the cheese hunt, he sees, "three large barrel cheese broke from the undergrowth, running as fast as their legs would carry them. Hurtling across the clearing, bleating in panic, they disappeared into the bushes on the far side of the clearing" (2.1). Okay, so cheeses have legs and are skittish. Got it.
Snatcher's men are capturing these cheeses to melt and feed to their twisted science experiment, the huge rat Framley. Cheese is thus both the object of pursuit—making it an end goal in its own right—and the means to another end (feeding Framley). In this way, the cheese is kind of like life itself: Snatcher pursues cheese in the name of making life better (for himself, anyway), but there's no guarantee that this betterment will actually ever happen. And aren't we all just trying to build happy futures for ourselves?
But just like there are no guarantees that our own happy futures will come to fruition, the same can be said about Snatcher and the life he's trying to build when he relentlessly pursues the cheeses. And in Snatcher's case, his whole plan spectacularly falls apart (or explodes, to be precise) when Framley eats one bite too many and is blown to smithereens. As much as the cheese helps Snatcher and his goons build the life they want, then, it also contributes to the collapse of all their hard work.
But this isn't just Snatcher and Framley's book, and the cheeses are on pretty much everyone's radars. In fact, when people talk about the history of Ratbridge, they can't do it without talking about cheese. According to Grandfather:
"Ratbridge was founded on the cheese, but when new industries came to town, the smoke and waste they produced poisoned the water supply and a lot of countryside around here. It got so bad that the local cheeses were decreed unfit to eat, and the cheese industry collapsed. The cheese barons went bankrupt overnight." (39.20)
Here, we see links between cheese and the environment, history, and money. So when we think of cheese, we should also think of the evolution of life in Ratbridge, an evolution that continues to unfold with cheese at its center throughout this book. Cheese represents life, then, on both an individual and a collective level in this book.
And like life, cheese is hard to pin down. We're told: "Cheeses have many predators, but the one that they fear most is the Cheese Hawk. The merest hint of anything large and winged will send cheeses into a blind panic" (4.7). Do you think you know what you want out of life? Try to hunt it down, and it just may squirm away from you, bleating in terror like a frightened cheese. The same can be said about mass social shifts, since it's not like everyone ever agrees. Take Snatcher and his Framley project for example—not everyone thinks this is such a great idea. Not at all.
Snatcher convinces his men to masquerade as horses in order to do a proper cheese hunt. This sounds uncomfortable and not very fun, but they're willing to do it because the promise of cheese is worth it. So again we see that cheese connects to the fundamental things in life.
In other words, when we read into the symbolism, one thing becomes perfectly clear: A life without cheese must not be worth living. Now if you'll excuse us for a moment, we think we need a snack.