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A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE - FREE BOOK NOTES
The novel is really a story of Robert Peck's growing up. The conflict, therefore, is not so much of good vs. bad or man vs. man; instead, it is a tale of a boy's coming into age and maturing into an early manhood.
Robert Peck, the young Shaker boy who is twelve and thirteen during the novel, is the protagonist. He must face several problems, each of which helps him to grow up.
Robert's antagonist is life with its many challenges and accepting the responsibility it imposes. During the novel, he has several conflicts, including saving Apron (Mr. Tanner's cow), having to kill Pinky (his pet pig), having to accept his father's early death, and taking over the management of the farm.
There are several mini-climaxes in the book when Robert proves that he is accepting responsibility and growing up, such as the time when he risks his own life to save Apron and when he accepts that Pinky must be killed. The real climax occurs, however, when he finds his father dead in the barn and immediately assumes full responsibility of making the funeral arrangements and managing the farm. His Shaker father has prepared Robert well for manhood, which is thrust early on to the thirteen year old boy.
The plot ends as a tragic comedy. Robert proves that he can accept the responsibilities of manhood, and the reader realizes that at the young of age thirteen, he will be able to support the family and run the farm. Two tragic events help him grow up. The first is accepting the fact that Pinky, his pet, must be killed since she is barren and is needed as food for the family; Robert bravely helps his father stab the pig although it almost breaks his heart. The second event is accepting that his father is dying and then actually finding him dead in the barn; in spite of his great grief over the loss, Robert quickly accepts the responsibility of making the funeral arrangements and managing the farm.
SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Robert, a twelve-year-old Shaker boy, leaves school without permission, in order to avoid a fight, because he is being teased on the playground for his strange clothes and strange ways. Not wanting to go home and get in trouble for cutting classes, he goes out into the field above his house. There he finds Apron, Mr. Tanner's prize calf, in pain and misery as she tries to give birth to a calf. Since Robert is a kind and helpful farm boy, he assists Apron in delivering the calf. When she begins to choke, he also reaches his arm into Apron's mouth and pulls out a goiter from her throat. In the process, Robert is hurt and knocked unconscious. Mr. Tanner arrives in the field and finds Robert. He picks him up and carries him home to the Peck farm, where his mother and father come to his aid. His mother cleans his wound and puts stitches in his arm, and his father carries him up to his bedroom. All the while, Robert is worried about the fact that he has skipped school and tries to explain to his parents.
After Robert is healed, Mr. Tanner comes to the Peck farm with a baby piglet. It is a present for young Robert to say thanks for saving the cow and calf. Mr. Peck, a strict Shaker father, will not allow Robert to take the pig, for the Shaker way is not to accept rewards for being neighborly. As a result, Mr. Tanner insists that Robert keep the piglet as a birthday present. Mr. Peck permits his son to accept the birthday gift. Robert is delighted, for the piglet is the first thing he has ever owned. Shakers do not believe in any kind of frill; therefore, Robert has never had a toy or a bicycle.
Robert, with his father's help, builds a pen for his pig that he names Pinky. He then begins to care for the animal like a pet. He plays with her, takes her for walks, bathes her, and brings her special treats to eat. He also protects her when she is scared and talks to her as if she were human. Pinky flourishes under Robert's care; she grows rapidly and in ten weeks is as big as the boy, largely because Robert feeds her so well. He even keeps a record of what she eats, for he wants her to become a large and healthy brood sow.
Robert looks forward to June and summer vacation. It will give him more time to spend with Pinky and to enjoy himself. On the last of school, he comes home to find that Aunt Matty is visiting; she is a good friend of his mother from Learning and used to be an English teacher. When she finds out that Robert has received a D in English on his final report card of the year, she is horrified and insists upon tutoring him. When she quizzes him on grammar, Robert cannot answer a single question. As a result, she tries to show him how to diagram a sentence, a task that has no meaning to the boy. Totally frustrated with his efforts, Aunt Matty tells Mrs. Peck it would be easier to teach the pig.
During the summer, Mr. Tanner asks Robert to go with him to the Rutland Fair to help with showing his calves. He also tells the boy he can take Pinky along to show her. Robert can hardly believe his good fortune, for he has never been out of the vicinity of Learning, Vermont in his life. At the fair, Robert is amazed by everything he sees and hears. He believes that Rutland must be as big as London, England and that the camera flashes he sees must be as bright as the bombs in the war. He is especially proud when he is introduced in the show ring as Mr. Robert Peck. He is equally embarrassed when he throws up on the judge's foot. In spite of everything, Pinky wins a blue ribbon as the best-behaved pig.
Back on the farm, Robert is eager for Pinky to prove her worth as a brood sow. Even though she is bred with Mr. Tanner's prize bull, Samson, she does not bear a litter. Since Pinky eats too much to keep as a pet, Robert knows that she must be slaughtered for food. The thought is almost more than the boy can bear. He has equal difficulty accepting the fact that his father is very sick. Mr. Peck tells his son that it will probably be his last winter on earth, for he is failing fast. He explains to Robert that as the only male on the farm, he must assume all the responsibility, a big task for a boy who has not yet turned twelve. Robert promises he will do his best.
As winter approaches, Mr. Peck tries to kill a deer to have provisions in the storehouse for the winter. When he is not successful, he knows it is time to slaughter Pinky. One morning he tells Robert that they must get the task behind them. The boy has to listen as Mr. Peck cracks Pinky's skull and hold her down as his father slits her throat. Robert tells his pa that his heart is broken; the stern Mr. Peck admits that his is broken as well. When Robert sees his father shed a tear for the first time, he forgives him for killing Pinky.
Although Mr. Peck lives through the winter, he dies in early May. Robert simply finds him one morning on his straw bed in the barn. After telling Mrs. Peck and Aunt Carrie that Papa will not be coming in for breakfast ever again, the boy goes into town to bring Mr. Wilcox, the Shaker undertaker. Robert then goes about informing the neighbors, digging a grave, and preparing a eulogy. In the way that he handles the funeral arrangements, it is clear that this thirteen-year-old Shaker lad has prematurely become a man.