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A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE FREE NOTES
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
A Day No Pigs Would Die is a simple tale of a boy's maturing and accepting responsibility that is structured in a classic manner. The opening chapter is largely introductory. It reveals the basic characteristics of Robert Peck, a twelve-year-old Shaker boy. It also describes the rural Vermont setting, where the entire story will take place. The action also begins in the first chapter when Robert helps Apron, Mr. Tanner's prize cow, give birth to her calf. The rising action quickly follows when Robert is rewarded with a piglet of his own to raise. He names the pig Pinky and raises her as a pet. Mr. Tanner invites him to go to the Rutland Fair with him and take Pinky to show in the ring. It is a real lesson for Robert, for he has never before been out of Learning, Vermont.
The Rutland Fair is only one of many learning experiences for Robert. He also goes with his father, Haven Peck, to the Shaker cemetery to stop Sebring Hillman from disturbing the grave of Letty Phelps, a relative; when his father gets into the grave and helps Sebring find the small casket of Letty's child, Robert learns about forgiveness. He listens to his mother and Aunt Carrie talk about the relationship between the Widow Bascom and Ira Young and learns about sexuality. He works with his father and learns from him about being a farmer. He cares for Pinky and learns about responsibility. Each of these lessons helps the boy to mature so that he is capable of running the farm by the end of the novel.
The climax of the book occurs when Robert must help his father kill Pinky. Although she has been bred, Pinky does not bear a litter. Since she is barren, the family cannot afford to keep her as a pet for Robert. She must be slaughtered to provide meat for the family. Robert must help his father with the slaughter. It is the hardest thing he has ever had to do, but he faces the task like a man. He holds Pinky's legs while his father slits her throat. Even though he feels like his heart is broken, Robert understands why Pinky has been killed and forgives his stern father.
Since Robert proves that he has matured and can handle the running of the farm, even though he is only thirteen years old, the novel ends in comedy. It is, however, a tragic comedy, due to the deaths of Pinky and Mr. Peck.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The plot of A Day No Pigs Would Die is structured around the Themes of life and death. The book opens with an emphasis on new life. Robert helps to give birth to a calf, saving Apron's life in the process. As a reward for his life-saving efforts, the boy is rewarded with another new life - a small piglet that he names Pinky. Through most of the first half of the novel, the growth of Pinky is emphasized. Robert's own growth and maturing is also depicted, as he learns responsibility and experiences life outside of Learning at the Rutland Fair.
Other instances of new life are also presented. Ms. Sarah, the Peck's barn cat, gives birth to a new litter of kittens. Mrs. Peck takes Robert into the barn to see them and expresses her wonder over the miracle of new life. There is also the birth of new friendships for Robert. He forgives Widow Bascom for whacking him with the broom and helps her move her heavy pots. As a reward for his friendship, she is the one who suggests to the Tanners that the boy would love to go to the Rutland Fair. The Tanner friendship with Robert is also born in the course of the novel. At the Fair, Robert proves his friendship, putting the needs of Ben Tanner and his animal before his own needs and the needs of Pinky. As a result, Mr. Tanner tells Mr. Peck that Robert deserves a blue ribbon as the best-behaved boy. He also tells Robert after Mr. Peck's funeral that they boy should call him Ben, for friends should always speak on a first-name basis.
Life, however, cannot go on forever, and Robert is exposed to several deaths in the novel. The first comes when he watches a hawk bury its talons into a rabbit. Robert thinks he will never forget the death cry of the small, furry animal; it is the only sound a rabbit ever makes in its life. Robert is again exposed to death when his father takes him to the Shaker cemetery in the middle of the night to stop Sebring Hillman from disrupting the grave of Letty Phelps. The boy learns that Sebring is really after the coffin of Letty's dead daughter, who is his illegitimate child. The next exposure to death comes with the weaseling of Hussy, Ira Young's dog. Again Robert thinks he will never forget the horrible sounds of the pup and the weasel fighting in the apple barrel. When the weasel if finally killed, Robert discovers that Hussy is also only half-alive and must be killed.
All of these images of death are included in the novel to prepare Robert for the two significant deaths that occur at the end of the novel. Since Pinky is barren, she must be killed, for the Pecks cannot afford to feed her as a pet. Mr. Peck expects his son to help with Pinky's slaughtering; it is the hardest thing that Robert has ever had to do. Before he helps his pa, he gives his pet pig one last hug. He then closes his eyes as Mr. Peck cracks Pinky's skull. Then he must hold her legs as his father slits her throat. After it is all over, Robert tells Mr. Peck that his heart is broken.
Pinky's death helps Robert mature into a young man and prepares him to accept the death of his father. When he finds Mr. Peck dead on his straw bed in the barn, Robert quickly takes matters in hand. He handles the funeral arrangements, digs the grave, and gives the eulogy. The deaths that he has experienced in the course of the novel have helped him grow into manhood. They have also taught him that every living thing must eventually die, some earlier than others.
Fortunately, the friends and neighbors that come to Mr. Peck's funeral are willing to help Robert. They carry the coffin to the grave and lower it into the hole that Robert has dug. They also give Robert great comfort, knowing that his father was loved and respected by so many. Most importantly, people like the Tanners offer to do whatever they can to help Robert with the running of the farm. Robert appreciates such neighborliness, which gives him faith to do his best.