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A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE - PLOT SUMMARY
After the encounter with Apron, Robert is in bed for a week. As soon as he is able to hobble downstairs, his father puts him to work, resetting fence posts. As they labor, Robert comments that it is strange that humans fence things from their neighbors, like they were at war. Papa explains that all animals build some kind of fence; birds mark their territory and so do foxes and dogs. He goes on to explain that human fences create accord amongst neighbors, for they keep things just separate enough.
As they work on the fence, Ben Tanner approaches with Apron. Robert notices that she has two calves. Tanner says their names are Bib and Bob, the latter in honor of young Robert for helping to birth the calf. As a thank-you gift for his efforts, Mr. Tanner gives Robert a white baby pig with a pink nose and ears. Robert is overjoyed to have something of his very own for the first time ever. Much to Robert’s sorrow, his father tells Mr. Tanner that “it’s not the Shaker Way to take frills for being neighborly.” Understanding the thinking of Haven Peck, Mr. Tanner says the piglet is a belated birthday present for Robert. When Papa relents and says his son may accept the birthday gift, both Robert and the piglet let out a squeal of delight.
When Robert looks at his pig, he things she is beautiful, prettier than any dog, cat, or cow. He immediately names her Pinky. He also feels proud to personally own something of value. He has always wanted a bicycle, but the family simply cannot afford to buy him one; his parents also think that a bicycle is a luxury, a “work of the devil.” In a Shaker household there is nothing more evil than a frill.
Papa tells Robert that he will have to care for Pinky and
warns that “care taking of a pig can keep a body as nervous as a long-tail cat
in a room full of rocking chairs.” He also explains that Robert will need to build
a pen for Pinky, for the Book of Shaker says that pigs and cattle cannot stay
under the same roof. Tradition has it that a pig causes a cow’s milk to curdle.
Papa explains the phenomenon as “earthy reason” or natural instinct, something
that townsfolk cannot understand.
This chapter develops the characters of Robert and his father and gives further insight into Shaker ways. Mr. Peck is again seen as a practical, hard-working man. As soon as Robert is well enough to get out of bed, he puts his son to work. When Mr. Tanner brings Robert a piglet as a thank-you gift, Robert’s father will not allow the boy to accept it, for he feels nothing is due for his son being neighborly. Mr. Tanner sees Robert’s disappointment and insists that the piglet is really a belated birthday gift. Mr. Peck allows Robert to keep the piglet as a birthday present, for it is a practical gift that can earn an income for the family. Robert is delighted, for it is the only thing of value he has ever owned. In a Shaker household, there is no room for toys or frills.
It is clear in this chapter that the Shaker religion is definite and strict. Shakers go to “meeting” each Sunday and live by the book of Shaker every day of the week. They are taught that people must live simply and that unnecessary things are evil, the work of the devil. Shakers are expected to dress in plain clothing, work hard to earn a living off the land, and possess only the bare necessities of life. The Book of Shaker also gives practical advice, such as telling farmers not to let pigs and cows live under the same roof.
It is obvious that the Pecks live by Shaker tradition. Robert has never had a possession of his very own before Pinky. He has longed for a bicycle; but the boy would never dare ask his parents for such a frill. He honors his mother and father and the Shaker way. When his father indicates Robert cannot accept the pig as a thank-you gift, Robert is crushed, but does not utter a word of complaint. In a similar manner, he is extremely polite to Mr. Tanner, addressing him with respect and courteously thanking him for the piglet.
As they work on the fence, father and son have true communication. When Robert asks about the purpose of fences, Papa carefully explains their importance. When Robert wonders why Pinky cannot stay in the barn with the family cow and ox, Papa again takes the time to explain “earthy reason” to his son.
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