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Free Study Guide/Summary for A Day No Pigs Would Die

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ONLINE CHAPTER SUMMARY - A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE

 

CHAPTER 12

 

Summary

When Pinky finally comes home with the other stock from the Rutland Fair, Robert is very glad to see his pig. He takes down the blue ribbon from the wall over his bed and shows it to Pinky, telling her that she “can be a right proud pig.”

When Mr. Peck comes in from his work slaughtering pigs, Robert asks him why his clothes get so dirty when he wears a leather apron over them. Mr. Peck answers that “dying is dirty business.” Robert responds by saying that he is “sure glad that nobody’ll kill Pinky” since she is going to be a brood sow. It is a sadly ironic statement.

Mr. Peck goes out to Pinky’s pen and remarks that the pig should have had her first heat weeks ago and tells Robert that he is afraid that she is barren. The boy’s response is to shout “no” and repeatedly hit the fence until his fists hurt. Robert understands that if Pinky cannot bear piglets, the family cannot afford to let the boy keep her as a pet, for she eats too much and is of no use except as meat if she is not a brood sow.

Mrs. Peck calls to Robert and asks him to go and shoot a squirrel. Usually the thought of squirrel hunting thrills the boy, but today he is too upset about Pinky to be excited. He methodically loads his rifle and heads up to the ridge. Not seeing a squirrel in the trees, Robert sits down to wait. As he looks across the valley, he notices the goldenrod and thinks that is looks “like somebody broke eggs all over the hillside.” Suddenly, the boy notices a gray squirrel right overhead. He aims and hits the squirrel, which is injured and knocked off the tree, but not dead. Robert grabs it by the back legs and swings it against the trunk of a tree to kill it and put it out of its misery.

Back at home, Robert cuts open the belly of the squirrel and carefully removes the paunch, which he takes inside to wash. Once clean, the boy empties the paunch of all the chewed up nutmeats, spreading them out on a cloth to dry. Robert knows that his mother will use the nutmeats to adorn a chocolate cake. The boy can hardly wait to taste it.

Back outside, Robert cuts up the rest of the squirrel into chunks and throws it to the chickens. He notices that the big ones get all the meat, and the scrawny chickens get nothing. When Mr. Peck comes up beside Robert, the boy says that it is not fair that the runts get nothing. His father responds that “it ain’t a fair world.” Robert then asks his father when they are going to pick the apples. Mr. Peck bemoans the fact that the apples are not very good this year, but says they will pick what there is in two days. He then questions Robert about how he smoked the orchard. When Mr. Peck realizes that the boy made a mistake, he does not scold him; instead, he tells him what he did wrong and reminds him that “you’ll do right next spring. . .just take time with things. One chore done good beats two done ragged.”


Mr. Peck goes on to explain that you can judge a farmer by the look of the farm and the actions of the man. He points out how Mr. Tanner’s fences are always straight and white, and his animals are always clean. The man himself is always in the barn at six in the morning and six in the evening, so regular you can set your watch by it. Such are the marks of a good farmer. Robert, however, says he does not want to be like Mr. Tanner, but like his own father. Mr. Peck replies to his son that he “wouldn’t wish that on a dead cat.” He then tells Robert that he will be better, for he can read and write and cipher. Robert reminds his Pa that he is the best butcher in the county; even Mr. Tanner has said so.

The conversation is interrupted by Mrs. Peck’s calling them to supper. Mr. Peck and Robert wash up at the pump. As they go inside, Mr. Peck tells his son, “Try an’try, I can’t wash the pig off me. And your mother never complains. Not once, in all these years, has she ever said that I smell strong.” In fact, Mrs. Peck has told her husband that he just smells of honest work. After a good dinner, Mrs. Peck serves the chocolate cake, sprinkled with the dried nutmeats from the squirrel’s pouch. Robert thinks that the nuts look “like little white stars in a big brown heaven.”

After the chores are finished, Robert and his dad sit before the fire. Mr. Peck states that wood heats a person three times - “when you cut, it, haul it, and burn it.” The fire reminds the boy that winter is coming, and he tells his dad that he needs a new winter coat. When Mr. Peck says that his mother can make him one, Robert says that he “needs” a store coat. Mr. Peck responds that “need is a weak work. Has nothing to do with what people get. Ain’t what you need that matters. It’s what you do. And your mother’ll do you a coat.” Robert says that just once he would like to walk into the General Store with money in his pocket and buy himself a coat, preferably a red and black plaid one. He then asks his father, “Why do we have to be Plain People?” Mr. Peck simply answers, “Because we are.”

Mr. Peck then tells Robert that he will someday earn a store bought coat and reminds his son that it is now time for him to be a man. He then tells Robert that “this is my last winter. I got an affection.” The boy does not want to believe his father, but Mr. Peck tells him, “You got to face up to it. You can’t be a boy about it.” He then reminds Robert that he will be the only male on the farm; therefore, he must learn everything about running it so he can pay it off in the next five years. Mr. Peck also makes Robert promise not to say anything to Mrs. Peck or Aunt Carrie about the conversation.

When Robert gets up and touches his father’s sleeve, Mr. Peck steels himself and stiffens. Trying to maintain control and be stern, he tells his son, “You aren’t the boy of the place. You’re the man. A man of thirteen. But no less a man. And whatever has to be done on this land, it’s got to be did by you, Rob." The boy could not say anything; he just wished that his father would give him a hug and a kiss or at least reach out and touch him. Instead, Mr. Peck just gets up from his chair and goes upstairs to bed. Robert stays staring at the fire until it dies away; he does not want it to have to die alone.

Notes

This is the most important chapter of the book, for it clearly foreshadows the tragedies that are to occur. Pinky must be killed to eat as meat, for she is barren and Mr. Peck is sick and dying, leaving Robert, a lad of thirteen, as the sole male to run the farm. The chapter also does much to establish the character of Mr. Peck.

It is important to notice that a picture of death is again given in this important chapter. Normally when Mrs. Peck tells Robert to go and shoot a squirrel, he is excited about the hunt. Today, however, he is too upset with the thought of Pinky being barren to even enjoy loading his rifle. This change in attitude about death is a preparation for the news that Mr. Peck will share with his son later in the chapter.

After Robert shoots the squirrels and gathers the nutmeats from the paunch, he feeds the chunks of squirrel meat to the chickens. He watches as the bigger ones push the smaller ones out of the way. The boy comments to his dad that it is not fair that the runts never get enough to eat. Mr. Peck simply responds that it is not a fair world. Again, it is the author preparing the reader for the news of pa’s impending death, as well as the death of Pinky.

The practical Mr. Peck sits with his son watching the fire; he comments that wood warms you three time, by cutting it, hauling, it and burning it. Robert comments that winter is fast approaching, and he needs a new winter coat. His Pa says that Mrs. Peck can sew him one. The boy bravely says that he “needs” a store bought coat - the first ever. Mr. Peck reminds him that such a frill is not a possibility. He then says, however, that someday perhaps Robert will be able to afford a store bought coat. Since he is soon to be thirteen, he must begin to act like a man. Mr. Peck then reveals that he feels it will be his last winter on earth, for he is sick and dying. Robert will be left to run the farm, and his father assures him he can rise to the occasion. Robert is horrified over the news and does not want to believe it. He does, however, promise his father he will do his best; he also promises to say nothing about their conversation to his ma or Aunt Carrie.

Crushed at the news, Robert longs for his father to hug him or at least to reach out and touch him. The stern Mr. Peck refuses to give in to emotion; instead, he gets up and goes to bed. Robert stays and stares at the fire until it dies away. He does not want it to die alone.

 

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