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

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“October came, with colors as pretty as laundry on a line;” but Pinky still does not come into heat. When Robert tells Mr. Tanner about it and asks him if he thinks Pinky is barren, Mr. Tanner decides to bring his prize boar,

Samson, over to the Pecks to mate with Pinky. He arrives with Samson in the wagon after Mr. Peck has left for work. Robert helps him to get Samson from the wagon into the pen. He then goes and brings Pinky to the pen. Although Pinky is a large pig, next to Samson, she looks small, half his size. Although Samson immediately goes up to Pinky and pushes her with his nose, she has no interest in him and backs away, kicking at him. She then bites his ear, and Mr. Tanner has to whack her with a stick. He explains to Robert that this is “all part of courting. .
.Samson just got his face slapped.”

While the man and boy are waiting for something to happen in the pen, Mr. Tanner asks Robert about his father’s health. Robert lies and says that his father is fine, but he looks away as he says it. As Robert wonders what to say next, Miss Sarah, the cat, comes out of the barn with her three kittens. Seeing the kittens, Mr. Tanner is sure that Caleb, his barn cat, is the father and says, “If he ain’t the tom that serviced that litter, I’ll ride Samson all the way home.” Robert thinks that there is not a man alive who could straddle the mean-looking Samson.

Mr. Tanner tells Robert that if Pinky has a litter of piglets, he expects a stud fee. The boy has to ask what that means. Tanner explains that he should be paid fifty dollars or have two picks of the litter. Robert agrees to his having his picks. Then the boy suddenly realizes that pigs and litters are a real business, especially when Mr. Tanner tells him that Pinky should bear 20 to 24 piglets a year, which translates into lots of dollars, “good solid Yankee dollars that you can bank.” He knows those dollars can help to pay off the farm. But Robert thinks that his thoughts of hogs and dollars and banks are not very Christian, and he says to Tanner, “We’re Plain People. It may not be right to want for so much.” Mr. Tanner assures Robert that it is proper to make a good living and tells the boy that he himself is a Christian, a God-fearing Baptist. Robert is shocked to learn that his neighbors belong to the Baptist Church, and he suddenly feels foolish about his past prejudices about this Baptist religion.

As Robert and Mr. Tanner watch, it is as if Samson understands what is expected of him; he pens Pinky against the fence and mounts her. Pinky squeals from the pain and from his weight. As Robert looks on, he feels a hatred for Samson for being so big, mean, and heavy. As soon as the mating is finished, Robert starts to go into the pen. Mr. Tanner grabs him by the shoulder and says, “If you go into that pen now. . .that boar will have you for breakfast.” He then asks the boy, “Where’s your sense?” A humiliated Robert says that he must not have any. Mr. Tanner sternly replies, “Time you got some,” and reminds him that at age thirteen, which Robert will be in February, a boy turns into a man and must act like one.

Talk again turns to Mr. Peck. Mr. Tanner says that Robert’s Pa “ought to take it easy one of these days, now he’s got you to man the place.” The boy answers that his father works all the time, never resting. “And worse than that, he works inside himself. I can see it on his face. Like he’s been trying all his life to catch up to something.” Mr. Tanner compliments the boy on his insight and inquires about his studies. Robert answers that his teacher tells him that he has potential, that he "could be more than a farmer.” Mr. Tanner is shocked at the response. He tells the boy, “There’s no higher calling than animal husbandry, and making things live and grow. We farmers. . .tend all of God’s good living things, and I say there’s nothing finer.”


This chapter is again filled with lessons for Robert. First he learns about the mating of pigs and stud fees. As Mr. Tanner talks about Pinky’s litter and the money it can bring, Robert begins to understand business and thinks about paying off the farm. Then Mr. Tanner reprimands Robert when he tries to go into the pen to care for Pinky while Samson is still present. He reminds the boy that he will soon be a man and must start thinking and acting like one. Tanner then tells Robert that there is no finer occupation on earth than being a farmer and tending God’s good living things. He also changes Robert’s mind about Baptists being strange creatures when he discloses that he and Mrs. Tanner, good neighbors and great people, are active members of the Baptist Church.

Much is also revealed in the chapter about the characters of Robert, Mr. Tanner, and Mr. Peck. Tanner again shows himself to be kind and neighborly. When Robert mentions to him that he is worried about Pinky being barren, Tanner arrives the next day with his prize boar, Samson, to mate with the boy’s pig. Tanner also proves that he is very perceptive when he is worried about Mr. Peck’s health and suggests to Robert that his pa needs to slow down. In a fatherly manner, he reminds Robert that he is nearly a man and needs to think and act like one in order to help his Pa, allowing him to relax a little. Tanner also emphasizes to Robert the pride and value of being a farmer. Finally, Tanner also reveals the shocking news that he is “hard shell Baptist.”

Like Tanner, Robert proves that he can be very perceptive. He tells his neighbor that his father works too hard and worries too much. He explains that it is like Mr. Peck is chasing hard and fast after something that he can never quite catch. It is a very grown up insight for a boy of twelve. But during the chapter, Robert proves he can also be childish and unthinking. He starts into the pigpen while Samson is still inside; if Tanner had not pulled the boy back, the boar could have seriously hurt or even killed Robert. The boy realizes the foolishness of his action and admits that sometimes he just does not have any sense. Robert is also truthful about his shock over learning that Mr. and Mrs. Tanner are God-fearing Baptists; the knowledge makes him admit to himself that he has obviously been wrong in his judgements of Baptists in the past.

The chapter also paints Robert as the conscientious Shaker boy that he has been raised to be. When he lies to Mr. Tanner about his own father’s health, Robert feels terrible and cannot look his neighbor in the eye; instead, he turns his head away and quickly changes the subject. When Mr. Tanner talks about earning money and putting it in the bank, Robert is concerned that it does not seem like a very Christian thing to do. He reminds Tanner that he and his family are “Plain People,” but Tanner reassures him that it is fine for Christians to have a business and earn a decent living. In a typically non-selfish way, Robert thinks that he can use the money from the sale of Pinky’s piglets to help pay off the farm.

As in the rest of the novel, the chapter is filled with the simple realism of farm life, thinking, and language. These are down-to-earth people who approach life with practicality. When Robert questions whether Pinky is barren, Tanner feels there is only one way to find out and brings Samson as a stud for the pig. When Robert foolishly tries to go into the pigpen with Samson still inside, Tanner catches him and tells him that it is time the boy gets some sense. He also describes farming in a simple, but poetic, manner, stating that there is “no higher calling than making things live and grow.”

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