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BOOKNOTES / ANALYSIS - A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE
As winter fast approaches Mr. Peck’s health fails. He often coughs, a deep rattling cough. He lungs get so bad that he sleeps in the barn, where it is warmer and his coughing will not disturb Mrs. Peck.
As expected, the apple crop is bad with few worth barreling for the winter. Additionally, Mr. Peck has had no luck killing a deer to put up for winter meat, even though he has hunted every morning before going to work.
To make matters worse, Pinky does not bear a litter even though she has been bred. It is obvious that she is barren. Robert knows that she eats too much to be kept as a pet, and with winter coming with few provisions in the storehouse, the family will need her meat. One Saturday morning after breakfast, Mr. Peck turns to the boy and says, “Rob, let’s get it done.” Robert knows exactly what he means without asking. He puts on his coat, goes with his pa to the tool shed, and watches as he sharpens his knife. When the knife is sharp, the two of them walk to Pinky’s pen. Robert tries to cheerfully call his pet, but the words will not come out. He switches her to get her to her feet, and she wags her tail. “People say pigs don’t feel. And that they don’t wag their tails. All I know is that Pinky sure knew who I was and her tail did too.”
As Mr. Peck lights a fire to boil water, Robert pushes Pinky into the box pen. He then gets down on his knees and puts his arms around her big neck. He asks Pinky to try and understand. “If only Pap had got a deer. . .or if I was old enough to earn money.” His thoughts are interrupted by Mr. Peck saying, “It’s time. . .Back away.” Robert closes his eyes and wants to scream; instead, he waits until he hears the crushing noise of Mr. Peck bashing in the pig’s skull. At that moment, Robert feels that he hates his father; “I hated him for killing her, and hated him for every pig he ever killed.”
When Robert opens his eye, he sees Pinky down on the ground, but still breathing and moving. He helps to turn her over and holds her two forelegs up in the air while Mr. Peck sticks the knife into her throat. The boy watches as her blood gushes out in a flood. He wants to cry, to scream, and to run away, but he continues to hold her legs to keep her from kicking. Finally, Robert feels Pinky quiver in death as his father works on butchering her. He then helps his father drag her bloody body into the boiling water. Mr. Peck is breathing “the way no man or beast should breathe. I had never seen any man work as fast.”
Robert thinks about Pinky, the only thing he had ever really
owned; “the only thing I could point to and say . . . mine. But now there
was no Pinky. Just a sopping wet lake of red slush. So I cried . . . Oh, Papa,
my heart’s broke.” Mr. Peck answers that his heart is also broken, but says that
he is proud of Robert for being a man, for doing what had to be done. These words
make Robert sob even harder, with his eyes closed and his face turned up toward
God. Suddenly, the boy feels his father’s big hand touch his face. It seems a
gentle hand, not one capable of killing hogs, and it tries to wipe about the boy’s
tears. Robert grabs Pa’s hand and kisses it again and again, “pig blood and all.”
It is the son’s way of saying he has forgiven his father. As he looks at Mr. Peck,
Robert, for the first time ever, sees him wiping away a tear.
This chapter is the most sentimental one in the novel. As winter approaches, Mr. Peck’s health worsens. He is also upset by the lack of provisions in the storehouse. The apple harvest was poor, and he has been unable to kill a deer and store its meat as a winter food supply. He knows that Pinky must be slaughtered to feed the family, but the thought of killing Robert’s pet is very upsetting to him.
One Saturday morning, Mr. Peck tells his son it is time to get the job done. Robert instinctively knows what his father is talking about. He follows him to the tool shed, where pa sharpens his butcher knife. They then walk together to Pinky’s sty. When Robert gets her in the box pen, he falls on his knees and gives her one last hug. It is a touching scene, one that greatly affects a saddened Mr. Peck.
As his father clubs Pinky’s skull, Robert closes his eyes and wants to scream; instead, he acts like a man and does not utter a noise. At the moment, however, he hates his Pa. Robert is not allowed much thinking time. He is called by Mr. Peck to help turn over Pinky’s squirming body. He then watches as his father stabs her neck. It is almost more than the boy can bear. Mr. Peck is also bothered by the chore at hand, for he is breathing heavy and working faster than Robert has ever seen him work.
When Robert feels Pinky quiver with her dying breath and sees her body in the wet pool of blood, he finally lets out a cry and tells his father that his heart is broken. The normally stern Mr. Peck admits that his is broken as well. He does compliment Robert, however, on acting like a real man, doing what had to be done. His father even reaches over, touches his son’s face, and wipes away the boy’s tears. Such a gentle and tender action from this tough man makes Robert sob all the more; but he kisses his father’s hand again and again, to let him know that he is forgiven. In return, Mr. Peck sheds the first tears Robert his ever seen him cry.
The chapter is masterfully and emotionally written. The author does not give laborious details of the tragic death of Pinky. But in the sparseness of his words, he fully captures the great depth of emotion of both father and son.
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