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A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE
The main character and protagonist of the book is Robert Peck, a poor, twelve-year-old Shaker boy, who lives with his mother, father, and aunt. In many ways, he is a typical pre-teen, who goes to school and occasionally gets into mischief. In most ways, however, he is very different than most boys his age. He lives on a farm outside of Learning, Vermont, and is expected to help with the many chores, both before and after school. Since he is a Shaker, he dresses in very plain clothes, all hand-made by his mother, and has no extras in life, since Shaker people believe that any kind of frill is a sin. Although he has always wanted a bicycle, he would never be brave enough to ask for one, especially since he knows what the answer would be.
Throughout the book, Robert shows he is a hard-working and respectful boy. As a helper on the farm, he does his fair share of work as the only son. When he is told to do something by either his mother or father, he immediately obeys without question or complaint. As a student, he also works hard. He often makes the best grade on a test, and his report card shows all Aís except for a D in English, a subject he finds very difficult. When his Aunt Matty learns about his low English grade, she tries to tutor Robert, showing him how to diagram. It is hopeless; she finally tells Mrs. Peck it would be easier to teach the pig proper English.
In the twelve years of his life, Robert has never owned anything. After he saves the life of Mr. Tannerís cow, he is given a piglet to raise. Robert is so proud of owning a pig that he can hardly stand it. He names her Pinky and treats her like a pet. He hopes to raise her to be a brood sow and sell her litters for money, which he will give to his parents to help with the farm. When Pinky is almost full-grown, Mr. Tanner invites Robert to take her to show at the Rutland Fair. Robert can hardly believe his good fortune, for he has never before been out of Learning, Vermont. At the fair, he reveals his naiveté, bred by his stern and cloistered Shaker existence. He is totally amazed by all that he sees and hears. He does not even want to blink, for fear he will miss something. Most of all, he is proud to be in the ring and to hear his name being announced as Mr. Robert Peck. When Pinky wins a blue ribbon for best-behaved pig, Robert can hardly believe it. He wishes his family and all of Learning were there to see his proud moment, but he is afraid that such a thought is selfish and sinful.
Robert plans to
turn Pinky into a brood sow so that her litters can be sold for cash to help the
family and to pay for the pigís food. Unfortunately, Robert learns that Pinky
is barren. As a result, the family cannot afford to keep and feed her. Robert
must help his father slaughter her. It is the hardest thing he has ever done in
his life; but in a mature way, he owns up to the responsibility although it breaks
his heart. His heart is also broken by the death of his father. Robert, as the
only living son, is left to make the funeral arrangements and then to run the
farm. His hard, stern Shaker existence has prepared him well for the tasks at
hand, and he rises to every challenge like a man.
Haven Peck, Robertís father, is a stern Shaker farmer and hog butcher. He is a hard-working man, rising early to do farm chores before going to his job to slaughter pigs. After working diligently all day, he returns to the farm to do more chores. In spite of his efforts, the Pecks are still poor people; but Haven is proud that the family owes no debt, except on the farm, and that will be paid in five more years. In spite of the poverty, he feels he is a lucky man, for he has no real wants and his fertile land in Vermont allows him to be an honest farmer and provide for his family.
Although Haven is not particularly religious, he lives by the Book of Shaker, seldom questioning its teachings. He attends Meeting every Sunday and teaches his son the Shaker ways. He also teaches him to work hard and to accept their plain life style and lack of frills. Additionally, Haven encourages Robert to learn as much as possible in school, for he wants him to be able to read and write. Haven, himself, is illiterate and feels ashamed of his lack of learning and his inability to vote.
Mr. Peck is a stern man, rarely showing emotion. Robert can only remember his laughing a few times in his life. Even smiles are rare, since Haven is always busy. Several times in the book, Robert longs for his father to hug him or even to touch him, but only once does Mr. Peck display any emotion. When he and his son have to kill Pinky, Robert tells his Pa that his heart is broken. Mr. Peck says that his is broken as well. As Robert sobs in grief, the father actually touches the boyís face and tries to wipe away a tear. When he looks at his dad, Robert sees Mr. Peck wiping away a tear of his own.
In spite of his stern manner, Haven Peck is a good father and husband. He is concerned about providing well for his family. He appreciates the fact that his wife works hard and never complains that he smells like pig and only bathes on Saturday nights. He teaches Robert respect and responsibility, preparing him well to run the farm. When Haven gets sick and coughs through the night, he makes himself a bed in the barn so he will not disturb the family. When he tells Robert that it will be his last winter on earth, he accepts his fate. When the boy says a eulogy for his father at the funeral, it appropriate that he says Haven Peck was a beloved father and husband and a good neighbor.
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