Peck recounts many of his boyhood experiences in A Day No Pigs Would Die; he even uses his own name for the main character. The story takes place in rural Vermont in the late 1920s. Rob Peck and his family live on a farm outside the small village of Learning. The closest town of any size is Rutland, the county seat. To Rob, the only member of his family to ever see Rutland, it is the biggest city in the world.
The Pecks are Shakers. Members of this religious sect call themselves Plain People and do not believe in frills of any sort. Although poor in terms of money, the Pecks consider themselves rich in love and land. They have no horses to pull their wagon to Rutland, but they have a strong ox for chores and are proud that they have worked hard for their farm, which they will own outright in five years.
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Rob tells his story in the first person, describing his adventures and feelings, and this technique works well. The writer employs colorful dialect to capture the boy's pattern of speech, including sayings familiar to rural Vermont: "true as taproot," "falling fast as a stone," "soldier still," and "wrong as sin on Sunday." Rob tells his story as if he were talking out loud, occasionally using sentence fragments in the narrative as well as in the dialogue. This effective technique makes the narrative flow smoothly and seem more realistic.
The author does not provide many details about his characters' physical appearances, but he includes a wealth of detail about their mannerisms and attitudes. His clear analysis deftly reveals the workings of their minds. The author uses strong verbs and strong nouns; his vivid descriptions do not become flowery. The emotions he wrings from the reader are a tribute to his fine writing talent.
Through each of Rob's experiences, the reader sees him mature. The mating scene between Pinky and the boar Samson is graphic but not tasteless. The butchering of Pinky is detailed through the eyes of a heart-broken boy who helps kill his pet. Funeral arrangements for his father are made by a stunned, but strong young man who does what has to be done. Each experience shows a different side to Rob's character. The author skillfully blends them all together so that a clear picture of the protagonist emerges.
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Peck spares nothing in his realistic picture of farm life. Some critics feel Peck is too violent and too pessimistic in his view of the imminence of death. Others find the realism refreshing. He presents and accepts nature for what it is.
The mating scene between Pinky and boar is straightforward but not offensive. The brutal details of Pinky's death are not gratuitous; they help the reader understand Rob's reaction to his father. Peck refers to sex in several instances but only in passing. Rob's four sisters have been "wedded and bedded," a colloquialism for "married." A married neighbor has had an affair that drives his girlfriend to drown their baby and hang herself. A widow woman and her hired man giggle in the dark. Rob does not pass judgment on these people but matter-of-factly accepts them, without giving their sexual lives any further thought.
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Topics for Discussion
1. "Weaseling" a dog was a common way to teach a dog to hate and kill weasels. What happens when Ira Long, Rob, and his papa weasel Ira's dog? What lesson do they learn?
2. Rob demonstrates his sense of responsibility by his attitude toward his chores. Give examples from the story.
3. Who does Papa think is the better farmer, himself or Mr. Tanner? Why? Who does Rob think is better?
4. Rob's trip to the Rutland Fair is a dream come true, and he feels a wide range of emotions. What are they? Have you had a similar experience?
5. The name of this book comes from the final chapter. What is its significance?
6. Rob's view of religion is limited to Shaker beliefs. How does he react when he discovers that Aunt Matty and Mr. and Mrs. Tanner are Baptists?
7. Papa and Rob use a capstan to help the ox move the corn crib. What is a capstan and how does it work?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Haven Peck quotes the Book of Shaker and lives by Shaker Law. What are his basic beliefs? Does Rob agree with them? Why or why not?
2. Some critics believe A Day No Pigs Would Die contains too much unnecessary realism: animal mating, butchering, and weaseling. Do you agree? Why or why not?
3. Peck uses rural expressions, similes, and metaphors throughout his book. Cite examples. Does this technique improve his style? Why or why not?
4. Peck presents the imminence of death for both man and beast. How does he foreshadow the deaths of Haven Peck, the rabbit, and Pinky?
5. Although the reader never meets Rob's teacher, a clear picture of her is presented. How is it presented and what is she like?
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A Day No Pigs Would Die tells of Peck's childhood experiences, and the author models the main character after himself. Soup also treats Peck's early life in rural Vermont, and Rob narrates the story, but Soup Vinson, his best friend, becomes the focus of the action. Lighthearted and delightful, Soup is one of a ten-book series that Peck will undoubtedly continue.
Peck also serves as the main character in his book of poetry, Bee Tree, and in his half-prose, half-poetry volume, My Vermont. Three of Peck's books, Soup and Me, Soup for President, and Mr. Little, have been made into Afterschool and Weekend Specials for ABC-TV.
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For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 21. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. An interview with Peck.
Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. Favorably reviews A Day No Pigs Would Die but criticizes Peck's later works.
Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. "City Life and Country Life." New York Times (January 4, 1973): 35. This critic calls Peck's book "a stunning little dramatization of the brutality of life on a Vermont farm."
Locher, Frances Carol, ed. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 81-84. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. This article contains a short biography of Peck and summarizes several reviews of his works.
Marsh, Pamela. "What's New and Popular on the Bookshelf: A Day No Pigs Would Die." Christian Science Monitor(January 17, 1973): 11. Marsh finds the book "sometimes sickening, often entrancing."
Peck, Robert Newton. Fiction Is Folks. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1983. Peck gives insights into his writing of A Day No Pigs Would Die.
Todd, Richard. "Psychic Farming: Country Books." Atlantic Monthly (April 1973): 114-120. In his review, Todd calls Peck's book "ruinously sentimental."
Yardley, Jonathan. "New Fiction: A Day No Pigs Would Die." New York Times Book Review (May 13, 1973): 37. Yardley's opinion is that the book expresses "sentiment...
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