Study Guide

The Pigman

by Paul Zindel

The Pigman Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Pigman, Zindel’s first young adult novel, has been called a groundbreaking work. Zindel’s portrayal of high school students struggling with their own problems in their own environments introduced a new type of adolescent fiction. The Pigman was revolutionary in that Zindel moved away from more cautious traditional juvenile fiction to a kind of writing that depicted teenagers and their problems with candor and seriousness. The Pigman established a style of writing for young adults which became almost a formula for teen novels (including Zindel’s own) after 1968.

The Pigman records the adventures of two high school students whose search for fun leads to the death of a lonely old man. Like Zindel’s novels that follow, it is written in a style which has been described as an accurate capturing of the “bright, hyperbolic sheen of teen-age language.”

The two teenagers who tell the story, John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen, assume responsibility for alternating chapters in what they call an “epic.” Characteristically, John is the dominant personality. As in most of his novels, the principal characters are two teenagers of opposite sex, with the male typically taking the leading role. In novels such as My Darling, My Hamburger, the boy serves as narrator, but in The Pigman and A Begonia for Miss Applebaum the task is shared, with each narrator responsible for alternating chapters. Notes, drawings, and reproductions of clippings are interspersed throughout the text, a device that Zindel uses less than successfully in some of his later novels.

The adults in The Pigman are treated unsympathetically, as they are in Zindel’s plays. They are frequently unable to establish an adequate home environment, and they find most of the interests of the young either uninteresting or unimportant. Even school is categorized as unimportant. Lorraine’s mother, like Betty Frank, often attempts to keep Lorraine at home to clean house, as she sees no practical advantage in an education. When Lorraine says that a Latin test is important, her mother responds by saying she is sure that later in life Lorraine will be using Latin daily.

Parents are referred to derisively and in most instances are portrayed as being far less astute than their children, who, unlike their parents, are able to perceive the sources of problems, solve them, and in the process gain new insights hidden from their parents and other adults in the stories. Perhaps because of his own experience, Zindel sometimes appears unable to appreciate parental effort. In an introduction to The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Zindel referred to his mother’s efforts to support her family as “an endless series of preposterous undertakings.” John Conlan reflects Zindel’s attitude when he refers to his father as “the Bore” and assumes that Mr. Conlan is interested only in stocks.

The boys in Zindel’s novels often follow John’s practice of referring to their parents only by a derogatory nickname. In I Never Loved Your Mind, for example, Dewey Daniels refers to his parents as “the Engineer” and “the Librarian.” The use of sobriquets underscores Zindel’s portrayal of adults as one-dimensional, monomaniac figures; it explains why teenagers such as John and Lorraine must seek their fun outside the family circle. Excitement may be found only among their peers, or in the company of adults such as Mr. Pignati, who is capable of varying from dull routine and can find fun in doing simple things.

Following his habit of using “life models” for the characters in his novels and plays, the characters in The Pigman are based on people Zindel has known. Lorraine’s mother, like Betty Frank in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, is modeled after Zindel’s mother. Like Beatrice Zindel, Mrs. Jensen is a single parent working as a practical nurse, and, like Zindel’s mother, Mrs. Jensen restocks her kitchen and bathroom shelves with items stolen from her clients.

Zindel has admitted that it was his own “interrupted adolescence” that prompted him to write for young adults and that his stories, in the main, are his own attempts to resolve problems left over from those years. As a result of this compulsion to solve problems, Zindel’s novels always place the main characters in situations requiring the solution of a major youth-related problem. As the problem is solved, Zindel’s teenagers (and Zindel himself) learn lessons and gain new insights. When the lesson does not seem obvious, Zindel may spell it out at the end of the novel, as he does in The Pigman. Speaking through John Conlan, Zindel says that life is what the individual makes it. Ultimately, there is “no one else to blame.” People, like baboons, “build their own cages.”

The Pigman Summary

Told in chapters alternating from Lorraine's and John's point of view, The Pigman opens with an "Oath," signed by both John and...

(The entire section is 1198 words.)

The Pigman Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen are sophomores at Franklin High School. They have decided to record “the facts” of their recent experiences with Mr. Angelo Pignati; they swear to tell “the truth and nothing but the truth.”

John opens the narration by introducing himself, admitting that he pretty much “hate[s] everything” but that he hates school in particular. During his freshman year at Franklin, he was called the “Bathroom Bomber” because of his propensity for setting off small, homemade firecracker bombs in the boys’ bathroom on the first floor of the school. John had become so adept that he could rig his explosives to go off up to eight minutes after he had set them up, allowing him to make a clean getaway. Sometimes John would even forget that he had set the bomb, and he would be as surprised as everyone else when he heard the sound of the blast. Blame for the prank would often fall upon hapless students who happened to be in the bathroom at the time, “sneaking a cigarette.” John had never been caught.

After he tired of his “bomb avocation,” John masterminded the “supercolossal fruit roll” stunt. John would pass the word at lunch on the days that a substitute teacher was scheduled for the afternoon, and students would show up at the designated class with “scrawny apples” purchased from the cafeteria, waiting for a series of signals from John. At an opportune moment, John would loudly clear his throat, give a “phony sneeze,” and whistle, and everyone would simultaneously roll the apples toward the front of the room. The sound of the fruit rumbling down the aisles made a noise “just like a herd of buffalo stampeding” and, naturally, created quite a disturbance. John boasts that this diversion was effective every time except for once, when the substitute was a retired postman who spent the period earnestly talking about commemorative stamps. The postman had been so...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

Lorraine narrates this chapter, and she begins by describing John, who is six feet tall with “longish brown hair and blue eyes.” John’s eyes, which are “gigantic” and seem to look right through people, are his best feature. He is the kind of guy who “will do just about anything to stir up some excitement,” and he gets away with a lot of things just because he is “extremely handsome.” John drinks and smokes in excess, and Lorraine, who is a psychology buff, believes he does these things “to assert his independence.” Lorraine has tried to get John to quit smoking by attempting to convince him of the dangers of the habit, but to no avail.

Lorraine says that the big difference between her and John is...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

John concedes that he is, in fact, very handsome, but he says this does not get him very much except perhaps with Miss King, his English teacher. Miss King always laughs a little when she talks with John and calls him “a card”; John thinks her behavior is fake and finds it annoying. The thing that John and Lorraine appreciated most about the Pigman was that he did not act like that. Instead of trying to be up to date and “cool or hip,” he was unafraid to be himself, and he often said that John and Lorraine were just “delightful.”

John wants to be a great actor when he grows up, while Lorraine aspires to be a famous writer. John speaks harshly about Lorraine's mother; he says she goes out of her way to tear...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

Lorraine describes Dennis and Norton as “really disturbed.” Norton in particular is a delinquent and an “outcast”; he and John “hate each other.” During his freshman year, Norton had been caught stealing a bag of marshmallows from the supermarket, and his name had been publicized in the local newspaper. Ever since then, everyone calls him “The Marshmallow Kid.”

Norton was the one who started cheating during the phone marathons, peeking as he ran his finger down the directory so he would get a woman to call, as women were notoriously easier to keep talking on the phone for a good length of time. Lorraine admits that, when it was her turn, she cheated a little too, choosing the Pigman because his house was...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

Mr. Pignati invited Lorraine and John to come to his house the next day to pick up his donation, but Lorraine was not enthusiastic about going because it was “wrong to take money from an old man.” John, who was in need of funds to buy a six-pack, tried to convince her, but decided to see if he could get a dollar twenty-five from his parents instead. When he asked his mother for the cash, she nervously informed him that his father had instructed her not to give him anything until he had a chance to talk to him about his latest act of rebellion, putting airplane glue in the telephone lock. Not wanting to be around when his father came home, John picked up the phone and tapped the connection button ten times, which summoned the...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

Ignoring Lorraine’s protests, John cashed the Pigman’s check and bought a six-pack of beer and some cigarettes. He then tried to convince her that they should go to the zoo with Mr. Pignati.

Lorraine did not get home until after six-thirty that evening. Her mother, who is very controlling of her daughter’s behavior, demanded to know where she had been. Lorraine’s mother is a single parent, having been left by her husband fifteen years previous. Possibly because of her own negative experiences with men, she is paranoid about the boys with whom Lorraine might come in contact; she monitors her whereabouts closely.

Lorraine’s mother works as a private nurse. Her latest client, an old man with terminal...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

John did not share Lorraine’s trepidations about their relationship with the Pigman. He thoroughly enjoyed their trip to the zoo and thought that it was “sort of nice” that a baboon had a friend like Mr. Pignati. John also liked the fact that the old man treated him and Lorraine as if he genuinely liked them too. John concluded that the Pigman was “a little crazy” but harmless.

Lorraine and John did not get to the Pigman’s the next day until around seven o’clock in the evening. Dennis and Norton had accosted them after school, wanting to know where they were going. Because John and Lorraine did not want the boys to find out about Mr. Pignati, they pretended that they did not have anything to do and ended...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

Lorraine was horrified but not surprised when John whispered to her that the Pigman’s wife was dead. She had suspected as much, and she remembered cases in which a man and wife died within a short time of each other. She thought “the love between a man and a woman must be the strongest thing in the world.” Recalling her own parents, Lorraine then wondered why their relationship had not been like that.

John, who was exploring upstairs again, came down with a small plastic card and asked the Pigman what it was. Mr. Pignati explained about charge cards, and John was amazed that a store would essentially allow people to take whatever they wanted and not require them to pay until later. Mr. Pignati said that he got the...

(The entire section is 666 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

John and Norton have hated each other for years. Norton has been known as a bully from the time he was about ten; according to John, Norton “was always picking fights and throwing stones and beating up everybody.” When he was a freshman, Norton began shoplifting, and his transgressions became increasingly more daring and lawless. John thinks that Norton has definite sociopathic tendencies and believes he is “the type of guy who could grow up to be a killer.”

Just before Thanksgiving, Norton confronted John and asked why he and Lorraine were always going over to Mr. Pignati’s house. John tried being evasive, telling Norton that the old man was “just a nice guy.” With typical malevolence, Norton then asked...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

By December, John and Lorraine were going over to the Pigman’s house every day after school. Lorraine would lie to her mother to explain why she was not at home, telling her that she was going to a school club meeting or that she had missed the bus. Lorraine’s mother was paranoid that her daughter would be victimized by men, whom she unilaterally believed were “only after one thing.” Lorraine was irritated and demoralized by her mother’s constant badgering, but she was more patient when she realized that her mother’s distrust of men most likely stemmed from her experience of being abandoned by her own husband.

Lorraine had given her mother the stockings that the Pigman had bought for her; she said that she...

(The entire section is 628 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

John recognized immediately that the Pigman was having a heart attack, and he called the police. An ambulance arrived with two attendants and “an old lady doctor,” who efficiently placed the Pigman on a stretcher and wheeled him away. Mr. Pignati appeared to be breathing easily, and John did not think that he was going to die.

John and Lorraine identified themselves as the Pigman’s children when the police questioned them. They had removed the skates from the old man’s feet before the authorities arrived, and John explained that Mr. Pignati had been out all day and had also been shoveling snow. After looking around the house, the policemen finally left. John and Lorraine found the keys to the house in the...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

On Thursday, John and Lorraine did not get together until third period lunch. Lorraine had endured a typically unpleasant morning with her mother, who kept harping about how she wished her new client “would hurry up and croak” because her husband was getting “a little too friendly” with the nurses while his wife lay dying. John was late to school because of another confrontation with his father, who could not understand how John could be missing “forty-two assignments in Problems in American Democracy.” During their break, John and Lorraine went over to the pay phone near the principal’s office, which they were not supposed to use. John stood guard in the hall while Lorraine talked to the nurse on Mr....

(The entire section is 621 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

John did not think Mr. Pignati would mind if he and Lorraine had “a few friends” over at his house while he was in the hospital, so the went ahead with plans for a party. Dennis was first to arrive that evening because John had asked him to bring some alcohol from his father’s liquor cabinet. Lorraine had prepared a variety of hors d’oeuvres for the guests, and by seven-thirty about a dozen people were in attendance.

Many of John and Lorraine’s classmates had planned to attend a dance at St. Mary’s Hall that night, but when they heard about the party at the Pigman’s house they decided to go there instead. By eight o’clock the band had arrived, and once they had their amplifiers plugged in, “the house...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

The police took John and Lorraine home from the Pigman’s house. John, who was very drunk, was “out for the night,” but Lorraine pleaded with the officers to let them see Mr. Pignati. The officer refused, telling her that “the old guy’s crying” and informing her that she and John were lucky he had decided not to press charges. Lorraine told the officer that her mother would beat her when she got home, and he unsympathetically responded that she should have thought about that earlier.

At Lorraine’s house, one of the officers explained to Lorraine’s mother that Lorraine and some friends “had too much to drink at some old man’s house on Howard Avenue [and] almost wrecked the place.” Lorraine’s mother...

(The entire section is 693 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

John, kneeling by the fallen Pigman, yelled at the zoo attendant to call an ambulance. He then said to Lorraine, “Get out of here,” because he was afraid of what her mother would do if she got into any more trouble. John checked Mr. Pignati’s wrist for a pulse, but there was none, and the old man was not breathing. John wanted to whisper to him, “Did you have to die?” but he knew the Pigman could no longer hear him.

As he waited for the ambulance with the Pigman, John reflected that, contrary to what Lorraine may have thought, he really did care about things. John was sickened by his awareness of the world as a place

where you can grow old and be alone and have to get down on your...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear