The Pigman was written in the late 1960s, a time when American society was in an uproar. Protests against the Vietnam War the growth of the Civil Rights and feminist movements, and a vigorous celebration of teenagers and young adults as the new, free generation were set against those who wanted to preserve the status quo and traditional values. Zindel's book was groundbreaking in its truthful depiction of teenagers who were not respectful to their teachers, whose parents had failed them, and who engaged in actions adults would disapprove of—such as minor vandalism, drinking alcohol, and smoking. Before the publication of The Pigman, few books for young adults were so open and truthful; instead, books tended to portray an ideal world in which adults wished teens would live.
Although Lorraine and John love their parents, they are open in their criticism of how their parents have failed them, a common complaint of the younger generation during the 1960s and early 1970s. "Never trust anyone over 35" was a commonly heard phrase among rebellious youths, who believed there was more to life than wearing a suit and making a living. As John tells his father, "I just don't want to wear a suit every day and carry an attaché case and ride a subway. I want...
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The Pigman takes place in New York City, on Staten Island. John's father works for the Stock Exchange, and his family seems comfortably well off, but Lorraine and her mother live near the poverty level. Mr. Pignati, a retired electrician, can afford to take John and Lorraine on a buying spree, but his house is in disrepair. Little in the novel determines the exact time of the action, but it seems to take place during the early or mid-1960s. Franklin High School, the Baron Park Zoo, the Moravian Cemetery, Beekman's Department Store, and the homes of the major characters in the novel provide sites for the action.
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Point of View
Zindel's The Pigman is told from the point of view of its two main protagonists, who claim they are typing the story in the school library as the librarian, who thinks they're working on a book report, looks on. Chapters written by Lorraine alternate with chapters written by John; both tell the story in the breezy but honest and irreverent style of adolescents, focusing on action more than on internal feelings, motivation, or consequences, although these do sometimes appear in the narrative.
By using two narrators with slightly different points of view to relate the story, Zindel gives the reader a more complete picture of the narrative. In many cases, John or Lorraine will go back and comment on something the other one has written, giving their own version of the events.
Extracts from "Real Life"
An interesting feature of the book is the occasional insertion of handwritten elements, such as John and Lorraine's signatures on an "Oath" to tell the truth about the incidents described in the book; some graffiti John writes on a desk; and some pencil and paper games Mr. Pignati plays with them. The book also has a page from a booklet on funeral planning, a bill for a funeral, and a piece torn out from an advice column. These elements add realism and immediacy to the story, making it even more believable.
In keeping with teenagers'...
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Characterized by fast-paced, melodramatic action and realistic dialogue that tends toward hyperbolic wit, The Pigman cleverly alternates between John's and Lorraine's first-person points of view and develops a natural system of symbols. The narration recounts John and Lorraine's association with Mr. Pignati, who is already dead when their "memorial epic" begins. Four perspectives actually exist in the novel: those of John and Lorraine, the characters who participate in the novel's events and who do not know what is going to happen; and those of John and Lorraine the narrators who know about Mr Pignati's death and speculate on its significance. These varied perspectives allow for dramatic irony because the narrators, and to some extent the reader, know what is going to happen, while the characters do not. Since John and Lorraine the narrators have realized that Mr. Pignati's death is the direct result of their actions, their narration gives the novel's tragic outcome the sense of inevitability that is a hallmark of a strong plot. The contrasts between John's and Lorraine's personalities also enhance the narrative: John, dramatic and flashy, describes action well, and Lorraine, intuitive and analytical, ably assesses its significance. Roles are ultimately reversed, however, when in the final chapter John articulates the significance of the novel. His interpretation is all the more powerful because it reveals an inner self that his vivacity usually hides....
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The Pigman exhibits Zindel's typical negative portrayals of adults. John's parents and Lorraine's mother are uncaring and critical of their sixteen-year old children. Authority figures and others who might be expected to be helpful—teachers, police officers, nurses—only serve to aggravate John and Lorraine's problems. Adolescents enjoy Zindel's caricatures, and many consider them realistic. Perhaps this anti-establishment attitude reflects a 1960s cultural influence, which encourages antagonism between adolescents and adults.
Despite its caricatures of adults and its pessimistic, melodramatic ending, The Pigman credits the hero and heroine for their mature attempt to determine whom they have injured and how to cover the liability. Following the death of Mr. Pignati, Lorraine and John must become their own parents; they must become adults.
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Compare and Contrast
1960s: Teen smoking, drinking, and drug use become prevalent in the 1960s, when knowledge of the ill effects of drugs is still not widespread, and when a widespread sense of experimentation and rebellion is part of popular culture.
Today: Teen smoking and drinking have increased since the 1960s, and every day, about 3,000 young people begin smoking. Nearly 1,000 of that number (1 in 3) will eventually die as a result of smoking-related disease. Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs is more common among teens who do not feel emotionally connected to their parents.
1960s: Not everyone can afford a telephone, and instead of using touch-tones, phones use a rotary dial system. Phone numbers have two letters and five numbers, like "Sa7-7295," the number for the hospital Mr. Pignati is in. The two letters are an abbreviation of the name of the "exchange," usually a neighborhood. Faxes, personal computers, and the Internet are unknown.
Today: Phone companies have dropped the letter- and-number system in favor of all-numeric phone numbers, and the old rotary phones are considered obsolete; many telephone services cannot be accessed unless the caller has a touch-tone phone. The number of people needing phone numbers has continued to increase, so that every year, phone companies must create new area codes. In addition, cellular phones, fax machines, pagers, and the Internet...
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Topics for Discussion
1. What is unsatisfying about John's relationship with his parents and Lorraine's with her mother?
2. Lorraine seems more deeply attached to her mother than John does to his parents. What is the basis of Lorraine's relationship with her mother?
3. What do John and Lorraine find attractive about Mr. Pignati?
4. Norton Kelly and John hate each other even before Norton crashes John and Lorraine's party and destroys Mr. Pignati's pig figurines. Why? Why have they associated with each other previously?
5. Sometimes Mr. Pignati is described as a "baby," a "child," and a "kid," while at other times John and Lorraine describe themselves as the Pigman's children. Which, if either, is Mr. Pignati's true role, parent or child?
6. What causes Mr. Pignati's death? What is the significance of his life and death to Lorraine and John?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Report on Zindel's use of symbols in The Pigman. Be sure to consider Mr. Pignati's pig collection and the animals at the zoo, particularly Bobo the baboon.
2. John and Lorraine sometimes narrate the same events. Determine what each tends to observe and judge, and the effect their judgments have on the reader.
3. Mrs. Jensen specializes in the care of the dying but steals from their families. She is abnormally afraid of sexual contact and her relationship to her deceased husband seems to reflect her entire character. Describe her character and explain the reasons for her behavior.
4. The Pigman features puzzles, quizzes, drawings, and newspaper clippings in its text. Determine their function in the novel.
5. Describe what John and Lorraine have learned from their friendship with The Pigman.
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Topics for Further Study
In the book, Mr. Pignati has a major effect on John and Lorraine. Write about an older person who affected your life in a way you'll never forget, and how they influenced you.
John does not believe that he and Lorraine are totally responsible for Mr. Pignati's death, but Lorraine does. In your opinion, who is right, and why? If John and Lorraine were put on trial for killing him, what would the verdict be? Why?
Mr. Pignati has lived a very lonely life since his wife died; he has no real friends until John and Lorraine come into his life by accident. Do some research to find out how most elderly people live. Is Mr. Pignati's isolation unusual, or typical? How does the American treatment of elderly people differ from the way they are treated in other cultures?
John and Lorraine's parents don't talk to their children, and they often act as though the children are a disturbing burden. Do you think this is typical, or are most parents effective? Write a short essay about what it takes to be a good parent.
John smokes and drinks, even though his father became ill from alcohol and he knows both habits are bad for his health. Why would he do these things if he knows they may eventually kill him?
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Zindel wrote a screenplay adapting The Pigman to film. Although Brighton Productions never released the movie, Zindel regarded his screenplay as a success. Zindel's sequel. The Pigman's Legacy, proved less effective than his screenplay. John and Lorraine find another old person to exploit, and the whole plot of The Pigman repeats itself, negating John and Lorraine's development in The Pigman. Closer in spirit to The Pigman are some of Zindel's other novels, such as My Darling, My Hamburger, which explores the complicated and painful relationships among four high school seniors and their parents.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, published in 1964, was Zindel's first play, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1971. The play stars Tillie, a brilliant girl who lives with her epileptic sister and her overbearing mother; through her success in science, Tillie is able to break free from her stifling family.
I Never Loved Your Mind (1970), Zindel's third novel, stars high school dropout Dewey Daniels and his true love, fellow dropout Yvette Goethals.
In Zindel's My Darling, My Hamburger (1969), a high school girl discovers she is pregnant, but her abusive parents are no help, so she decides to visit an illegal abortionist.
Zindel's Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball! (1976) tells the story of two misfits who head out for adventure.
In Zindel's The Pigman's Legacy (1980), a sequel to The Pigman, John and Lorraine visit the Pigman's empty house and find an old man who's hiding from the tax authorities. They see him as their chance to make up for how they treated the Pigman, and launch into new adventures.
S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders tells the story of a high school "greaser," or delinquent, who hates the rich, popular kids—until...
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For Further Reference
Clarke, Loretta. "The Pigman: A Novel of Adolescence." English Journal 61 (November 1972): 1163-1169, 1175. A well-balanced essay about the narrative point of view and Zindel's portrait of adolescent life.
Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. Includes brief biographical information about Zindel.
Haley, Beverly. "The Pigman—Use It!" Arizona English Bulletin 14 (April 1972): 89-92. One of the best general essays on the novel, focusing on the novel's symbolic action.
Haley, Beverly, and Kenneth L. Donelson. "Pigs and Hamburgers, Cadavers and Gamma Rays: Paul Zindel's Adolescents." Elementary English 51 (October 1974): 941-945. A perceptive evaluation of Zindel's view of adolescence as revealed in his early novels and his award-winning play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.
Henke, James T. "Six Characters in Search of the Family: The Novels of Paul Zindel." Children's Literature Annual 5 (1976): 130-140. Henke examines adolescents who take over the parenting role in Zindel's first three novels.
Jakiel, S. James. "Paul Zindel: An Author For Today's Adolescents." Arizona English Bulletin 18 (April 1976): 220-224. Jakiel investigates Zindel's biases and their effect on his fiction.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Clarke, Loretta, "The Pigman: A Novel of Adolescence," in English Journal, Vol. 61, No. 8, November 1972.
Forman, Jack Davis, Presenting Paul Zindel, Twayne Publishers, 1988, pp. 12-17, 57-59.
Lesesne, Teri, "Humor, Bathos, and Fear: An Interview with Paul Zindel," in Teacher Librarian, Vol. 27, No. 2, December 1999, p. 60.
Zindel, Paul, "Paul Zindel: Interview Transcript," Scholastic, http://teacher.scholastic.com (June 14, 2001).
----, "Paul Zindel's Booklist," Scholastic, http://teacher.scholastic.com (June 14, 2001).
For Further Reading
National Council of Teachers of English, Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults, National Council of Teachers of English, 1990.
This compendium of autobiographies features Zindel and many other writers for young adults, who discuss their lives and works.
Raymond, Gerard, "The Effects of Staten Island on a Pulitzer Prize—Winning Playwright," in Theater Week, Vol. 2, No. 37, April 24, 1989, p. 16-21.
The article discusses Zindel's difficult upbringing and its ramifications for his writing.
Rees, David, The Marble in the Water: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
DiGaetani, John L. “Paul Zindel.” In A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights, edited by DiGaetani. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Forman, Jack Jacob. Presenting Paul Zindel. Boston: Twayne, 1988.
Megyeri, Kathy A. “Paul Zindel.” English Journal 93 (November, 2003): 12-13.
Rees, David. The Marble in the Water: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults. Boston: Horn Book Press. 1980.
Smith, Grant T. “The Pigman’s Story: Teaching Paul Zindel in the 21st Century.” In Censored Books, II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985-2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2002.
Strickland, Ruth L. “Paul Zindel.” In Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, First Series, edited by John MacNicholas. Vol. 7 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981.
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