Themes and Characters
Twelve years old when the story begins, Rob is a boy with a good sense of responsibility. When the story ends, Rob is thirteen and a man, the male head of the household. Rob narrates the story, and in addition to relating his thoughts, he tells of his interactions with several people who influence him.
Members of Rob's family have the most influence on him. Haven Peck, his father, kills pigs for a living. A man of common sense, hard work, and honesty, he cannot read or write but is determined that Rob will be able to do both well. The story focuses on the relationship between father and son. Rob characterizes his mother when he says, "I could smell her goodness." She works hard in the home and in the garden and never says a harsh word about anyone. Her oldest sister, Aunt Carrie, lives with the Peck family. She has never married and always seems a bit shocked by the community gossip she so enjoys. She claims an aunt's prerogative and slips Rob ten cents to use for fun when he goes to the Rutland Fair.
The Pecks' neighbors also affect Rob's development as he approaches manhood. Mr. Tanner, the nearest neighboring farmer, gives Rob a little pig, Pinky, in return for helping his prize cow have her calf. He also takes Rob to the Rutland Fair so he can show Pinky in the children's division. The Pecks consider Mr. Tanner to be a good neighbor and a good friend. Other minor characters introduced during various escapades include the widow Bascom and her hired man, the close family friend Rob calls Aunt Matty, and Mr. and Mrs. Hillman, all of whom contribute to Rob's growing up.
Animals are of special importance on a farm, and Rob names and befriends all the animals in his life. The little pig he raises is the first thing that ever wholly belongs to him, and Pinky becomes crucial to the development of the story. Rob talks to Pinky, sharing his most private thoughts and harboring high hopes that Pinky will raise litter after litter of offspring. When Rob realizes that Pinky is barren, he faces the truth that there will be no pigs and no future for Pinky. The Pecks have a bad autumn: the apple crop fails and Mr. Peck fails to kill a deer for the winter's meat. Rob knows that his pig must be sacrificed so the family can eat. He helps slaughter his pet, the hardest thing he ever has to do. He cries and his father cries with him.
Rob and his father enjoy an ideal parent-child relationship. Rob questions his father and sometimes disagrees with him, but he always regards his father with an underlying love and deep respect. When he helps his father kill Pinky, Rob experiences a brief moment of blind fury during which he hates his father. When sanity returns, Rob realizes his father has made the right choice between feeding his family and letting the pig live. Rob kisses the very hand with which his father destroyed the pet, showing that he understands and that he loves him. It is the only time Rob ever sees his father cry.
The struggle to step across the boundary of childhood to adulthood remains the same through the ages. The trappings, the clothing styles, and the modes of transportation change, but emotions remain the same. Growing up and facing adult responsibilities is not easy. The author never preaches this theme, yet he effectively gets the point across by relating Rob's experiences. Rob Peck faces the future with the confidence of youth. He has flashes of insight well beyond his years and misconceptions that can be blamed only on inexperience. Rob's growth, his crossing the boundary into adulthood, helps readers better understand their own struggles.
In the final scene, when Haven Peck dies, Rob takes over as head of the household with a calmness and maturity lacking in many adults. For those who have followed his growth from youth to manhood, it is not surprising that Rob exhibits such strength of character.