Historical Context

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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 to be me. Not a phony in the crowd." This celebration of creativity and individualism, which when taken to an extreme led the '60s generation to be labeled "The Me Generation," is typical of young people of that time. John's father, uncomprehending and scornful, insists that John's ambition to be an actor is "a fool's dream world," a comment typical of the older generation of that time. Interestingly, John's brother Kenneth, who is eleven years older, has remained on the older generation's side of the divide: he has accepted his father's values and works on Wall Street.

Another feature typical of the younger generation of that time is a pervasive distrust of anyone in authority, such as teachers, police officers, and parents. Both John and Lorraine have vast areas of their lives their parents know nothing about. Although Lorraine is less scornful of her mother than John is of his parents, she realizes that her mother is too wounded to help her or to understand what she's involved in, and she lies to her mother about what she's up to. John is more bitterly disappointed by his parents, and shows it by blatant disobedience and backtalk. When the police show up after Mr. Pignati's heart attack, John calls them "snotty" and "dumb," and both he and Lorraine lie to the police about being Mr. Pignati's children. He also says, after they leave, "They were probably anxious to get along on the rounds of the local bars and collect their graft for the week." Lorraine, who is not as cynical, is angered by this comment and tells John she hopes he needs the police someday but can't find an officer to help him.

It's interesting that Zindel chose not to mention any of the political and social events, such as widespread protests, riots, and rallies, as well as the Vietnam War, which were taking place at the time that he wrote the book. Perhaps he did this in order to avoid making the book seem dated; more likely, he chose to do this because it's true to life. Many teenagers are unaware of political and social events, or only peripherally affected. For many teens, life at school, interactions with parents, and activities with friends take center stage in their lives.


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The Pigman takes place in...

(This entire section contains 108 words.)

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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.

Literary Style

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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.

Foreshadowing In keeping with teenagers' tendency toward drama, Lorraine frequently notes "omens" that, in hindsight, she believes should have warned her that something terrible was going to happen. This foreshadowing is not subtle; for example, she describes her visit to the zoo with John and Mr. Pignati, where a woman selling peanuts is rude to her. "That was the first omen," she writes. "I should have left right on the spot." The second omen occurs when a peacock, seeing that she has a bag of peanuts in her hand, chases her, and a third one occurs in the Mammal Building, where she sees a child who is watching the people who've come to watch the vampire bats. "He made me feel as though I was a bat in a cage and he was on the outside looking at me. It all made me very nervous," she writes. In another omen, when she and John go downtown with Mr. Pignati, she sees a mentally ill woman who keeps repeating "Death is coming. God told me death is coming." In another scene, Lorraine dreams that she finds a long black coffin in Mr. Pignati's house. Although these "omens" might seem like ordinary occurrences to many readers, or in some cases, logical consequences of her fears about Mr. Pignati's survival after his heart attack, Lorraine's willingness to read a more global and deeper meaning into them is typical of the teenage point of view, and also warns readers that some as-yet-unidentified disaster will occur in the course of the book.

Dialogue Zindel's style is heavily dependent on dialogue, perhaps because of his background as a playwright. The dialogue is skillfully written and extremely natural; Zindel has a true ear for the way teenagers, and adults, talk to each other. In addition, because the book is "written" by John and Lorraine in alternating chapters, even the narrative or descriptive parts of the book have a unique teenage flavor. The book begins:

Now, I don't like school, which you might say is one of the factors that got us involved with this old guy we nicknamed the Pigman. Actually, I hate school, but then again most of the time I hate everything.

Artfully, Zindel kept the book from becoming dated by using language that sounds like slang, but has a minimum of slang terms, which can quickly become stale for readers. In chapter 3, John explains this principle, which Zindel seems to have adopted: "I really hate it when a teacher has to show she isn't behind the times by using some expression which sounds so up-to-date you know for sure she's behind the times." Instead of using slang current at the time the book was written, Zindel has his teenage characters use language that suggests slang, with words such as "dimwit," "nutty," and "crazy," and phrases such as "five-finger discount," "putrid brand of beer," and "these two amoebae" (referring to two delinquent boys). John calls his mom "The Hyper" or "The Old Lady" and he calls his dad "The Bore."

Instead of using curse words, he tells the reader that he will use the symbol "@#$%" for "a mild curse—like the kind you hear in the movies"—and "3@#$%" for a "revolting curse," "the raunchiest curse you can think of." This use of symbols has two benefits for Zindel and the reader: readers can insert whatever curses they are familiar with, thus keeping the book current, and because Zindel doesn't spell out the offending words, adult readers will have no objection to his use of them in a young adult novel.

Literary Qualities

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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.

Other kids get elected G.O. President and class secretary and labsquad captain, but I got elected the Bathroom Bomber. Angelo Pignati serves as the symbolic core of the novel. His name suggests the duality of his personality. He is both pig and angel; his house is messy and cluttered, yet he provides security and warmth. He has chosen the unlikely symbol of a collection of pig figurines to express his love for his wife. The duality of his nature is also evident in his wavering between the roles of child and adult; in this sense, he represents adolescence. His death makes John and Lorraine realize that they cannot play both roles indefinitely, and that it is time for them to become adults.

Social Sensitivity

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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.

Compare and Contrast

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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 allow people to be constantly connected to each other, even if they are on the other side of the world.

1960s: In the 1960s, AIDS is unknown, and people don't worry about many of the consequences of sexual activity. Rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, and single-parent families are higher than those of earlier decades, and people regard these issues as shameful.

Today: AIDS has forced many people to reassess their sexual activity and to take precautions against this and other diseases. However, divorce rates continue to increase, and teen pregnancies and single-parent families are now common. Attitudes toward divorce, teen pregnancy, and single parenting have changed, so that many people now regard these issues as painful, but without the sense of shame and blame that was still prevalent in the 1960s.

1960s-1970s: The Vietnam War rages throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, sparking widespread anti-war protests in the United States. Throughout the war, in which 3 million Americans serve, 58,000 Americans die, 1,000 are declared missing, and 150,000 are wounded.

Today: The United States has been involved in several smaller wars since the 1960s, most notably the Gulf War in the Middle East but none have incited such widespread commentary and rebellion as the Vietnam War has. However, the hijacking of three planes on September 11, 2001, and the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. are the largest terrorist attacks to date.

For Further Reference

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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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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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources 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 Adults, Horn Book, Inc., 1980. This collection of essays provides critical insight on the works of contemporary novelists who write for children and young adults.

Zindel, Paul, The Pigman and Me, HarperCollins, 1992. Zindel's autobiography discusses his painful childhood, his career as a writer, and the inspiration for his work.


Critical Essays


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