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.
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...
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