Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Day No Pigs Would Die

This 1972 novel by Robert Peck tells the story of a 13 year old boy learning to accept responsibility. It has been frequently challenged because of sexual explicitness (it describes a mating between a boar and a sow) and explicit language.

I found this paragraph on a page called The Censorship Connection written by Nancy McCracken that described objections to the animal scene.

The parents read this scene as a rape. It's hard not to read it that way since it is presented from an anthropomorphic point of view, as when Mr. Tanner tells Rob that Pinky's resistance is "All part of courting ... Samson just got his face slapped. That's all." Parents read about the mating through young Rob's eyes:
[Samson] was bigger and stronger and ten times meaner than Pinky. So he had his way with her. All the time he was breeding into her, she squealed like her throat had been cut. Every breath. She just squealed like crying, and wouldn't stop.

Not even after Samson had enough of her and got down off her, did she stop her whining. Not even then. Her rump was bruised and there was blood running down her hind leg. (p. 121, Dell, 1972) Mr. Tanner completes the personification when he tells Rob that Pinky "weren't nought but a maiden before this morning. Just a little girl, she was" (p. 121).

The teachers at the meeting, other parents, and one seventh grader who had come to speak for the book proclaimed that the students didn't see that scene as very important.

One teacher reported that when she had surveyed her students several months after they'd read the book, no one mentioned the mating scene.

The objecting parents then offered an argument that is hard to listen to, but important for anti-censors to hear. This was the argument: so long as the girls read the scene, even if they didn't remember it, the scene had entered their minds along with the rest of the book, and it might, like a single dose of L.S.D., come back to haunt them in future flashbacks. Two quick responses came to mind. The first was that even if alleged "L.S.D. effect" occurred, the result would be nothing so much as sympathy for creatures caged and hurt -- which would be healthy, wouldn't it? The second quick response was that literature isn't like L.S.D. -- a single dose of which can alter your brain and damage your ability to create healthy offspring; literature is mediated experience, read and discussed and put to good use by teachers and students in a classroom.

Eventually, the school adopted the policy of presenting a list of reading materials to parents at the beginning of the school year, allowing them to substitute another book, rather than restricting reading material for all students.

Any kid who grew up on a farm probably has seen scenes like this in real life - all through human history. Animals on a farm don't hold back because there is a 13 year old nearby. I did have a little cry when I read this book- it's a powerful, gritty, realistic story about growing up, based on the author's life.

I don't think he should have altered the harsh realities of life during the Depression to make it more comfortable.

March 17, 2010
This book poses a special problem though- the Shaker element. Shakers never lived in Vermont and do not have children or get married. But if something in a story is false, is it okay to say 'no kid can read this', or is it better to take the opportunity to educate?

Reading fiction is not supposed to be a passive experience & you don't just do it for entertainment. Critical reading helps develop critical thinking.


Michele Emrath said...

I am not sure I would have enjoyed reading it. I am not sure I would have read it. But I certainly wouldn't have banned it. However, does it have a place in schools? Is it appropriate for children in their formative years, learning to interact with the opposite sex? There is a difference between censorship and inappropriate, I feel.


sharazad said...

A good point, Michele.
But are 7th graders really likely to compare themselves to pigs?

Is it likely that they will be shocked by the fact that mating between animals is often violent?
Not if they have Discovery Channel at home.

Raising the pig is meant to prepare Robert for a life of farming--& for life in general. Having read it, I would say its themes of loss, death, friendship and moving on, definitely give it a place in schools.

Kids are MUCH smarter than people think. They are also more resilient than we think too- so many people grew up on farms, witnessing scenes like that all the time.

Parents should make the decision for their own individual child so kids who *are* mature enough to get the message won't be inhibited.

Children who are sensitive or aren't ready for such topics can read it in their own time- but this should not inhibit other kids reading.

This is not to say that this book is perfect or that *all* kids should read it on their own- especially since it is inaccurate in its portrayal of Shakers. Rather, it's the idea that something kids think about or see anyway is ignored by parents and teachers.

We're better off *talking* about this stuff.