Point of View in The Pigman

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

'The Pigman' is a classic young adult novel by Paul Zindel, originally published in 1968. Zindel's use of point of view reinforces the themes of the story.

Setting and Characters

The Pigman tells the story of two teenagers living in Staten Island, New York, in the 1960s. Both are fed up with school and their particular family situations, and this common outlook draws the two together. Zindel tells the story in first person point of view (the 'I' voice), alternating chapters between the two protagonists.

John Conlan speaks in the odd-numbered chapters, so his is the first voice we hear. John's family is present at home, but he feels that they don't care at all what he does. He is failing in school, skips class constantly, and is rather self-absorbed and conceited. He also drinks and smokes, and he has two friends who are even bigger losers: Norton Kelly and Dennis Kobin. John is noted as being handsome (by both Lorraine and himself) and wants to be an actor. As the reader discovers (and Lorraine tells us), John has compassion deep inside.

Lorraine Jensen counters the chapters narrated by John, often amending or adding to John's version of the story of Mr. Pignati ('the Pigman'). Lorraine also has an unsupportive family, as her father left and her mother has never gotten over the long-ago divorce. Lorraine is sensitive and introspective, berated by her mother because of her weight. Lorraine's mother often asks her to stay home from school to help with housework, so she also struggles with school. She longs for acceptance and companionship, which she finds first with John, and then with Mr. Pignati.

Point of View (POV)

You probably already know that many young adult novels are first person narratives. This is probably because readers of this genre like to empathize with what the characters experience, and they can relate to the way that young people express themselves. Zindel cleverly uses alternating teenage protagonists, one male and one female, to give the reader two perspectives on the same plot line. John's chapters are more focused on the action element, while Lorraine's version of what happened acknowledges feelings and what happens in the characters' minds.

You might have also heard of the term unreliable narrator. This means that the reader needs to question what the first person narrator says because, for some reason, that narrator cannot be believed or trusted. It may be because the narrator is very young, mentally challenged, or purposely intending to present only one side of the story. In The Pigman, the two narrators are both young, but probably old enough to tell a fairly reliable account of the fictional events presented.

Between the two different perspectives, the reader gets a more balanced view of events. The double narration also helps us get the idea that they are trying to tell the true story. Indeed, before the two start the story, we read an oath that they have taken to record 'only the facts about our experience with Mr. Angelo Pignati.'

The Story

What exactly happens in this story? As soon as you get to the first meeting the kids have with Mr. Pignati, you can probably guess that something bad will happen to him because of his acceptance of the two misfits, John and Lorraine. And you are right: though Lorraine feels sorry for the lonely old widower, she still goes along with John in taking advantage of his goodwill. Somewhat later, the enthusiastic Mr. Pignati has a heart attack while roller-skating around his house with the two teens and ends up in the hospital. By this point, John and Lorraine have come to like the Pigman, whom they give this name in because of his actual name and his huge collection of ceramic pigs.

They stay at his house a great deal while he is in the hospital, and all seems to be well. But John cannot resist the temptation to show off the house to his friends, and he invites more kids over for a party. As you can well imagine, the party gets out of hand. Norton ends up destroying the collection of pigs, while another guest rips the late Mrs. Pignati's wedding dress while trying it on. The worst part of it is that Mr. Pignati comes home unexpectedly while the party is still going on. He is obviously devastated by not only the state of his house and his collection, but the betrayal of his two young friends whom he had trusted.

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