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A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE FREE STUDY GUIDE/SUMMARY
CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES/ANALYSIS
Twelve-year-old Robert left school without permission. During recess, Edward Thatcher teased him about his plain Shaker clothing. Instead of fighting with Edward, Robert simply "turned tail and run off." When the book opens, he is out on the ridge above his family farm. He is beating a stick against the trunk of a tree and thinking how much he hates Edward and how some day he was going to kick him from one end of Vermont to the other.
Suddenly Robert hears a strange noise. He looks up to see a large black and white Holstein cow trying to give birth. She belongs to a neighbor, Mr. Tanner, and her name is Apron. Unfortunately, her calf is stuck and will not come out on its own. As a result, Apron is wild with pain and having difficulty breathing. Robert knows he has to do something. He grabs the head of the calf and pulls; but he cannot hold on because of the slippery blood and slime covering the calf. Instead, Robert falls backwards and receives a kick in the shin from Apron. He thinks about giving up on the project, and then remembers he has just run away from school. He cannot run from anything else.
Robert decides he must tie something around the calf's head in order to pull it out. The only thing available is his pants. He quickly takes them off and gets a leg of them around the calf. As he works, he talks to the calf and says, "You stay up you ma's hindside and you're about choke. So you might as well choke getting yourself born." When Robert begins to pull on the pants, Apron gets upset and takes off. Robert holds on to the pants with all his might. The calf, however, never comes out.
When Apron stops again, Robert ties the other pants leg around a dogwood tree. Now only one of three things will happen when Apron moves forward: the tree will uproot, the pants will tear, or the calf will be born. Unfortunately, Apron does not move forward. Robert tries everything to put her in motion; he hits her, kicks her, and stones her, but she does not go. Finally, Apron tries to sit down, and the pants do their work. The calf is born, and Robert is "snarled up in a passel of wet stuff . . . and something that was very hot and kicked a lot."
The opening chapter is a wonderful introduction to the setting and protagonist of the novel. The book takes place in Learning, a rural Vermont town that is surrounded by Shaker farms. The Shakers are a hard-working and plain people, who are very religious. Robert Peck is a twelve-year-old Shaker boy who is teased at school because of his different clothing and different ways. When he is taunted on the playground by a fellow classmate, Edward Thatcher, Robert runs away, leaving school without permission. When the book opens, he is on the ridge above his family farm. He is ashamed of having run from a problem; he also knows he will be in trouble for leaving school.
When Robert sees his neighbor's cow trying unsuccessfully to give birth to her calf, Robert immediately goes to help. Being a hard-working farm boy, he is very resourceful for his age. When he cannot pull the calf out on his own, he takes off his pants and ties one leg around the calf. When he still is unable to birth the calf, he ties the other pants leg around a dogwood tree. He then tries to make Apron move forward, hoping the calf will emerge. Although he hits, kicks, and stones the cow, she refuses to move. Finally, Apron decides to sit down, forcing the calf to be pulled out by the pants. The slimy animal lands right on top of Robert. Unfortunately, his troubles are not over. Apron is choking on something, and Robert knows he must get it out of her throat. He sticks his hand into the cow's mouth, and she bites him hard. Then Apron gets up and runs off the ridge, with Robert's arm still in her mouth. He is in dire pain before he becomes unconscious.
It is important to note that the story is told from Robert's point of view. As a result, the language is reflective of a twelve-year-old Shaker child and filled with colloquialisms that give a warmth and genuineness to the narrative. It also allows the author to quickly develop Robert, the protagonist of the book. In this first chapter, it is obvious that he is a resourceful boy, using what is at hand to birth the calf. He is also determined, saying that some day he will make Edward Thatcher pay for his teasing. He also shows determination in dealing with Apron. Most twelve-year-olds would have given up on the cow and the calf, but Robert is going to see the project through to completion, no matter the price he must personally pay. He has run away from one problem today, and he is not going to run away from another one. It is also apparent that Robert has strict parents, who have taught him well, even though they are not yet introduced. Robert knows he is going to be in lots of trouble with them for leaving school without permission.
It is also important to note that the town where Robert lives is appropriately named Learning. This is the small village where Robert will learn about life and grow into manhood.