The Pigman: Wild Exploration and Codependence

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This week’s lecture states: “As adults we need to re-connect with the genuine emotions and conflicts we had as an adolescent.” It goes on to say, “Several of the texts on Young Adult literature point out certain characteristics, conflicts, and themes of YA lit that are universal to the young adult experience. Victoria Handley in Writer’s Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults, identifies some common characteristics of Young Adult literature. Her list includes: Age of Protagonist, Coming of Age, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Wild Exploration and Breakdown/Breakthrough.”

While The Pigman touches on all of the above, the book performs exceptionally well in the area of Wild Exploration and makes me want to qualify the area of Independence.

Our lecture pairs the two elements together when it states, “Aligned with independence Handley speaks about how our teenage years are those of exploration and risk taking. As teenagers, our strongest memories may be of the times we took a chance or did something reckless.” The Pigman is a book primarily about growing up and the young adults’ need for wild exploration and independence. But in addition to independence it explores codependence, as well, and each of these elements together leads in the end to the protagonists’ major breakthrough.

Co-protagonists John and Lorraine take turns chapter by chapter telling their story. This technique works well because it gives the reader access to each of them equally, from their own individual points of view as well as from that of the other. Seeing John and his actions, for example, both from his own POV and from Lorraine’s POV automatically gives the reader increased access and it makes the narration more reliable because you have that extra perspective. Plus while each explores, the other can explain the reasons for the exploration.

Chapter Two opens from Lorraine’s POV with, “I should never have let John write the first chapter because he always twists things subliminally. I am not panting, and I’m not about to have a thrombosis. It’s just that some very strange things have happened to us during the last few months, and we feel we should write them down while they’re still fresh in our minds. It’s got to be written now before John and I mature and repress the whole thing.” At this point, the wild exploration and the breakthrough have already taken place even though it has yet to be revealed.

Together, John and Lorraine dare each other to take risks and push each other to do things neither had the confidence to do on his/her own. They do juvenile things like making prank calls, throwing a party and drinking in the cemetery, and they even explore more adult things like their attraction to one another and playing house. In their exploration, together they go so far as to do some things that seem outrageous or even stupid today (like going to a stranger’s house).

Their wild exploration ties in nicely with what John and Lorraine see for themselves in the future and it is a direct result of their suppressed home lives. On page 17, John says “Lorraine remembers the big words and I remember the action. Which sort of makes sense when you stop to think that Lorraine is going to be a famous writer and I’m going to be a great actor.” They see their wild actions as a type of research. Their risky explorations may in fact be preparing them for their dream jobs but it’s also causing them to grow and mature as individuals. John and Lorraine feel stifled and unloved at home. Both have equally dysfunctional, sad and abrasive families, with John’s aggressive and controlling parents who have all but planned for John to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and Lorraine’s bitter, man-hating mother who lectures Lorraine not to trust men. They codependently explore Mr. Pignati’s world and in doing so they momentarily escape their own realities and experience what they feel it must be like to be grown up and in a loving family. With no children of his own and a deceased wife, Mr. Pignati is lonely. He gets companionship from John and Lorraine and they are able to be carefree in a way that they can’t be with their own families. They drink, talk, watch TV, take fieldtrips, tell stories and play games with Mr. Pignati like he’s a sort of surrogate parent and when he’s away they play house, dress-up and even dip a toe into the sexual exploration of each other’s bodies.

Their wild exploration culminates in the passage on pages 119-121 when John and Lorraine dress up in Mr. and Mrs. Pignati’s clothes. Their playful exploration leads to their first kiss.

Page 36 of Literature for Today’s Young Adult says: “Close connections exist between adolescent literature and adolescent psychology, with psychology providing the overall picture and literature providing individual portraits.” The page lists “acquiring more mature social skills” and “achieving a masculine or feminine sex role” as the top two developmental tasks for adolescents as they achieve their individual identities. In The Pigman, John and Lorraine do both of these things. At home, they are children; John feels inclined to act out (i.e., gluing the phone) and Lorraine feels like she must do everything her mom tells her to do. But away from home, they seek adventure and they feel compelled and free to explore and to dabble in adult things.

On page four, Patty Campbell explains: “The central theme of most YA fiction is becoming an adult, finding the answer to the question: Who am I and what am I going to do about it? No matter what events are going on in the book, accomplishing that task is really what the book is about, and in the climactic moment the resolution of the external conflict is linked to a realization for the protagonist that helps shape an adult identity.”

In The Pigman, main characters John and Lorraine are free to explore wildly in this foreign adult world they ventured into together. But much of their freedom comes from their mutual codependence. Each finds safety and support in the other, and therefore their relationship goes beyond friendship. Mr. Pignati is codependent too, so much so that when his wife died he retreated emotionally into a world of solitude but needed John and Lorraine to climb out of it.

The three of them use each other to escape their own realities and, in turn, they cause each other to grow as well. John and Lorraine draw Mr. Pignati out of his lonely shell and in doing so they learn not to take life for granted. Also, since John and Lorraine have each other they feel free to explore Mr. Pignati’s world together and, no matter what happens, they believe everything will be alright because they have each other.

The party is a perfect example of how their wild exploration led to a breakdown. Even though they cared about Mr. Pignati, when he was in the hospital they couldn’t resist throwing a party in his house. When Mr. Pignati returns home mid-party and finds a huge mess of broken pigs, John and Lorraine feel awful but can’t take back what they’d done. Later, even though he reluctantly agrees to take the trip to the zoo, their relationship never returns to the way it was before the party.

When Mr. Pignati dies, John and Lorraine are forced to realize that being together won’t stop every bad thing from happening. And in the end, they had to face the reality that at some point we all need to grow up and tackle the world on our own. Their mutual wild exploration as well as their codependence gave them the courage to dabble together in adulthood and Mr. Pignati’s death caused them in the end to truly grow up and say goodbye to their childish ways.

Through its exceptional use of wild exploration and by drawing lines between independence and codependence, The Pigman captures the texture and feel of growing up. In the beginning, John and Lorraine blamed their parents as the source of their problems. But through their relationship with Mr. Pignati, they begin to mature and realize that, in spite of the temptation to blame others, in the end, life is what we make of it and we only have ourselves to blame when it goes wrong.

On the last page of The Pigman, John says: “We had trespassed too—been where we didn’t belong, and we were being punished for it. Mr. Pignati had paid with his life. But when he died, something in us died too. There was no one else to blame anymore. No Bores or Old Ladies or Nortons, or Assassins waiting at the bridge. And there was no place to hide—no place across any river for a boatman to take us. Our life would be what we made of it—nothing more, nothing less.” Mr. Pignati had moved on into the afterlife. Now John and Lorraine were moving on, too.

Works Cited:

Donelson, Kenneth and Pace Nilson, Alleen. Literature for Today’s Young Adults. Boston, MA. Pearson Education. 2009.

Going, K.L. Writing & Selling the YA Novel. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. 2008. Print.

Zindel, Paul. The Pigman. New York: Harper Collins, 1968. Print.

The Outsiders


S.E. Hinton wrote: “Teenagers today want to read about teenagers today” and I agree. I also think teenagers today want to be treated like and spoken to like adults because many of them are in fact dealing with some pretty adult issues.

As grown-ups, we often look at teens more as older children than as young adults. We believe (or want to believe) that they haven’t seen or experienced certain things. Our attempt to completely shelter them is naïve because as Ponyboy says on page 40 of The Outsiders, “when you’re 13 in our neighborhood you know the score.” While they’re not yet fully grown, they think and feel similarly to adults.

Teens have profound and deeply rooted needs for independence, exploration, survival and success while they also want to be loved, supported, cared for and protected. But don’t we all need and want these things? These are not just “teen” needs they are human needs and not necessarily tied to age, gender, race or socio-economic status.

In Writing & Selling the YA Novel, K.L. Going writes: “Conflict makes for great stories, and although we wish it didn’t exist, it’s everywhere.” This week’s lecture states: “Instead of teenage lives filled with trivial concerns like dating and social etiquette, the characters in the Outsiders came face to face with violence, poverty, social stigma, and being forced into adult roles.”

In The Outsiders, Hinton captures the voice and real life needs of young adults, adds conflict and ties it all together to explore one of adolescent life’s biggest internal struggles: Standing out while fitting in. She respectfully tells a story in which teens from various backgrounds and home situations make their own difficult adult decisions and face the consequences of those decisions.

There are several important passages in which Hinton effectively approaches the thoughts and feelings of her audience. It was hard for me to pick just one passage so I picked a few.

Two which I feel kind of go together and give the mutual sentiment of wanting to belong are on page 29 when Ponyboy says, “Our one rule, besides Stick together, is don’t get caught” and on page 176 when Darry says, “We’re all we’ve got left. We ought to be able to stick together against everything. If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.” I think both passages are important because they speak to Ponyboy’s need to be loved and a part of something bigger than his individual self. Like Ponyboy, we learn as teens that whether love comes from family or friends isn’t important. The important part is that we are loved and that we belong. With all the challenges and new experiences of adolescence, the feeling of needing to belong is amplified.

The passage on pages 48 and 49 really pull all of this together. After lying down and looking up at the stars, Johnny and Ponyboy fall asleep. They wake up way past Ponyboy’s curfew and we get the sense that he’s going to be in big trouble but Johnny won’t be. This is when we learn “Johnny’s parents don’t care if he comes home or not.” When Ponyboy arrives home, his brothers are waiting up for him (though Soda nodded off) like they’re his parents. They even left the porch light on for him. Ponyboy gets in trouble but it’s clear that he’s loved and once he figures that out later in the novel then that love and sense of family overshadows everything else.

After reading the book, I called my nephew. He’s 15 and what you might call “street smart” but he also loves to read and he’d previously told me he read and loved this book. I asked him why. He said he can relate to Ponyboy and the Greasers because they’re going through what he’s going through. He also said something that needs to be understood about the book is the idea of following your gut instead of doing what others want you to do. He said it’s important to be a part of the group but that being your own person is also important. We talked about the rumble on page 127 and the bad feeling Ponyboy had leading up to it. He said that Ponyboy knew the difference between right and wrong but he couldn’t fight the urge to do the wrong thing since it felt like it was the right thing at the time because Ponyboy considered his friends his family.

SE Hinton did an outstanding job of writing a book that relates to teenagers of yesterday and today because she uses timeless conflicts and themes and never talks down to her audience. Teens are in fact “Young Adults” and the YA genre pays respect to that fact in its title. With adult themes and conflicts and so many important passages to support them in her novel The Outsiders, Hinton proves she respects young adults and she gives them a story they want to read.

Works Cited:

Going, K.L. Writing & Selling the YA Novel. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. 2008. Print.

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking, 1967. Print.

“Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.” – Anne of Green Gables

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I’d heard wonderful things about Anne of Green Gables long before having the pleasure by way of this class of reading the novel. Now I get what all the fuss is about. I laughed, cried, sighed and smiled endless times. As I neared the last chapter, I even slowed down the pace of my reading to a page turning crawl in an effort to prolong the fantasy and wonderment a bit longer.

There were moments which caused me to flash back to a much younger version of me. I, too, was a dreamer often uncomfortable in my own skin. Though I’m grown now with a child of my own, I found myself relating again and again to sweet, sassy, dreamy-eyed Anne Shirley. I felt triumphant for her successes and mourned her losses as if I was living vicariously through her or like she was one of my own children. As an adult, I can relate to her from a place of distance, like a mother watching her daughter experiencing things and feelings she’d once experienced herself. I’m glad I’m reading this story now because I appreciate my memory of myself at that age but had I read this story in my youth it’s likely that it would have helped me more then.

The story fits nicely into the YA category while its third person narrator allows the story to transcend into other genres, too. Its messages and themes (family, loss, love…) are timeless, even if it’s set in an unfamiliar place and time. It would be interesting to see someone take this exact story and modernize it. Wouldn’t it be neat to see another version of this, like say Anne of Newark, NJ? I’m kidding, of course, but my point is that the tale isn’t determined by Green Gables. What makes this story so perfect is Anne. That said; I can’t help but wonder if Annie, another timeless story, was itself written as a modern/theatrical version of Anne of Green Gables. There are so many connections, including the protagonists’ names, orphan status and hair color.

Anne of Green Gables is such a sweet version of the classic American dream story. Anne, our young protagonist, starts out broken and alone yet bold and courageous in the face of some very scary things. On some level each of us is this small, lonely orphan girl with the big heart and imagination determined to rise up and tackle the world. She thinks and often says the things we’re thinking and perhaps wanting to say. It’s not that she’s fearless so much as she’s determined to be herself and willing to put herself out there to reach her goals. Of course, we meet her at a point when she has nothing to lose. We can only imagine her life prior.

I agree with biographer Irene Gammel when she says the author was ahead of her time. Nontraditional families and nontraditional gender roles are things we can appreciate today. Gammel says Montgomery herself grew up in a nontraditional home life and, in turn, she wrote a romanticized account of her own experiences. She created a fictionalized version of what she knew but in a way we can all still relate and connect to it. She wove raw human emotion with familiar themes and managed to do so without rendering any element cliché. She took what could have been a cookie cutter coming of age tale and transformed it through emotion, humor and hope into a touching, thought-provoking, believable story with real life twists and a suitable, happy ending.

Gammel also mentions Montgomery’s childhood journals. Though she wrote Anne of Green Gables when she was 30, I think her journals allowed her to metaphorically travel back in time to her own youth and write Anne from Anne’s perspective. This added depth and authenticity to the narration and positively impacted the voice of the novel. I’m sure the story would have been well written still had she not kept those journals but surely it wouldn’t have been the same. As I set out to tackle my own YA story, I think I’ll dig out my old diaries and journals, too.

A good book allows us to escape our reality but we are more often drawn to stories when we can see ourselves, or parts of ourselves, in the characters. Anne is not just a likable little orphan girl who we get to watch grow up. She is also a manifestation of our own desires, dreams, fears and insecurities. We can all relate to Anne because on some level we’ve all been there. We love Anne and we root and empathize for her because she gives us hope in our own lives.

My daughter is just three, but I look forward to the day I can give her my copy of Anne of Green Gables so we can discuss it. Until then, I’ll cherish having had this opportunity to read it myself.

My YA Intro

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As most of the folks who read my blog regularly probably know, I’m going for my MFA in Creative Writing. It’s been an awesome experience so far and with every class I get happier about the decision to do this!

Today, I started an eight week Young Adult (YA) Fiction Workshop. I’ve never written in the YA genre but I’m looking forward to it.

The first assignment was to write a brief introduction to the class but while using the voice of my 12-18 year old self.

My Intro (Can you guess the year?):
Hey, what’s up? I’m Valerie. But call me Val. I always feel like I’m in trouble when people call me Valerie and, besides, one syllable names are so much cooler, don’t you think? I convinced my best friend Nicole to go simply by ‘Cole, apostrophe and all. It’s so much sexier than Nicky, even spelled N-I-K-K-I, which is how she wanted to spell it before I suggested ‘Cole.

Today was our first day of 8th grade. How cool is that? I can’t believe we finally get to go to high school together next year! But I’m in no rush… This is gonna be a great year and I plan to enjoy it. Besides, I’d love to have boobs by then and they’re apparently in no rush either.

We both totally lucked out and got Mr. DiGiesi for homeroom, in addition to Social Studies and English. Miss Graber, the math teacher, is okay too, I guess, but I suck at math. I’d hate for her to catch me copying ‘Cole’s homework before the bell rings. But seriously, everyone loves Mr. DiGiesi. All the girls have crushes on him. Miss Graber is probably in love with him, too. It would explain why she wears hooker heels and so much makeup. I wouldn’t be surprised; he’s by far the coolest teacher in the school. The cutest, too. He’s also smart and funny and he has great hair. Thank God he teaches the classes I like, too, so I’m bound to impress him if I can manage to focus on the material instead of simply watching his mouth form words.

Anyway, in homeroom today, Mr. DiGiesi handed out black and white notebooks and told us to take them home and decorate them however we like. He’s calling them our “Me Notebooks” and he said we’ll have some specific assignments, like poetry and stuff, to write in them but he said for the most part he wants us to use them like journals. He said we can draw on them and write whatever we want in them and that no one will ever look at them but us. I love the concept but I’m skeptical. I mean, I’d put a photo of him on mine if I wasn’t sure he’d see it at some point.

So instead, I’m going to decorate it with pictures of some of my other current obsessions: The two Coreys, Slash playing guitar, George Michael in the Gotta Have Faith video, Prince (I’m still obsessed over Purple Rain), INXS, Bon Jovi, Milli Vanilli and the lyrics to my fave Rob Base song (I get stupid…I mean outrageous. Stay away from me…If you’re contagious.), Madonna, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson (because who can pick?), cheese fries, mint chocolate chip ice cream, rollercoasters, Yoo-hoo, ripped jeans, The Flyers, Wet and Wild lip gloss and my crimping iron. Oh and Drakkar Noir… wow, boys smell so rad when they wear that.

That brings me to the thing I love most: Boys! Don’t get me wrong… I’m not completely boy crazy. I mean, I have other hobbies, too, like writing and reading and dancing and singing (though I’m awful at it), but mostly, well, mostly I love boys.

Anyway, I’d better go. I need to locate my lucky scrunchie so tomorrow’s perfect. TTFN.