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.

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