“The Pigman” is a Young Adult novel written by Paul Zindel and published in 1968. Zindel originally wrote the novel as a screenplay but, having no success finding a film maker for it, he decided to rework it and publish it as a novel instead. The book was very successful and went on to win many different awards including the New York Times Outstanding Book of 1968 and the ALA Notable Children’s Book 1940-1970. The book is still frequently included in the curriculum of many elementary and middle schools throughout America.
The novel tells a story from two different perspectives; one is the perspective of a teenage boy named John, and the other is the perspective of his friend Lorraine. Through the alternating point of view chapters, John and Lorraine tell the story of how they met an old man named Mr. Pignati by chance one day through a prank phone call and became friends with him over the course of a few months. Mr. Pignati is a lonely older man who lost his wife years before and enjoyed the teen’s company. However, the teens lie to him about working for a charity upon first meeting him and later reveal the truth as they feel guilty.
While Mr. Pignati is playing a carefree game of tag with the teens, he suffers a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. During his stay in the hospital, John and Lorraine throw a raucous party in his house, and Mr. Pignati returns to find his house has been ransacked. John and Lorraine attempt to apologize, but Mr. Pignati suffers another collapse and dies. At the end of the book, Lorraine feels that it is their fault that Mr. Pignati died and John feels that no one is to blame but worries that he will end up old and alone like Mr. Pignati.
At the start of the novel, we’re introduced to one of the main characters, a young man named John. John first tells the reader that he hates school and that is the reason why he got in trouble with the Pigman. John says that he used to get in trouble a lot at school for pulling pranks and putting firecrackers in the bathroom stalls. He says that he is now a sophomore and has given up pulling pranks at school. John tells the reader that someone named Lorraine has told him to write this all down because she’s had a “miserable look on her face” ever since the Pigman died. The two are considering this a memorial, and Lorraine has become livelier since they started working on it.
At the end of chapter one, John hands the typewriter over to Lorraine because she is “panting” to get at it to tell her side of the story. Chapter two begins Lorraine’s narration. At first, she tells us a bit about John, relating that she believes that he only gets away with so much because he is handsome. She says that she and John are friends and both come from hard to live with families. She says that she realizes that their teachers at school probably have personal lives that none of their students know about. Lorraine says that she was once called upon to drop of some papers at a teacher named Ms. Stewart’s house and caught a glimpse of the woman’s sick mother in a bed in the living room.
Lorraine talks more about her family life, telling the reader some of the cruel remarks that her mother has often told her and then talks about John’s father’s alcoholism. She confesses that John’s father no longer drinks since he developed a medical condition called sclerosis in his liver but John has now started drinking, himself. Lorraine says that John is a prolific liar and the difference between the two of them is that she has some compassion. John, she says, has compassion as well but it is buried deep down inside of him.
Lorraine ends the chapter by relating how she and John became friends. She says that one day he sat next to her on the school bus and started laughing out of nowhere. Angered by this, she asked him to stop because she worried that everyone would think she was sitting with a lunatic. He replied, “I am a lunatic”, and she began laughing at that.
The next chapter begins with John’s narration again. John tells the reader that Lorraine wants to be a writer, so she tends to remember the big words. He wants to be an actor, so he tends to remember the actions more. He confesses how the pair first met the Pigman. Months earlier, they used to get together with two other classmates named Dennis Kobin and Norton Kelly and make prank phone calls. The group had to convene at Kobin’s house, as Lorraine was not allowed to have friends over and John’s father did not let him use the phone.
The kids used to do something called a “telephone marathon” where they would pick out a strangers name from the phone book with their eyes closed and then call that person and try to keep them on the phone for as long as they could. This was how they accidentally picked out the number of someone called Mr. Pignati and John says that it was Lorraine who did it. He says that Mr. Pignati would have died anyway and “You can’t really say we murdered him. Not murdered him”.
Lorraine begins the next chapter by emphasizing how mean and disturbed Dennis and Norton are. She says that Norton “has eyes like a mean mouse”. Then she picks up the story of how they met the Pigman. She confesses that she cheated by peeking through her fingers so she could choose someone with an address in her neighborhood. When she calls Mr. Pignati, he stays on the phone with her for a long time telling bad jokes. She assumes that he is very lonely. Lorraine lies that she is collecting money for charity and Mr. Pignati agrees to donate ten dollars. Lorraine and John say that they will come to pick it up the next day.
John reveals that Lorraine said she felt guilty the next day and did not want to go to Mr. Pignati’s house but he managed to convince her to go through with it. John does not tell Norton about the money as he knows that he would only steal it. Lorraine and John go to Mr. Pignati’s house and find that it is poorly kept and untidy. Mr. Pignati is a retired electrician who is not surprised to find that the charity workers are teenagers and lets them in. John says that he and Lorraine found the man’s smile off-putting. He confesses that he was worried that the man was “a psycho with an electric carving knife who’d dismember our bodies and wouldn’t get caught until our teeth clogged up the sewer or something like that”. Mr. Pignati tells the teenagers that his wife is on a trip to California and gives them a ten dollar check.
Before they can leave, he shows them a collection of small glass pigs. He says that he started the collection after giving his wife a pig to remember him by when they first started dating. He also asks the teenagers to go to the zoo with him the next day. Lorraine says that she argued with John about not cashing the check and not going to the zoo with Mr. Pignati. In this chapter, we finally meet Lorraine’s mother and discover that her father left the family shortly after she was born. When Lorraine returned home from Mr. Pignati’s house, her mother asked her where she was, and she lied about being at the drama club.
John convinces Lorraine to meet Mr. Pignati at the zoo, and the teenagers go to see him the next day. Lorraine thinks that she sees omens of doom in everything while at the zoo. Mr. Pignati shows them a baboon named Bobo whom he says is his best friend. Lorraine begins to loosen up and laugh when John starts making monkey noises at the baboon. On the way to Mr. Pignati’s house the next day, the two run into Dennis and Norton and lie about where they are going.
At dinner that night, John argues with his father about his desire to become an actor. John’s father wants his son to work with him buying and selling large amounts of coffee for the world market. When John next goes to Mr. Pignati’s house he is struck by how happy the man is to see him as his parents are never happy to see him. Mr. Pignati tells them to make themselves at home in his house and Lorraine finds a picture of a young woman in a confirmation dress. Mr. Pignati confesses that this is his wife, Conchetta. John finds a bill for the woman’s funeral and tells Lorraine after they leave. That night, Lorraine has dinner with her mother. Lorraine’s mother is a home nurse for cancer patients. She tells Lorraine that her current patient keeps trying to grab her inappropriately.
The next day Lorraine and John meet Mr. Pignati again. This time, it is at the Staten Island Ferry which they use to travel to Manhattan. In Manhattan, the group travels to Beekman’s department store. In Beekman’s, Mr. Pignati buys odd food items like frog’s legs, chocolate covered-ants, and tiger’s milk. He tells the teenagers that he and his wife used to love shopping for food together and to cook it up. In the pet department, they see three monkeys in a cage hugging each other, and Mr. Pignati stops to talk to them for a long time. Mr. Pignati buys them all roller skates and Lorraine and John wear them out of the store.
John begins the next chapter talking about a newspaper clipping that he cut out. The clipping was a “Dear Alice” advice column that talked about a young boy who liked playing with dolls. John says that the clipping reminded him of Norton, who used to like playing with dolls when he was a small child. The other children would tease Norton so eventually he “went berserk” and began acting like a tough guy. John now has contempt for the boy saying, “he is so low on the scale of human evolution he belongs back in the age of Cro-Magnon man”. When he entered high school, Norton began shoplifting and it soon became an addiction for him. John says that he truly feels that Norton is the type of young man who could grow up to become a killer. Norton soon asks John if there is anything worth stealing in Mr. Pignati’s home and confesses that he and Dennis are considering breaking into it. John realizes that he would kill Norton if he hurt Mr. Pignati.
Lorraine begins her next chapter by explaining that her mother has a lot of distrust of men that stem from the end of her marriage. When Lorraine’s mother was pregnant with her, the nurses told her that Lorraine’s father had “some kind of disease” and that she shouldn’t let him touch her. It is implied that the disease was a type of sexually transmitted disease. Lorraine’s parents separated immediately after this revelation and Lorraine has never known her father as a result.
The next time Lorraine and John do to Mr. Pignati’s house, the old man is sad because his friend Bobo is getting older and would not eat the last time he visited him. John and Lorraine feel guilty and confess to Mr. Pignati that they are not charity workers. But Mr. Pignati is distracted and does not seem to hear them. He begins talking about his wife and how much he misses her and finally breaks down crying, confessing to them that she is dead. John gets them laughing again by accidentally eating some chocolate-covered ants.
Mr. Pignati proposes a game. He tells the kids a story about five characters: a husband and wife, the wife’s lover, a boatman and an assassin. At the end of the story, Mr. Pignati says that the wife is killed and John and Lorraine are supposed to write down which of the characters are the most responsible for her death. The game is supposed to reveal which quality out of five (love, sex, fun, magic, and money) are the most important to the player. Both John and Lorraine list magic first and Lorraine reveals that this list is accurate.
The three friends begin playing tag with their roller skates on, and Mr. Pignati suffers a heart attack while chasing John up the stairs. He is taken to the hospital in an ambulance. John and Lorraine tell the ambulance and the police that they are Mr. Pignati’s children. Lorraine begins to blame John for the man’s heart attack as he was chasing John up the stairs when he suffered it. John and Lorraine stay with Mr. Pignati in the hospital until they are told to leave and then return to his house.
Lorraine makes dinner at Mr. Pignati’s house and she and John dress up in some old evening clothes. John tells Lorraine that she looks beautiful and begins teasing her about role playing as a “handsome European business man” and the woman who is in love with him. John teases Lorraine more and the two laugh as he kisses her. “She started laughing again right in my arms but I stopped it by putting my lips on hers. It was the first time we had ever kissed. When I moved my lips away from hers, we just looked at each other, and somehow we were not acting anymore”. They decide to go back downstairs and share a toast to the Pigman over dinner.
At the beginning of the next chapter, Lorraine again tells a story about how her mother told her that the men that she works for couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. Lorraine and John call the hospital to ask about Mr. Pignati, and they are told that he is doing well but won’t be able to go home until at least Saturday. On Friday night, John decides to invite a few friends over to Mr. Pignati’s house for drinks. Lorraine does not like this idea but feels that she can’t stop him.
That Friday, Lorraine lies to her mother, telling her that she is staying late at friend’s house doing paperwork. The small gathering soon evolves into a large party with around forty guests and a band. The guests get out of control, spilling drinks on the rugs, dropping cigarette butts and trying on Conchetta’s clothes and ripping them.
Norton arrives although he was not invited. John catches him trying to steal something and the two fight. Because John is wearing his roller skates, he gets knocked down, and Norton runs to the pig room. Norton begins breaking the pigs. This angers John, who punches Norton several times. Norton knocks John down again, and John drunkenly wonders why the band has stopped playing. Suddenly Lorraine shouts that Mr. Pignati is home. John sees Mr. Pignati looking down at him and passes out.
John is still unconscious as he and Lorraine are taken home in a police car. When Lorraine is taken home, her mother slaps her and yells at her. Lorraine tells her mother about her and John’s friendship with Mr. Pignati. The next day, Lorraine and John manage to meet. John’s father has told him that he needs to see a psychiatrist. They both agree that the man will probably forget about this punishment in a few days.
The teenagers call Mr. Pignati and apologize, offering to help him clean up his house. He tells them that he has already cleaned most of it. They agree to meet up at the zoo but when they get there they realize how frail and sick Mr. Pignati actually is. They also discover that Bobo has died and his cage is now empty. While at the zoo, Mr. Pignati collapses again and this time he dies. Lorraine leaves the zoo so that she will not get into trouble but John stays with Mr. Pignati’s body until the police arrive. While he sits with the body, he thinks about the sadness of life and how soon it is over. He feels that Lorraine doesn’t understand him and wonders if she realizes how sick it makes him feel to think that he may end up like Mr. Pignati, with no one to talk to in his old age except for a baboon.
The ambulance arrives and takes the body away. John finds Lorraine at the zoo entrance, and she begins hitting him and yelling that they killed Mr. Pignati. After Lorraine calms down, John realizes that he feels that no one is to blame. He concludes by saying that they and Mr. Pignati trespassed into each others territory and: “Our life would be made of nothing more, nothing less. Baboons. Baboons. They build their own cages, we could almost hear the Pigman whisper, as he took his children with him”.
John Conlan – one of the two main characters of the novel. John is a sophomore in high school. John is known as something of a bad boy around the school and has a reputation for pulling pranks including the setting off firecrackers in the bathrooms. Lorraine believes that the only reason that John does not get into more trouble from this is that he is handsome and charms the teachers. John aspires to be an actor, and this has caused some rockiness in his relationship with his father who is a recovering alcoholic. John’s father does not believe that acting is a responsible career. He wishes for John to work with him buying and selling coffee stocks.
It is obvious that John is using his antics at school and drinking and smoking to get attention from his parents. However, this usually fails as he reveals that they rarely show interest in him or his life. John’s biggest ever stunt of throwing a massive party at Mr. Pignati’s house while he is in the hospital does not manage to garner any extended attention from his parents either, as his father just tells him he is sending him to a therapist and John and Lorraine expect that he will not really do it anyway.
John does exhibit some evidence of having a kind heart, however, as he befriends Mr. Pignati and later confesses to him that he and Lorraine are not working for a charity. At the end of the book, John seems very changed by Mr. Pignati’s death and seems to have a more maudlin point of view.
Lorraine Jensen – one of the two main characters of the story. Lorraine is also a sophomore in high school, but she is less prone to mischief than John. Lorraine wants to become a writer and it is her idea to write down the story of the Pigman so that they can exorcise themselves of guilt, although whether they are successful in that endeavor remains to be seen at the end of the novel.
Lorraine is more sensitive and deep-thinking than John, and her influence on the narrative creates a balance to his impulsiveness and brashness. Lorraine has never met her father and has a bad relationship with her mother, confessing that her mother often ridicules her for her appearance and tells her that she is not pretty.
Lorraine meets John when he randomly sits by her on the school bus one day and opens up to him after he makes her laugh. Since he has a bad reputation, Lorraine’s friendship with John protects her from the mockery of the other students at school although many of her girl friends wonder how she can be friends with him. Lorraine feels the most sensitive toward Mr. Pignati and does not want to have a party in his house while he is away. After his death, she believes that she and John are the ones that killed him by betraying him with their teenage antics. She takes the death very hard.
Angelo Pignati – an old widower who is very lonely and befriends the teenagers. Mr. Pignati lives in a very messy house in John and Lorraine’s neighborhood. His nickname, The Pigman, comes from his last name as does his collection of glass and ceramic pigs. After the death of his wife, Mr. Pignati’s only friend before meeting John and Lorraine in the novel is a baboon at the zoo named Bobo. Mr. Pignati visits the baboon often and feeds him peanuts which he believes are the animals favorite food.
After Mr. Pignati realizes the toll of destruction that the party has taken on his house (all of his pig figurines were destroyed as well as his wife’s wedding dress) he begins to grow increasingly ill and it is the death of Bobo that sets him over the edge into a full physical collapse.
Lorraine’s mother –
Lorraine’s mother – she is never named, but she becomes a central character to the plot nonetheless. Lorraine’s mother is a home nurse for cancer patients who is distrustful of men after a bad experience with her ex-husband, Lorraine’s father. She warns Lorraine against men and boys constantly. Lorraine’s mother is very judgmental of her daughter’s looks and weight. She makes unkind comments often throughout the novel. Lorraine believes that the loss of her father is the reason her mother has become so judgmental.
Paul Zindel Biography
Paul Zindel was born on May 15th 1936 in Tottenville, Staten Island, NY. The son of a policeman and a nurse, Zindel’s father left to run off with his mistress when he was only two years old, leaving him with his mother and his older sister. Zindel began writing in high school and wrote many plays throughout his teenage years. He attended Wagner College where he trained as a chemist and later worked at a place called Allied Chemical as a chemical writer. Zindel also attended creative writing courses in college while working on his undergraduate degree. After quitting his job as a chemical writer, he began working as a Chemistry and Physics teacher at Tottenville High School on Staten Island.
In 1964, at the age of 27, Zindel wrote his first and most successful play. “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds” became an off-Broadway hit and made it to Broadway in 1971 where it received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was later made into a movie by 20th Century Fox in 1972. It was the success of this play that caused Harper & Row publishing house to contact him about writing for their label.
Zindel wrote 53 books aimed at young adults for Harper & Row during his lifetime. Most of them tended toward darker themes of abusive parenting, drug abuse and other problems that teens face.
In 1968, Zindel’s book, “The Pigman” was published and became a success. The book was turned into a trilogy with “The Pigman’s Legacy” in 1981 and “The Pigman & Me” in 1992. Some of Zindel’s other famous works include: “My Darling, My Hamburger” (1969), “Confessions of a Teenage Baboon” (1977), and many more short stories and plays. Zindel also wrote many screenplays, including “Mame” the 1974 film starring Lucille Ball and “Babes in Toyland” 1986., the film starring Keanu Reeves and Drew Barrymore.
Zindel married Bonnie Hildebrand in 1973, and the two had two children named Lizabeth and David before divorcing in 1998. Lizabeth later went on to become a novelist herself while David became a filmmaker. In 2003, at the age of 66, Zindel died of lung cancer in Manhattan, NY. He is buried in Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island.