Adolescence is a funny thing. Seemingly "normal" people turn into raging hormonal spastics who change the lives of everyone around them. Teenagers have always been known to be in an awkward stage where finding their identities is key, and acting out is their way of self-expression. I believe that in The Pigman, by Paul Zindel, while the main character John and Lorraine, do a lot of things that probably could be deemed 'morally corrupt,' the only thing they are really guilty of is testing the waters...of being human, and growing up, making mistakes.
The novel opens on a "memorial epic" penned by two high-school sophomores, John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen; this testament says that they are writing the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, regarding their time with "The Pigman," Mr. Angelo Pignati. The narrator role is shared between John and Lorraine throughout the book, switching back and forth from chapter to chapter. John is an overly-dramatic, mischievous, handsome boy whom most adults would call a 'no good loafer.' "He has these gigantic eyes that look right through you, especially if he's in the middle of one of his fantastic everyday lies. And he drinks and smokes more than any boy I ever heard of," (pp 6-7). Lorraine is a "compassionate," "not pretty" (p 9) girl who follows with John's schemes, but often feels guilty about what she does wrong. Mr. Pignati, "The Pigman," is a lonely old man who loves jokes and exotic food, generous with all he has, and caring about nearly strangers.
During the course of the story, slowly the teenagers, John and Lorraine, reveal more and more about themselves, in the beginning hiding things not only from the Pigman, but from the reader as well. I found this interesting. I do not know if this was intentional by the author or not, but the characters of John and Lorraine, and the Pigman are a juxtaposition. John and Lorraine are greedy, in the sense that they are given so much by Mr. Pignati, and still they abuse his graciousness and want more. Mr. Pignati, however, is generous and lavishes attention and gifts on the children, presenting them with all he had to offer, and doing his best to befriend them. John and Lorraine attempt to hide their real selves from Mr. Pignati, while Mr. Pignati shares openly almost everything about himself, excepting his wife's death. He allows them to have free reign in his house, and to do anything they please.
Lorraine and John, with schoolmates Dennis and Norton, have a prank phone calling game. They call random people from the phone book, "without peeking," and see how long they can keep the other person on the line; whoever holds out the longest wins. On Lorraine's turn, she peeks and sees a name that she likes, Mr. Angelo Pignati. I find it somehow amusing and ironic that Lorraine cannot even be honest at chicanery; she cheats at cheating! One prank phone call catapults John and Lorraine into Mr. Pignati's life, and he into theirs. They go over to The Pigman's house to collect a check for the "L & J Fund," an imaginary neighborhood charity that they make up to get money for beer and cigarettes. Mr. Pignati likes them immensely, and invites the teenagers to go to the zoo to visit 'Bobo,' his favorite baboon. Every day The Pigman would visit the monkey, and I suspect he loved the animal so much because Bobo was the only constant in his life. Lorraine, John, and Mr. Pignati become friends, and the story progresses, they confess to Mr. Pignati that they are not from a charity, and that the call was just a prank. The old man, surprisingly, doesn't seem to mind. The conclusion of the novel is depressing and heartwrenching, and its traces of karma leave much to be desired.
Personally, I did not like John or Lorraine. John seemed to me a disrespectful boy whose sole purpose in life was to get a rise out of everyone. He had a good thing in his friendship with Mr. Pignati, and he abused it. Lorraine seemed to me whiny and spineless. When she didn't agree with John, she never told him, or stood up for what she believed. Mr. Pignati was an interesting character, because he forgave many times, and loved the children as his own, often with no questions asked. He lavished them with attention, love, and presents, and he was kind and open with them. He also taught them many lessons that they would never have learned in their respective homes.
For centuries, concerned and supposedly well-meaning readers have launched personal vendettas against 'morally repugnant' novels, which usually depict realities that the readers find offensive or too genuine for their personal tastes. Rather than discontinue reading these books, or not read other books by the respective authors, the do-gooders feel it necessary to 'challenge' the book, or in more extreme cases, move to 'ban' the book from their library, school district, or town. Rather than be discerning in their own literary tastes and leave others to discern for themselves, they force their personal views regarding media and literary censorship on others, which can lead to the imposing of so-called "book bans." Many books are cited as improper for ridiculous, almost inane reasons, such as Little Red Riding Hood for its references to 'alcohol' and the Bible for its "pornographic content and obscenity." The Pigman, by Paul Zindel, is such a book, reported on ludicrous grounds.
According to the American Library Association (ALA) and the Newsletter On Intellectual Freedom, published in 1986 and cited on the "Bulletin 43" website, The Pigman is considered "dangerous" because it features "liars, cheaters, and stealers." It was challenged by the Hillsboro, Missouri school district in 1985. "The Pigman & Me" website claims that Paul Zindel's novel uses symbols in place of 4-letter curse words, which some find 'offensive.' Mr. Zindel has an interesting argument for his placement of these so-called "offensive symbols". "The type of language that has the highest literary merit does not happen to include massive amounts of curses, though I can personally curse like a trooper."
A Paul Zindel critique page that I found talked about the usage of alcohol, prank calling, cheating, lying, stealing, verbal and physical abuse, infidelity, and divorce; many of these issues are touchy subjects alone without putting them in a children's book. These additions into the story mean another source for banning and challenging this novel. The ALA reports that The Pigman is one of the "Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books From 1999-2000." Reading the book, I really had to go through it meticulously to ascertain what some readers found objectionable. What I came up with is as follows: [underage drinking[, substance abuse, general mischief, stealing, cheating, name-calling, trickery, trespassing, littering, disrespect, disruption, manipulation, and swearing (even though the author used @#$% instead of the actual word). The listing seems severe, but I believe for the most part that many of the examples are either kids being kids or kids acting out, trying to find their identity. I personally did not find it objectionable. I found that the occurrences in the book mirror the actions of my peers, teenagers who are just trying to find their place in this world.
Paul Zindel apparently added the 'objectionable material' not for shock value, but to flesh out the characters. John and Lorraine would not have proved such a stark contrast to Mr. Pignati had their actions been anything but slightly inappropriate. I must admit, however, that seeing @#$% caught my attention and drew my mind more to obscenity that if Mr. Zindel would have written out the curse word; natural curiosity is to find the word that's supposed to be there, as opposed to just skimming over it and moving on.
I believe that any book has the potential to be a valuable piece of literature, The Pigman being no exception. Any book that stimulates the mind, teaches a lesson, or is enjoyable to its reader could be considered 'valuable.' I do not believe that this novel should be on the curricula for class reading in high schools. Not only would it not provide a challenge for a high school English class, I do not see the real point to the novel. While I did not personally enjoy the novel, I suppose it could be used as a teaching tool, perhaps in middle school curricula, as it deals with friendship and loyalty, tough love, and growing up the hard way.