Monday, October 1, 2007

In Defense of The Pigman

Being an avid reader, I’d have to live on Mars not to have heard about banned books. And even if I wasn’t a book lover, there are many movies out there that include historical scenes of book burnings. But until this week, I’d never actually seen THE LIST. I was shocked, to say the least, to see classics such as Tom Sawyer, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye on it. Some of those top 100 banned books I recall reading as a teen, including Flowers for Algernon, The Outsiders, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I don’t think there was a girl in my junior high school who didn’t read Judy Bloom’s Forever. Granted, it wasn’t allowed in my school library, but one of my friend’s moms bought it for her and it was passed around from girl to girl until the poor book fell apart. Lord of the Flies was not only required reading in 9th grade, but I remember we spent weeks in my English class analyzing it chapter by chapter.

But as I perused the list, one title jumped out at me in particular -- The Pigman by Paul Zindel, published in 1968. Why that book, which I read sometime after my Nancy Drew phase and before graduating to Stephen King, John Saul, and V.C. Andrews? (Side note: If any books should be flagged, it should be the Flowers in the Attic series. Don’t get me wrong, I read and loved every one of them, but if a family saga based on incest isn’t flag-worthy, I don’t know what is.) Anyway, I think The Pigman remains very special to me because it was the first book I ever read that made me cry.

So that got me to thinking . . . just what was so bad in The Pigman to get it on THE LIST? Because it had been a good 27 years since I’d read the book as a 14 year old freshman in 1979 or 1980 (please don’t do the math to figure out how old that makes me now *cringe*), I checked it out of the library and read it again, and tried to figure out what had offended a certain segment of the public so. Was it because one of the lead characters, John, was a juvenile delinquent who skipped school, drank beer, smoked, smart-mouthed his parents, and got his kicks setting firecrackers off in the boy’s bathroom at school? Or was it because John and Lorraine, the other lead teen character, came from broken, dysfunctional homes before it became a right of passage instead of a dirty little secret in a society still clinging to the “Leave It To Beaver” mentality? Or was it because it dealt with the uncomfortable topic of death in a book aimed at adolescents in the prime of their lives? Reading the book now as an adult with children of my own, my choice for questionable content would have been the fact that the title character, The Pigman, saw nothing wrong with giving two 15 year old kids alcohol every time they came to visit his home. Imagine my surprise when I did a little internet research and found out the real reason the book made THE LIST . . .

The Pigman was first challenged in 1985, seventeen years after it was written, because it was considered "dangerous" becauseit features liars, cheaters and stealers,” in addition to using symbols in place of 4-letter curse words, which some thought offensive. Okay, so I can understand some people not wanting to glorify juvenile delinquents or put ideas into their teens' heads about lying, cheating, and stealing. But I didn’t understand the problem with the author using symbols in place of curse words. Wouldn’t that be preferred instead of the alternative of putting the actual words in the text? Then on one of the websites I visited (http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=The%20Pigman) while researching the ‘whys,’ the poster Erin Lee mentioned that “. . . seeing @#$% caught my attention and drew my mind more to obscenity than 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.” Ah ha! Maybe that was the underlying problem with the book all along. . . parents were afraid their kids would actually think for themselves and fill in the blanks. Heaven forbid.

Regardless, to this day I can still picture the very shelf in the library of my junior high school where the book resided -- that’s how much of an impact The Pigman had on me when I read it--and cried at the end of it--for the first time.

8 comments:

  1. Nothing like a book that goes for the emotional jugular. Great post!
    ~Maggie

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  2. Isn't it ironic how many "banned" books are required reading??

    Jody W.

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  3. I haven't read The Pigman since high school but may have to track it down and read it again. I remember enjoying it then and reading it as an adult should prove interesting.

    Thanks for the prompt : )

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  4. I never read this book but these are very interesting insights.

    Thought provoking.

    talia

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  5. I loved this book, and it's a sorry world that bans honesty, and a chance to explore out personal biases in a less threatening way. The Pigman deserves to be accepted as the classic piece of literature as it is.
    debralee

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  6. What a wonderful, insightful post on a book that touched you. Sometimes I think that the most honest books, unafraid to show the less-than-ideal facets of reality, are also the ones that scare people the most. Never read this in high school, but I'll have to check it out after this.

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  7. I love your insight that the idea that forcing kids to think for themselves might have been the underlying reason for the fear which caused the book to be challenged. It makes you think, doesn't it? ;-)

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  8. hehe-im doing literature homework on "the Pigman and me" right now!

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