| Quote #1
Then she started forward, my trousers went tight, I heard a rip and a calf bawl. And a big hunk of hot stinking stuff went all over me. Some of it was calf, some of it wasn't.
As I went down under the force and weight of it, I figured something either got dead or got born. (1.20-21)
This passage comes from the first chapter, when we're just getting to know Rob. From the get-go, we're plunged into a life or death struggle, and a verbal connection is made between birth and death. We can be pretty sure this is going to be a recurring theme throughout the book.
| Quote #2
He bent down and pulled the crazy quilt up around my throat. I could tell by the smell of his hand that he'd killed pigs today. There was a strong smell to it, like stale death. That smell was almost always on him, morning and night. Until Saturday, when he'd strip down to the white and stand in the kitchen washtub, up to his shins in hot soapy water, and wash himself clean of the pigs and the killing. (2.90)
Rob's Papa kills pigs for a living, so the interconnectedness of mortality and survival plays a central role in the Peck family. Papa's smell ("like stale death"—ick) is a constant reminder of the family's dependence on the blood and suffering of the slaughterhouse for their ongoing well-being.
| Quote #3
"Come quick," said Mama, who was standing at the barn door. Just inside was a nest in the hay, right next to the warm wall near Daisy. Down in the hay was our barn cat, Miss Sarah, and three of the prettiest kittens you'd see anywhere. One was calico like her. (And if it lived it would be a female too. Male calicos die.) (5.35)
Even with a brand new litter of kittens on hand, the reality of death is never far away. Rob's matter-of-fact statement that one of the kittens may die showcases the common, everyday quality of death on the farm, and again ties birth and death together in the reader's mind.