Study Guide

The Pigman Mortality

By Paul Zindel


[Lorraine's mother:] "I heard Berdeen's Funeral Parlor is slipping twenty under the table, so maybe I'll give them a little business when the next one croaks." (6)

Lorraine's mother certainly seems callous about her patients' deaths, referring to them as "croaking," and seeing them as opportunities to get kick-backs from funeral homes. How did she ever end up as a nurse? But maybe she wasn't always this way.

[John:] I think cemeteries are one of the loveliest places to be—if you're not dead, of course. The hills and green grass and flowers are much nicer than what you get what you're alive. Sometimes we go there at midnight and hide behind stones to scare the @#$% out of each other. (7)

Ironically, John feels more at home in cemeteries than in his own home.

[John:] Anybody down there? If I was lying on somebody's grave, whoever it was would be six feet away. Maybe there had been a lot of erosion, and whoever it was was only five feet away…or four. Maybe the tombstone had sunk at the same rate as the erosion, and the body was only a foot away below me—or an inch. Maybe if I put my hand through the grass, I would feel a finger sticking out of the dirt—or a hand. (7)

This is creepy! This quotation shows John's bizarre imagination in full swing.

[John:] Then I got very sad because I knew I wasn't really wondering about the guy underneath me, whoever he was. I was just interested in what was going to happen to me. I think that's probably the real reason I go to the graveyard. I'm not afraid of seeing ghosts. I think I'm really looking for ghosts. I want to see them. I'm looking for anything to prove that when I drop dead there's a chance I'll be doing something a little more exciting than decaying. (7)

This seems to be a rare moment of reflection and introspection for John. He thinks seriously about death and the possibility of an afterlife.

[John's father:] "The business can be half yours, and you know it. I can't take the strain much longer."

[John:] Every time he says that, I get a little sick to my stomach because I know it's true. He's almost sixty years old, and I know he's not going to be around much longer. All the guys at the Exchange drop dead of heart attacks. (7)

John usually speaks of his father with contempt, but this is a rare exception. He reveals that he cares about his father, and fears his father's death.

Lorraine, after John finds Conchetta's funeral bill: A terrible chill ran through me when he said that, because I had been afraid Conchetta was not away on a vacation. I didn't exactly suspect Mr. Pignati of having murdered her and sealed her body behind a wall in the cellar, but I was suspicious. There was something about the glaze in his eyes when he laughed that disturbed me because I could tell he didn't really believe his own laughter. It was a nervous type of laughing, the same kind as that of a landlady we once had after her husband died in a dentist's chair while he was under gas. (8)

Lorraine picks up on the fact that there's something strange about Mr. Pignati's laughter, but her suspicions are completely incorrect; he's laughing to cover up his grief, not because he's a psychopath.

"Bobo's getting old. . . ." I heard Mr. Pignati say as I served him a glass of wine. John had a can of beer, and I just didn't feel like anything at that moment. […]

I sat in a creaky wooden chair near the window and I could feel a terrible draft. […] And just at that moment, for no reason at all, I remembered the old lady at Chambers Street saying "Death is coming." (10)

Mr. Pignati's sadness that Bobo is getting old is an ominous sign of Mr. Pignati's own age and impending death.

[John:] By the time we left, I was so glad to see the outside world I thought I had been in prison for seventy-three years. The smell of hospitals always makes me think of death. In fact I think hospitals are exactly what graveyards are supposed to be like. They ought to bury people in hospitals and let sick people get well in the cemeteries. (11)

Again, John demonstrates the originality of his thought. His reflection that hospitals are deathly and cemeteries are peaceful and full of greenery actually makes sense.

[Lorraine:] Once I had a nightmare about that room. I was walking down a long hall and saw the curtains on a doorway at the end. Even though I was dreaming, I knew exactly where I was, and I felt an icy chill run through me. I wanted to run away, but something was pushing me toward the curtains, and I started to scream for John.


The room was very dark though I could make out the shapes of pigs all around me. But instead of being on a table the pigs were arranged on a long black container, and as I started to realize what it was the fingers propelling my legs tightened and moved me closer. I felt the same horrible force taking control of my arms, and I couldn't stop my hands from moving down to the lid of the box. When I touched it my hands went cold, and I knew I was about to open a coffin. I started to cry and plead and call to God to stop me as the lid began to rise.

Then was when I woke up screaming. Right there and then I should have known the dream was an omen of death. (12)

Wow. This is quite some dream! Lorraine's interpretation that this is an omen of death seems right on the money. But why is she having this dream about the pigs and the pig room, instead of, say, the hospital? Perhaps because she fears that Mr. Pignati will die, and the pigs represent him?

[John:] The position of Mr. Pignati's head on the floor made his face look a little like my father's and I didn't like the feeling it gave me. Up until then I had never been particularly disturbed about seeing a corpse—even when I'd have to sit for an hour or so at a funeral parlor when some relative had died.

Again, we learn that John has some filial feelings for his father, and that he dreads his father's death. (These reflections do not, however, appear to change John's behavior toward his father.)