Robert Peck is the narrator and protagonist of A Day No Pigs Would Die. The story revolves around Robert's slow development into manhood. In the first chapter, he is still a twelve-year-old child, skipping school, running from his enemies, and looking for acceptance. As the story progresses, a series of traumatic events, along with the teaching Robert receives from his father, transform him into a man and the head of the family. The process is slow and happens in steps, with occasional regressions. When Robert shows his understanding of how death is sometimes preferable to life in the episode with Ira Long's dog, he is clearly displaying a mature perspective. On the other hand, Robert's giddy pride at the Rutland fair is a sign of his lingering childhood personality.
Robert is the first person in his family to receive an education. One of Haven Peck's goals in life is for his son to have an easier life than he did. This creates a conflict in Robert when he is faced with his father's imminent death. With Haven gone, Robert will have to provide for the family and take over responsibility for their finances. To do this he will have to give up his education and resign himself to being a farmer in his father's image. Benjamin Tanner, Robert's neighbor, has a major effect on this decision when he explains that he views family as the highest calling to which a man can aspire.
An unpleasant nuance that consistently presents itself in Robert's character is his isolation, which is partly self-inflicted and partly not. Obviously, he is different from a lot of other boys in the town because of his religion and the poverty that comes with it, but Robert doesn't help the problem either. In the very beginning of the book, he runs away from a situation where he is being mocked in front of his peers and then runs away from school, seeking to escape his problems. He then stays in bed for a week so that he won't have to go back to school and face them. When Robert receives Pinky from Mr. Tanner, he uses Pinky as a replacement for his friends, which is not altogether healthy. When Robert and Pinky are finally separated, Robert loses everything, but, with the help of his father, he realizes that being a man is all about doing what has to be done. Once he comes into this realization, Robert has friends again in Mr. Tanner and the rest of his neighbors, who treat and respect him as an equal.
Though Robert Peck comes off as a simple character because of his language and his country sensibility, he is actually very complex in the things that he thinks and the decisions that he makes. Though it may seem like Robert is led through the book by his father and the traumatic events that shape him, in many circumstances he demonstrates an extremely active and independent will.
Integral to understanding Haven Peck is understanding the mission about which he speaks to Robert after he reveals that he thinks that Pinky is barren. Though he says that his mission is to kill pigs, that statement comes off as only part of the whole. Haven's mission is that of any devoted family man. He wants his family to have the best life possible and wants to ensure that they will be able to carry on after he is gone. Killing pigs, owning the family land, and giving Robert an education, are all part of that mission.
In one of his most insightful moments, Robert tells Benjamin Tanner that he feels like his father is always chasing after something with which he cannot catch up. What Robert has latched on to here is his father's race to accomplish his mission before his death. It is safe to assume that Haven Peck knows, or at least has an idea, that he is dying throughout the entire course if the novel. As death draws closer, we see a gradual change in the way that he speaks to Robert. In the beginning, the two are almost completely businesslike. They talk about issues on the farm and of school in a light way, with jokes scattered throughout. As the winter of the year, and of Haven's life, approaches, those dialogues becoming more pointed, as Haven tries to make sure he teaches Robert everything that he will need to know to take care of the family after he is gone.
Haven is a simple man with simple, honest, hopes for his family. He wants better for his son than he had for himself. When his mission is accomplished, and Robert is a man, he allows himself to die peacefully. At the end of the book when Robert discovers the paper on which Haven had been trying to write his, name, it beautifully symbolizes what his father had been trying to do with his son.
Though Pinky is a pig, he is still a very important character in A Day No Pigs Would Die. He is Robert's best friend and represents everything that Robert wants in a best friend—he is obedient, playful, and never makes Robert feel different or self-conscious.
Many of Robert's hopes and dreams rest on Pinky. Almost from the moment he gets her, Robert pictures Pinky as a brood sow, giving birth to hundreds of other pigs that the family can use for food and to pay off of their debt. When Pinky turns out to be barren, Robert's dream is shattered. It means that he will have to eventually kill his best friend so that the family will be able to eat, and it also seals his fate as a farmer. With Haven gone and no pigs from Pinky, Robert will have to give up school and resign himself to the life of a farmer in order to pay off the debt that the Pecks owe on their land.
The trial with Pinky also represents Robert's final rite of manhood. When Robert's father butchers Pinky, Robert comes to understand the inevitability of life and that being a man is about doing what needs to be done, no matter how hard it is.