Dying is dirty business. Like getting born.
Haven Peck gives his son this truth while talking to him after coming home from a day of killing pigs at the slaughterhouse. His son asks why Haven always comes home so dirty even though he wears gloves and an apron. Like Haven says, this quote is short, sweet, and imbued with a country eloquence that hides its deep meanings. It is one of the things about life that Haven wishes to teach his son before he dies. He is really saying that though birth and death are both painful, they are parts of life that are inevitable and should be dealt with as such. He doesn't enjoy being dirty when he comes home, just as no one enjoys dealing with death, but he does it because he has to. Life and death are very closely related in A Day No Pigs Will Die. The chief example of this is when Haven and Robert have to kill Pinky so that they will have enough to eat during the winter.
Papa works all the time. He don't never rest. And worse than that, he works inside himself. I can see it on his face. Like he's been trying all his life to catch up to something. But whatever it is, it's always ahead of him, and he can't reach it.
Robert describes his father in this way while he is talking to Mr. Tanner after they try unsuccessfully to breed Pinky to his prize boar. Mr. Tanner is very surprised by the amount of insight contained in the quote, as are we. Up to this point we are not used to seeing this sort of thinking and elaboration from Robert or from any of the characters. Brevity is one of the principles of the Shaker religion, and up to this point, everyone more or less abides by it. The depth of thought shows Robert's growing maturity and also reflects his education.
The meaning of the quote goes back to an earlier reference that Haven makes to his, "mission." Having a mission in life is another Shaker principle. When Haven explains to Robert that killing pigs is his mission, he is not telling the whole truth. Haven is constantly chasing financial stability for his family. Killing pigs is the means to achieving this mission but not the mission itself. He wants to own the farm and erase the family's debt so that he can give Robert a chance to do something more with his life than waste away on a farm. He is in a race against death for this goal and, unfortunately, does not make it. From a slightly different point of view, Robert is also racing to make sure his son is soundly a man before he passes away.
I am not heartsick, because I am rich and they are poor.
Haven makes this quote to Robert while explaining to Robert that he cannot vote because of his illiteracy. Robert asks if this makes him heartsick, that other people judge him by the 'X' that he has to use for a signature instead of for the man who he is. Haven responds with this quote and then explains that he is rich because he has everything that he needs. He is rich in all the things that are truly important, the things that the people in town could not possibly understand. At this point in the book, Robert does not completely understand either. He is still caught up in the idea of materialism, daydreaming about trips to baseball games, bicycles, and store bought jackets. Before he can become a man, Robert must accept his position in life. When he does, he understands this quote.
I think that two men who are good friends ought to front name one another.
Benjamin Tanner says this to Robert Peck as he arrives at Haven Peck's funeral. As the Tanners' wagon pulls up, Robert greets his neighbor as, "Mr. Tanner," which is what he had been calling him throughout the book. When Mr. Tanner asks Robert to call him Ben, it is a confirmation of Robert's manhood. Whereas he had been a young man before, the way that Robert handles his father's funeral is the final step in the transition. Mr. Tanner makes Robert his equal by asking him to call him by his first name, which gives Robert confidence.
This quote also demonstrates that Robert has accepted his role as the head of the family and as a Quaker farmer. Earlier, when Mr. Tanner explains to Robert that farming is the highest calling to which a man can aspire, Robert is not convinced and still thinks of using his education to do something else. Mr. Tanner would not let a thirteen year old stand on equal footing with himself if Robert had not come to understand this.
Need is a weak word. Has nothing to do with what people get. Ain't what you need that matters. It's what you do.
Haven gives his son this advice when his son is complaining about how much he needs a store bought coat. It is also the underlying message in everything that Haven teaches his son. It all comes back to taking what you get and doing what had to be done. No matter how much Robert needs Pinky, he finally realizes that there is nothing he can do to stop what has to happen. There are numerous other instances of things that Robert thinks that he needs that he does not get. When Robert learns to accept what he gets from life and do what needs to be done, he becomes a man. Seeing that Robert is a man, and he is no longer needed, Haven is allowed to die in peace.
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