‘The Pig’ by Roald Dahl is a fifty-two line poem that is structured with a rhyme scheme of aabbcc. The end sounds alternate as Dahl saw fit, creating a pleasing repetitive pattern meant to engage a young reader.
A reader will also notice that Dahl chose to repeat a number of the words at the beginning of lines. This is a technique known as anaphora. It is often used to emphasize a specific point or arrange information into lines that resemble lists. For example, it can be seen prominently in lines seven through nine. The speaker is listing out all the many things the “wonderfully clever pig” knew.
Anaphora also appears to great effect in lines 21-30. Although all the instances of “They” are not all grouped together, the repetition still conveys the pig’s outrage over what “they,” meaning humans, want to do to him.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that there was a pig in England who was smarter than all others. Not only was he smarter than other pigs though, but he also had intelligence that rivaled humans. There was one question that bothered the pig though, the meaning of his life. After some pondering, he very wisely comes to the conclusion that he is being raised to become someone’s meal.
‘The Pig’ concludes with a dark description of “Piggy” attacking “Farmer Bland” and eating him from head to toe. He does so to save his own life and in the process becomes even more human than he already was.
You can read the full poem here.
Irony and Themes
As is the case with much of Dahl’s writing the ending of the poem contains a twist. It is dark and satisfying humorous with an inherent irony that a young reader would enjoy. In the case of ‘The Pig,’ one’s predicted ending, that the pig would be eaten, does not occur. Instead and in order to save himself, the pig eats “Farmer Bland.” The name “Bland” is funny in itself, as he is eaten by a pig he would’ve roasted.
In regards to the themes, ‘The Pig’ has a few important and wide-ranging ones. Two of the most obvious are the meaning of life and the power of fate. These are complex ideas that plague the pig within the first section. By the end of the poem, he has found an answer to the first and taken control of the second.
Another prevalent theme is equality between creatures and one’s perceived value or worth of another. The pig turns these notions on their heads as he takes control of his own fate and proves that a pig, which is often looked down on, can be “wonderfully clever.” On the other hand “Farmer Bland” prove himself an easy meal.
Analysis of The Pig
In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by introducing the life of a ”wonderfully clever pig.” He lived in England and was “big.” These are the only things a reader ever really finds out about this creature but they are enough to accurately elevate pigs in one’s mind. In the world of the poem, everyone who saw the pig knew that he “had a massive brain.” In these lines, the speaker uses the word “Piggy” to refer to “the pig.” Due to the increased intelligence of the animal this name comes across patronizingly as if even the speaker does not fully respect him.
The speaker goes on to inform the reader that this particular pig was so smart he could work out “sums inside his head.” He was also an avid reader. The pig is intensely personified in this narrative. There is much more about him that speaks to human nature than animal. The blurring of the line between animal and human is something that will occur throughout “The Pig,” but is especially prominent at the beginning and end.
In the last lines of the section, the speaker describes the pig’s knowledge about airplanes, engines, and how they work. Despite this knowledge, which is greater than that which most humans has, the pig still has question.
This is the curse of sentience and intelligence. Due to the fact that he is smart, he questions the meaning of life. “Life” is capitalized in line twelve in order to separate it, and place it above, the rest of the text. Understanding “LIFE” is the pinnacle of what the pig (and humanity) could achieve.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
“They even want my chitterlings!
“The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
“That is the reason for my life!”
Starting in line thirteen the speaker relays the many questions that circulate through the pig’s head. He then goes on to describe the pig’s eureka moment in which he understood everything about his role on the planet. These lines are dark, especially when read after those praising the pig’s intelligence.
He realizes that he was put on earth, and kept on the farm, to be sold “at tremendous price” and sliced into bacon. The speaker relays, through the lines in quotations, the pig’s anguish over this new knowledge. He now knows that his “sausages” are going to end up in “strings” and even his “chitterlings” eaten. This all comes to a head in line thirty with a declarative statement about his purpose in life.
Clearly, Dahl was interested in pushing a reader’s moral concept of what is right and wrong when It comes to interactions between species. It might also make an older reader question their own relationship with food.
Lines 31- 42
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great peace of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
In the second half of the poem the speaker returns to his omniscient narration. He describes the pig’s thoughts as having come to a peaceful conclusion. He plots and decides to attack “Farmer Bland” the next morning. The man comes in with “pigswill in his hand” and “Piggy” charges him.
There is a momentarily fight between the two which ends in a grisly scene. The pig chooses to eat Farmer Bland in order to save his own life. He changes his fate by becoming that which he hated. Dahl turns a dark image of a human being eaten into something amusing with lines such as, “He ate him up from head to tow, / Chewing the pieces nice and slow.”
Lines 43- 52
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he’d finished, Pig, of course,
“That he might have me for his lunch.
“And so, because I feared the worst,
“I thought I’d better eat him first.”
The poem concludes with a few final bites of the farmer. Finally, the pig has eaten everything he can, down to the feet, and feels no remorse. This is identical to the way that humans eat pigs and never think twice about the pig’s intelligence or inner fears.
The last lines come again from the pig’s own mind. He summarizes why he chose to eat the farmer and does so with a “little smile.” The pig is now cast in a somewhat maniacal light. He saved his own life, but through a very drastic action that made him more human than he already was.