A Day No Pigs Would Die is the autobiographical story of Robert Newton Peck, a Vermonter born in the early 1900s, and his childhood during the Depression. The story follows Robert and explores his bond with his pet pig, Pinky. Eventually, economic necessity drives the Peck family to slaughter Pinky for meat, and Robert must come of age to cope with the trauma. The novel is a graphic look at the relationship between fathers and sons and men and animals.
A Day No Pigs Would Die , like many of Peck’s books, draws from his childhood experiences, dealing with the maturation of children growing up in country settings in the early part of the twentieth century. The Peck family and their neighbors all farm and engage in animal husbandry, including butchering and preparing their own meat, and Rob's life is strongly limited by the isolation of his environment. An unexpected trip to the city of Rutland and how different it is from the world that Rob is used to is the central focus of chapters ten and eleven of the novel.
The Peck family, living during Calvin Coolidge's presidency shortly before the beginning of the Great Depression, is poor, and it is their poverty that necessitates one of the tragedies of the book. Winter is unusually cold, the Peck's apple orchard has produced a poor crop, and game is in short supply. Needing food and not having the money to care for a barren animal, Rob and Haven have to kill Pinky.
The adults in the Peck family are illiterate, and Haven tells Rob that this inability has kept him from voting. Rob does well in school, however, and his family is supportive of his education, allowing a relative to tutor him when his English grades are low. When Rob exclaims that he wants to be just like his father, Haven responds, "No boy, you won't. You'll have your schooling. You'll read and write and cipher."
Religion also plays a large part in this work. Rob and his family call themselves Shakers, although they appear to be only selectively following the tenets of this religion. Peck describes“Shakers who marry, live in nuclear families, read a Shaker ‘bible,’ and attend a Shaker church." Shakers, however, do not form into traditional family units or have a biblical text. Rob also tells Pinky about the ability of his Shaker namesake to commit acts of violence, which diverges fromthe Shaker commitment to pacifism, and Haven Peck places importance on earning the wealth to buy his farm, while Shakers were not permitted to own personal property.
At first, Rob has a negative opinion of people who are not practicing Shakers, actually believing that being a Baptist would be worse than going to hell. He eventually questions and overcomes this prejudice as he learns that the Tanners, who are good neighbors and trusted friends to the Pecks, are actually Baptists.
A Day No Pigs Would Die has been noted for not withdrawing from the harsh realities of birth and death, despite being written from for children. From the first chapter,“readers begin to understand the value of life, the ever-present possibility of death, and the need for self-reliance.” The book opens with Rob helping a cow through a bloody, difficult birth. He later has Pinky breed for the first time, in a graphic scene, and must then help his father butcher Pinky, after she proves to be barren and too costly for the family to keep if she cannot birth piglets for them to sell. And, in the closing chapters of the text, Haven Peck comes down with "an affection," sickens and dies, leaving Rob to arrange his funeral and then deal with the fact that, nowthirteen, he must be considered a man for the sake of his family’s continued welfare.