Roald Dahl is an author best known for his children’s stories. Stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, "The BFG", and "James and the Giant Peach" have become classics for young readers due to their adventure and enduring lessons. Dahl himself was a British flying ace who moved to America in 1953, where he married and had 5 children.
While he is best known for his children’s stories, he also wrote a number of dark adult stories that gave evidence of Dahl’s cynical side. These stories and poems focused on the irony and dark humor of the adult life. They maintained Dahl’s characteristic writing style, but dealt with topics in a way that demanded a maturity that his children’s book did not. "The Pig" is a poem that fits into this category, using childish characters, but telling a mature storyline.
This is a lyrical poem that is broken into couplets. It is a metaphorical narrative describing a pig whose realizations regarding life cause him to act in an unexpected way. The metaphor is never overtly stated by the author, but the implication throughout the entire poetic story is clear.
The poem starts out setting the scene. There is a pig who is typical in all manners, except for its brilliance. The author continues on after these lines to describe the exceptional skills of the pig: he is able to do math, understand complex feats of engineering such as air travel and combustion engines, and was an avid reader. However, the pig struggled with a single question.
The pig is able to understand and consume knowledge, but at the same time is not able to comprehend his personal purpose. It is at this point in the poem that the metaphor begins to become clear. In literature, pigs tend to symbolize consumption and greed; in this case, the most remarkable thing the pig consumed was knowledge. However, pigs do not have many practical uses to others – they are not able to be work animals, and only have real value as a food source. It was this realization that troubled the pig.
Looking through this list, there is a distinct understanding by the pig that he is not worth as much as whole animal as he is cut up and distributed by part. Metaphorically, the character realizes that as a person, they are worth less than the smaller, distinct parts of their life are when distributed among the different consumers that they are working for. The specific reference to sausage and chitterlings speaks to the idea that the character feels that they are being emasculated, and are being forced to give up their gender in order to be useful to those around them. This could be a veiled reference to some of the feminist and equality movements that were taking place at the time.
Understandably, the pig struggles with the predetermined value of his life. The idea that one’s value comes from what others can gain from you is troubling. This reflects much of what was going on in the West at the time. Upon returning from the war, many of the veterans struggled to figure out exactly where they fit into the post-War society. This society was much less rigid in the roles and expectations of the traditional classes of citizens, and with more value being placed on productivity than the person.
The day following the realization, the pig acts when the farmer arrives to feed him. He attacked the farmer, then consumed him. The author writes:
The fact that the pig ate the farmer is a dark reference to the Marxist revolutionary view. The extended length of the meal is emphasized as a measure of the size of the farmer – it symbolizes the excess that industry or other consumers in society have compared to the workers. The fact that a pig tends to symbolize greed and excess, yet the farmer is even larger, emphasizes that the desire for wealth in the common man, but also the exploitation of the industrialist and owners.
The poem concludes with the simple explanation of the pig – it was either him or me. The simplicity of this explanation emphasizes the understanding of the common man. It also emphasizes the apparent justice of the situation. If the pig had not eaten the farmer, the farmer would have eaten the pig without any worry. This places the reader in a situation where they are forced to make a decision – if it was wrong for the pig to eat the farmer, would it also have been wrong for the farmer to consume the pig?
The main theme of this poem ultimately lies in that final question regarding the acceptability of the pig eat – is social equality truly equal? Beyond this, the metaphor also looks at topics such as purpose and social roles, exploring the difference between what is being told, and what is really taking place.
This poem lays out a dark story about a pig reaching self-realization. When the pig realizes his ultimate destiny and purpose, he sees no option but to react against the system. He attacks the farmer and eats him, consuming the person that wished to consume him. As such, he essentially breaks the power that is over him, rejecting the purpose in life that he had been given.