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Perfect the Pig

by Susan Jeschke

Summary

Perfect the Pig presents questions about discrimination, acceptance, friendship, and business ethics.

When Perfect is born, he is so small and meek that he goes unnoticed by everyone. Even his own mother. He wishes to be noticed. He gets his chance after helping a large disabled sow to her feet after she has fallen. Like a fairy godmother, the sow grants Perfect a wish. He wishes for wings and gets just what we wishes for. Now around the farm, Perfect is indeed noticed but is far from accepted. The other pigs tell him to go fly away and be with the birds. When he does, the birds ostracize his as well. Having gone from just wanting to be noticed to just wanting to fit in, the pig flies to the city where he meets Olive, an affectionate artist who takes him in. When he kisses Olive out of appreciation, she names him “Perfect.” They become friends. As Olive is an artist, she soon starts painting pictures of Perfect “posed among fruit and vegetables,” and thereby prospers. “Soon the apartment was crowded with pictures, fruits and vegetables, and a growing Perfect.” Everything seems to be going perfectly for Perfect until one day when out for his daily fly, he falls into unkind hands. The dastardly man mistreats Perfect, and forces him to perform for money. The man keeps Perfect in a cage, and all of the money for himself. All is not lost, however, and the story seems to get its quintessential happy ending when Olive finally rescues Perfect from the evil villain.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

“Perfect the Pig” is a mishmash of a little of everything. Is this a story about a misfit who finds his place? Or is it about being careful what you wish for? Or is it a story about the nature of friendship? Or is it about business ethics? As such, it is the kind of story that could lend itself as a springboard to philosophical discussions in several different directions. One theme worth developing a bit more, however, is about the nature of friendship.

Olive is really the only character in the story that seems to treat Perfect like a friend. But like the villain of the story, Olive gets a lot of external benefits from having Perfect around. In short, both profit from their relationship with Perfect. So why do we feel so inclined to say that while Olive is Perfect’s friend, the man is not? Clearly, part of the explanation is in how each of them treated perfect. Olive made Perfect her muse, while the man stuck him in a cage. Olive fed Perfect fresh fruits and veggies, while the man fed him garbage. If we set aside this mistreatment, however, both of them used Perfect in a particular way to meet their own ends. One might wonder, then, if it is possible whether a real friend would ever use someone else to meet their own ends. Perfect seems to like Olive, and him, but is this enough for friendship? I think the key to understanding the difference between how the man uses Perfect and how Olive does is to examine the internal benefits that the relationship provides them. Perfect loves Olive, and Olive seems genuinely to love Perfect. So while Olive may benefit externally from her friendship with Perfect, this is secondary to the internal benefits they offer each other. Still, it is an interesting question of whether Olive is doing something wrong in the way she treats Perfect. This could lead a discussion from the nature of friendship to the ethical question of what is the proper way to treat a friend.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

At the beginning of the story, the little pig is ignored and mistreated by the other pigs and by the birds because he is different.

  1. Have you ever been treated unfairly (maybe someone wouldn’t play with you or made fun of you) because you look different, act differently, or think differently from others? How did they treat you? How did this make you feel?
  2. Is it sometimes o.k. to look different, act differently, or think differently from others even if you get treated unfairly? When is it o.k. to be different?
  3. Is it ever not o.k. to look different, act differently, or think differently from others? When?
  4. In what ways is Perfect different from other animals?
  5. What does it mean to be different?

When the little pig gets kicked off the farm, he flies into the city and winds up on Olive’s balcony. She takes him in, feeds him, and calls him “Perfect.”

  1. Has anyone ever been really nice to you even when it seemed that no one else was?
  2. Perfect, the pig, was very different from Olive, but she was nice to him anyway. Why was she nice to him, when the others had been so mean?
  3. What does it mean to be nice to people even when they are different from us?
  4. How should we treat people that look different, act differently, or think different things than we do?
  5. Should we treat everybody the same?

When Perfect got lost, he was found by a man who took him home, fed him garbage, and finally put him in a cage.

  1. Do you think that it was o.k. that this man put Perfect in a cage?
  2. Is it ever o.k. to put animals in cages? When is it o.k., and why?
  3. Is it ever o.k. to put people in cages? When is it o.k., and why?
  4. What does it make someone feel like when he or she is in a cage? Could you think of other ways to keep someone from going somewhere besides a cage?

The man that finds Perfect forces him to fly around for money and then keeps all the money for himself.

  1. Have you ever worked hard and felt like someone else got all the rewards for it?
  2. How did that make you feel about the work you did?
  3. Is it fair to make someone else work and not get paid for it?
  4. Do you think this happens in real life, that people have to work and not get enough money for the work they do?
  5. What could we do about that problem?

The woman, Olive, also finds Perfect and uses him for her art, which she then sells.

  1. What is the difference between how the woman makes money and how the man makes money?
  2. Was it wrong for Olive to make money using Perfect in this way? Why or why not?
  3. Is it ever not o.k. to use a friend to make money? Does that undermine the friendship?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Perfect the Pig featuring a winged pig lying on an ornate pillow. There is a vase of colorful lilies, assorted citrus, and a bunch of grapes by the pig. Behind him is an easel and painting of the scene. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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