Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why PYG?

Those who've heard about PYG will often ask about the "Y" in the title -- after all, why would the tale of a pig who spells out his thoughts with letters written on pasteboard cards misspell the name of his own species? There's a reason, though, and some readers have picked up on it: think PYGmalion. The idea that language, or "correct speech," once taught, confers upon its learner an entirely new sense of self, is as central to my novel as it is to Shaw's brilliant play, and its film and musical adaptations (my favorite is the 1938 version with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller). After weeks of drill and training, Liza Doolittle is able to pass for a duchess in polite society, and yet having done so, she finds herself an exile from both her original world as a Cockney-speaking flower girl, and her new one as a "proper" lady. Like many who have "passed" over the boundaries of race and class, she is beset by a sort of double consciousness, feeling inauthentic -- though for opposite reasons -- in both worlds.

And so it is with Toby, the porcine protagonist of PYG. He of course cannot "pass" as a human, but having been given the seeming-gift of language, he can't withdraw from society either -- while, on the other side, his greatest dread is to be stripped of his difference and sorted with common pigs. In the human world, he's a "freak," a pig with a waistcoat who spells out his thoughts -- but in the pig world, things would be far worse; as he puts it:

Indeed, there was only one manner in which I could shuffle off my status as a Freak of Nature, and it was the one thing I dreaded most: to shed my singularity and return to the common multitude of pigs, sans education, sans waistcoat and—ultimately—sans self.

And so Toby remains 'to double business bound' -- and so, the title.

1 comment:

  1. This is a truly thought-provoking post. Poor Toby. The alliteration "porcine protagonist" is very clever!