E.B. White's Diction and Metaphors in 'Death of a Pig'

A Scrapbook of Styles

E.B. White sitting at a typewriter looking at a dachshund on the desk next to him
E.B. White (1899-1985).

New York Times Co./Getty Images 

In these opening paragraphs of the essay "Death of a Pig," E.B. White mixes formal with informal diction while introducing an extended metaphor.

from "Death of a Pig"*

by E. B. White

I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skilful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.

Once in a while, something slips--one of the actors goes up in his lines and the whole performance stumbles and halts. My pig simply failed to show up for a meal. The alarm spread rapidly. The classic outline of the tragedy was lost. I found myself cast suddenly in the role of pig's friend and physician--a farcical character with an enema bag for a prop. I had a presentiment, the very first afternoon, that the play would never regain its balance and that my sympathies were now wholly with the pig. This was slapstick--the sort of dramatic treatment that instantly appealed to my old dachshund, Fred, who joined the vigil, held the bag, and, when all was over, presided at the interment. When we slid the body into the grave, we both were shaken to the core. The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world. But I'm running ahead of my story and shall have to go back. . . .

Selected Works by E.B. White

  • Every Day Is Saturday, essays (1934)
  • Quu Vadimus? or, The Case for the Bicycle, essays and stories (1939)
  • One Man's Meat, essays (1944)
  • Stuart Little, fiction (1945)
  • Charlotte's Web, fiction (1952)
  • The Second Tree From the Corner, essays and stories (1954)
  • The Elements of Style, with William Strunk (1959)
  • Essays of E.B. White (1977)
  • Writings from The New Yorker, essays (1990)

*"Death of a Pig" appears in Essays of E. B. White, Harper, 1977.

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Nordquist, Richard. "E.B. White's Diction and Metaphors in 'Death of a Pig'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/diction-and-metaphors-in-death-of-a-pig-1692279. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). E.B. White's Diction and Metaphors in 'Death of a Pig'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/diction-and-metaphors-in-death-of-a-pig-1692279 Nordquist, Richard. "E.B. White's Diction and Metaphors in 'Death of a Pig'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/diction-and-metaphors-in-death-of-a-pig-1692279 (accessed March 22, 2023).