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Christopher’s condition affects the way he connects and communicates with others. Although his IQ appears above average, Christopher’s experiences and interactions are very limited by his developmental disorder. In the first half of the novel, the majority of Christopher’s interactions are with people who know Christopher very well and understand his unique needs. Although Christopher’s father becomes easily angry, he builds his entire life around accommodating Christopher’s disorder and obviously has an inexhaustible supply of love for his son. Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, is specially trained to help Christopher navigate the demands of life. Even Christopher’s neighbor, Mrs. Alexander—who does not play a major role in his life—seems to know him well enough to exhibit patience and adjust her expectations according to his condition. For the most part, Christopher does not socialize beyond this small handful of adults, and any exceptions tend to be catastrophic, such as when he is arrested for striking a police officer who touches him. Christopher’s social circle is extremely restricted for a fifteen-year-old boy, and these social limitations offer a glimpse into the limited opportunities he will likely face as an adult, despite his many talents, as the bulk of the population is ill-equipped to understand and accommodate Christopher.
The range of Christopher’s interactions expands when he travels to London by himself, and this journey underground offers a more vivid glimpse into just how harrowing the world can be to someone like Christopher, and how much the world misunderstands him. For example, Christopher has an extreme aversion to physical touch. At school and home, people accept Christopher’s aversion and know to keep their distance. Christopher and his father even develop a special “hug,” which involves holding up their palms and touching fingertips, like a secret handshake to show affection in a way that doesn’t upset Christopher. In public with strangers, Christopher resorts to barking like a dog to keep people away from him. When he rocks, groans, or hides on a luggage rack for hours at a time, people mock or yell at him. Although Christopher has loving parents and a highly trained, compassionate teacher, his journey to London demonstrates the obstacles he will face as he grows into an adult and seeks his independence.
Because Christopher struggles to understand his emotions and the emotional worlds of others, his worldview and means of expression rely almost entirely on logic. Christopher’s logic-based perspective both helps and hinders him in his murder investigation, as well as in his life. In the context of the investigation, logic helps Christopher analyze his observations and draw reasonable conclusions, like the fact that Wellington was probably killed by someone who knew him, and whoever killed Wellington had a personal grievance with Mrs. Shears, which turns out to be incredibly true. Furthermore, Christopher is gifted in mathematics and physics, and he believes these proficiencies will create opportunities for him in the future, such as attending university and becoming a scientist.
The challenges that come with Christopher’s extreme dependence on logic are evident when he processes difficult information. For instance, when his father tells Christopher that his mother died of a heart attack, the only emotion Christopher reports is surprise. He’s surprised because “Mother was only 38 years old and heart attacks usually happen to older people,” so he asks his father what kind of heart attack she had. In this extremely logical response, there exists a noticeable lack of what society would consider “normal” emotional reactions, such as sadness and anger, and the effect is eerie and disconcerting to the reader, as well as to Christopher’s father, who simply remarks it is not “the moment to be asking questions like that.” Nevertheless, Christopher’s logical approach to life also provides an interesting contrast to his parents, who often behave impulsively and irrationally, according to whichever emotion they experience in the moment. Although Christopher did not have the “appropriate” response to the news of his mother’s death, he would also never become so angry at someone that he would stab their dog with a garden fork. The contrast between Christopher’s and his father’s use of emotion and logic prompts the reader to rethink society’s expectations for our behaviors.
Christopher’s goal in the novel resembles that of many teenage protagonists in coming-of-age stories: to become independent and find his role in the world. Because of his condition, Christopher cannot be as independent as he would like. Since he has trouble understanding other people, dealing with new environments, and making decisions when confronted with an overload of new information, for instance, he has difficulty going places by himself. When he feels frightened or overwhelmed, he has a tendency to essentially shut down, curling himself into a ball and trying to block out the world around him. Christopher, however, still has the typical teenage desire to do what he wants and take care of himself without anyone else telling him what to do. As a result, we see him rebelling against his father in the novel by lying and disobeying his father’s orders. We also see this desire for independence in Christopher’s dream of being one of the few people left on Earth, in which no authority figures are present, and in his planning for college, where he wants to live by himself.
Christopher’s struggle to become independent primarily involves him gaining the self-confidence needed to do things on his own and moving beyond his very rigidly defined comfort zone. Solving Wellington’s murder figures into his efforts to be independent in that it forces Christopher to speak with a number of people he doesn’t know, which he finds uncomfortable, and it gives him confidence in his ability to solve problems on his own. The A-level math test also represents an avenue to independence for Christopher. By doing well on the test, Christopher can use the test to eventually get into college, allowing him to live on his own. Finally, Christopher’s harrowing trip to London serves as his greatest step toward independence. The trip epitomizes everything Christopher finds distressing about the world, such as dealing with social interactions, navigating new environments, and feeling overloaded with information. By overcoming these obstacles, he gains confidence in his ability to face any challenge on his own.
Christopher’s condition causes him to see the world in an uncommon way, and much of the novel allows the reader to share Christopher’s unique perspective. For instance, although the novel is a murder mystery, roughly half the chapters in the book digress from this main plot to give us Christopher’s thoughts or feelings on a particular subject, such as physics or the supernatural. To take one example, he tells us about the trouble he has recognizing facial expressions and the difficulty he had as a child understanding how other people respond to a given situation, explaining his preference for being alone that we see throughout the novel. As the story progresses, the book gradually departs from the murder-mystery plot and focuses more on Christopher’s character, specifically his reaction to the revelation that his mother never died but rather left the family to live with another man while his father lied about the situation. Throughout these events, the reader typically understands more about Christopher’s situation than Christopher does. When Christopher discovers the letters from his mother hidden in his father’s closet, for example, Christopher invents different reasons to explain why a letter from his mother would be dated after her supposed death. The reader, on the other hand, may recognize immediately that his mother never died and Christopher’s father has been lying to him.
Although the reader recognizes that Christopher has an uncommon perspective of the world, the novel suggests that everyone, in fact, has a subjective point of view. By giving detailed explanations of Christopher’s thoughts, the novel allows the reader to empathize with Christopher. Moreover, by pointing out the irrational behaviors of so-called normal people, such as Christopher’s father’s habit of putting his pants on before his socks, the novel implies that Christopher’s eccentricities are actually typical to a degree. As a result, the reader is able to take on Christopher’s perspective as his own and to understand Christopher’s reasons for behaving as he does. Christopher’s point of view loses its strangeness and seems merely unique.
Christopher has an urgent need to see the world as orderly, and he has a very low tolerance for disorder. He obsesses over schedules, for instance, and even describes the difficulty he had going on vacation with his parents because they had no routine to follow. Moreover, because Christopher has such difficulty connecting to people on an emotional level, he relies heavily on order and logic to understand and navigate the world. The narration, as a result, frequently veers away from the main storyline to discuss topics, such as physics or even the rate of growth of a pond’s frog population, that have clearly defined and logical rules. When the narration moves back to Christopher’s life, the messiness of the social and emotional lives of Christopher and those around him becomes even more apparent.
Over the course of the novel, Christopher experiences a series of increasingly destabilizing events, such as learning of Mother’s affair and Father’s deceptions, revealing that Christopher’s narrow focus on order at the beginning of the novel actually keeps him—and the reader—blind to the complex tangle of relationships within his family. This disorder grows increasingly prominent as the story progresses. When Christopher leaves Swindon to find his mother in London, he becomes literally paralyzed at times by the disorder of the massive urban landscape he passes through, which symbolizes the disorder he faces in his family. The novel concludes with the various characters resolving some of their issues, but with their lives remaining essentially as untidy as ever.
Each of the major characters endures his share of loss in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The novel opens with a death: Wellington’s murder, which prompts Christopher to think back on an earlier moment of loss in his life—the death of his mother. At the time, he coped with his mother’s death by accepting that his mother was gone and moving on, in spite of the fact that he could not say goodbye before she passed. Later, he often remembers her in his writing, sharing detailed memories of her manner of speaking, dress, and temperament. Father also copes with the loss of his wife, Christopher’s mother, though he does so by breaking off contact with her and cutting her out of his—and Christopher’s—life, telling Christopher she is dead. Father’s feelings of loss arise again when Mrs. Shears ends their relationship, and he works through his loss violently by murdering Wellington, effectively setting the events of the novel in motion. Ultimately, the book ends as it began, with a death, this time of Christopher’s pet rat, Toby. Christopher copes by acknowledging that Toby lived a very long life for a rat, and he rejoices in the arrival of a new puppy, Sandy.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
As a coming of age novel or Bildungsroman, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a novel that shows a young protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood, immaturity to maturity, with a focus on the trials and misfortunes that affect his growth. Christopher’s goal in the novel resembles that of many teenage protagonists in coming-of-age stories: to become independent and find his role in the world. Because of his condition, an unnamed place on the autism spectrum, Christopher may never be as independent as he would like.
Christopher’s fight to become independent primarily will involve him developing the desire and strength to move beyond his narrow comfort zone. The move toward autonomy is prompted by a series of events that move Christopher forward because he is ready and willing to grow as a character. The incident of the dog in the night time, that is the death of Wellington the dog and the beginning of Christopher’s investigation, forces Christopher to speak with a number of people he doesn’t know, which he finds uncomfortable, and it gives him confidence in his ability to solve problems on his own. The journey to London, prompted by a fear of his father, additionally forces Christopher to interact with the world full of noise and stimulation that he wouldn’t normally have been able to face. The A-level test provides a hope for later independence that he may eventually get into college, work, and live on his own terms.
Although Christopher has loving parents, he shows a typical teenage desire to do what he wants and take care of himself without anyone else telling him what to do. He demands certain foods, usually grouped by colour, and has set routines that are uninterruptable. He also goes through a phase of rebellion, employing his logic to justify lying and disobeying his father’s orders.
As the novel concludes, Christopher shows he has gained strength to be more independent by overcoming adversity. He has also shown that he has gained confidence from his experiences believing in himself. He has shown his parents he can be trusted to be more independent, his mother shocked that he could make it to London, his father concluding the novel by thanking Christopher and saying how proud he was of Christopher.
I am going to prove that I’m not stupid. Next month I’m going to take my A level in maths and I’m going to get an A grade. (Christopher Boone) Chapter 71
And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? And I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything. (Christopher Boone) Chapter 233
The novel itself is a form of communication, with author Mark Haddon choosing to write from the perspective of Christopher, the fifteen-year-old autistic narrator. All events are processed through his remarkable mind, and the story that he is writing for a school project is in fact the novel that the reader has in their hands. This is congruent with the idea that the truest form of communication is written, a sentiment that Christopher holds as he cannot process many other forms of communication. The way in which Christopher discovers the central secret of the novel, that his mother is alive, is through the finding and reading of her letters.
Christopher’s condition affects the way he communicates and relates to others. Christopher does not accept the typical ‘signals’ that people use to communicate, for instance, ‘raising an eyebrow’ which his teacher, Siobhan, explains to him ‘can mean ‘I want to do sex with you’ and it can also mean ‘I think that what you just said was very stupid’. Despite his well above average IQ, Christopher’s experiences and interactions are determined primarily by the understanding of those around him. Siobhan is highly trained and after years of developing a relationship with Christopher seems to be able to communicate with him the best, seen in her understanding of the need to communicate explicit detailed instructions. His parents have found short cuts in communicating with Christopher by reducing the things he does not understand, such as metaphors or jokes, and avoiding non-verbal communication like hugging by replacing this with a finger to finger press.
The inability to communicate involves other characters in the novel. Those who don’t understand Christopher’s condition fail to communicate with him successfully; the policeman grabbing him after a barrage of questions is met with a fist rather than an answer. Even Rhodri, a friend of Christopher’s father, is always joking and being friendly but this is not well received by Christopher as it doesn’t fit into his framework for friendliness. Likewise, his parents’ inability to communicate with each other, and subsequently Ed’s miscommunication through lying to Christopher and his severing of communication by hiding Christopher’s mother’s letters, shows a lack of respect for the need to communicate. When Ed is angry he fails to use words and often lashes out, once grabbing Christopher when he knew better, and even more so when he stabbed Wellington the dog.
He held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan. I held up my left hand and spread my fingers out in a fan and we made our fingers and thumbs touch each other. (Christopher Boone) Chapter 31
I don’t like it when Rhodri laughs at me. Rhodri laughs at me a lot. Father says it is being friendly. Chapter 103
Christopher’s judgments of people are often different from general social attitudes, this means that he rarely trusts people and if he meets someone new, he assumes they’re untrustworthy until he can see some proof of the rules that he uses to allow trust. Even at the special school environment, where it is assumed that the teachers are essentially trustworthy, Christopher spends weeks observing them before he will interact with new teachers. When meeting a neighbour, Mrs Alexander, who is an elderly woman, Christopher finds no grounds to trust her and explicitly tells her this in their meeting at the park.
For Christopher, trust is universal; someone is trustworthy or not. If they are not, Christopher worries they might hurt him. When Christopher’s father admits that he had lied about Christopher’s mother dying, and that he had killed Wellington, Christopher believes he can no longer trust him as he is now unpredictable. Christopher sees truth as a fundamental principle in the world and deduces that if someone tells the truth, he can trust them, and if they lie, he fears them. However, Christopher also finds out that the truth can hurt as much as a lie. Christopher doesn’t understand why anyone would want to believe something that isn’t true, such as that fairies exist.
Christopher believes himself to be entirely trustworthy, constantly reminding those around him that he always tells the truth. However, he becomes less trustworthy, shown when he deliberately disobeys Ed, arguing that Ed’s instructions were too vague. He also only tells part of the truth about where he’s been when he goes out to the shop. This shows that even Christopher himself can never entirely be trusted.
And I said ‘Yes,’ because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth, and Father […] always tells me the truth, which means that he loves me. Chapter 137
Then he said, ‘I did it for your good, Christopher. Honestly I did. I never meant to lie. Chapter 157
OK, maybe I don’t tell the truth all the time. God knows, I try, Christopher, God knows I do, but… Life is difficult, you know. It’s bloody hard telling the truth all the time. Sometimes it’s impossible. And I want to know that I’m trying, I really am. Chapter 167
I had to get out of the house. Father had murdered Wellington, That meant he could murder me, because I couldn’t trust him, even though he had said ‘Trust me,’ because he had told a lie about a big thing. (Christopher Boone) Chapter 167
‘Let’s call it…let’s call it a project. A project we have to do together. You have to spend more time with me. And I…I have to show you that you can trust me.’ (Ed Boone) Chapter 233
Christopher has a critical desire to see the world as orderly, and he has a very low tolerance for disorder. He obsesses over schedules for instance, and even describes the difficulty he had going on vacation with his parents because they had no routine to follow. He relished the timetables that his parents drew for him, which outlined his daily events, even constructing his own to order his weekends. When gifted with a train set, Christopher drew timetables for the trains so they would behave in an orderly manner.
Christopher favours logic over emotions and the emotional worlds of others; his worldview and means of expression rely almost entirely on logic. In this way, logic is the building blocks of an orderly world. Christopher’s logic-based perspective both helps and hinders him in his murder investigation, as well as in his life. He tries to be like the detective Sherlock Holmes, because Holmes approaches mysteries from a logical perspective and seeks an explainable truth. Furthermore, Holmes doesn’t believe in supernatural explanations for odd happenings. He also believes that his understanding of logic and order, as seen in his incredible understanding of mathematics and physics, will create opportunities for him in the future such as attending university and becoming a scientist.
Despite Christopher’s passion for logic, he sometimes acts in ways that are illogical. Christopher figures out whether he’s going to have an emotionally good day or a bad day based on the colours of the cars that he sees on his way to school. In this way, it is more important for him to find order in the world than logic. He also thinks that prime numbers are similar to life in that their existence is based on logic, but it’s impossible to find rules to define them. While many people might relate to this perspective, it is especially applicable to Christopher’s situation since he struggles to understand the unspoken social rules that most people don’t have to think about. As we see things from within his perspective, these are things he would take for granted as just how his life is and how his mind works; stability and order, therefore, isn’t the supremacy of logic or the removal of all obstacles, but in dealing with the situation he is given.
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. (Christopher Boone) Chapter 19
It was nice in the police cell. Chapter 23
But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. Chapter 47
And this is because when people tell you what to do it is usually confusing and does not make sense. Chapter 59
And then I Formulated a Plan. And that made me feel better because there was something in my head that had an order and a pattern and I just had to follow the instructions one after the other. Chapter 179
When I used to play with my train set I made a train timetable because I liked timetables. And I like timetables because I like to know when everything is going to happen. Chapter 193
The first person narrative delivers the novel from Christopher’s perspective. As the text progresses, the reader can see his worldview clearly and appreciates more and more that although it is a different way of seeing and relating, it is still a valid perspective. It may even lead readers to question the generally accepted rules of society and challenge their perceptions of people with different viewpoints or perceived disabilities. Despite the premise of the novel being a murder mystery, roughly half the chapters in the book digress from this main plot to give us Christopher’s thoughts or feelings on a particular subject, such as physics or the supernatural.
By highlighting the irrational behaviour of other people, the novel blurs the lines between normal and abnormal and instead redefines the borders as a matter of personal perspective. Christopher’s father has a habit of putting his pants on before his socks; Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, believes in a photo of fairies and thought he could speak to his dead son through a medium; Siobhan reminds Christopher that all people have favourite colours and foods; and Mr Peters has a belief in a God he cannot see or seem to fully explain. In this way, the novel suggests that every individual has a subjective point of view. By giving a more detailed explanation of Christopher’s thoughts, the novel allows the reader to empathise with Christopher.
Also people think they’re not computers because they have feelings and computers don’t have feelings. But feelings are just having a picture on the screen in your head of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen, and if it is a happy picture they smile and if it is a sad picture they cry. Chapter 163
And anyway, Orion is not a hunter or a coffee maker or a dinosaur. It is just Betelgeuse and Bellatrix and Alnilam and Rigel and 17 other stars I don’t know the names of. And they are nuclear explosions billions of miles away. And that is the truth. Chapter 173
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