1. Christopher employs a number pictographs—drawings, maps, and figures—over the course of his narrative. Identify a key pictograph in the novel, describe how Christopher uses it, and explain what insight it grants into his character.
Christopher’s drawing of the constellation Orion serves as the pictograph that’s most telling of Christopher’s character. Christopher uses his drawing to illustrate the manner in which constellations are formed by connecting the stars with imaginary lines. He argues, however, that constellations do not form one shape more than any other. An observer can connect the stars however he chooses to create practically any shape he wants. He changes the lines that make up Orion to show a dinosaur instead as a means of illustrating his point. In a similar way, Christopher believes that his condition is only a handicap from a certain perspective. As an example, he compares his “special needs” to Siobhan’s poor eyesight, which requires her to wear glasses. While Christopher recognizes that his condition limits him socially, he also knows he has exceptional abilities in subjects like math and science and feels he is no more handicapped than Siobhan is. In addition, Christopher’s thoughts on constellations reflect his emphasis on logical and scientific thinking, which in turn leads him to view many of humanity’s popularly held beliefs—such as heaven—as convenient fantasies with no basis in reality. Just as people look the stars and imagine the shape of a hunter, Christopher believes people similarly manufacture fantasies about subjects they find frightening or complicated, such as what happens when a person dies. In an earlier chapter when Christopher talks about Mother’s death, he says she didn’t go to heaven because heaven doesn’t exist. Instead, her body has degraded into the soil and been taken up as nutrients by plants. Here, he says the stars don’t actually form any shape at all, and in fact they are really nuclear explosions billions of miles away.
2. Christopher’s condition causes him to see the world in a very subjective way, and as a result the reader may often interpret events differently than Christopher does. What role does this difference between Christopher’s understanding of events and the reader’s understanding of events play in the novel?
Christopher lacks the ability to fully understand what takes place in the minds of other people, as shown by his inability to identify a person’s mood from their facial expression early on in the novel. As a result, at many times in the novel Christopher fails to understand another character’s intentions. The reader, on the other hand, may recognize Christopher’s misunderstanding, resulting in a gap between Christopher’s view of events and the reader’s view. For instance, although Christopher becomes afraid of Father when he begins to think Father capable of murdering him, the reader can see that this reaction is excessive. This gap lends the novel a sense of irony throughout and makes the novel comic at times, as when we see characters become frustrated at their inability to make Christopher understand them. But this ironic gap also emphasizes the idea that each person has a unique view of the world. A great deal of the novel, including many of Christopher’s digressions, helps the reader to understand the world as Christopher sees it. While we sometimes see Christopher as ridiculous, as when he leaves the house of his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Alexander, when she goes inside to get him biscuits, we also come to sympathize with Christopher in his struggles. We see, for instance, how he suffers when he realizes that Mother never died and Father has been lying to him. The novel becomes alternately funny and moving as a result, creating much of its emotional impact on the reader.
3. To what extent is Christopher’s condition responsible for the conflicts that arise in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time?
Christopher’s condition directly results in a few minor conflicts in the novel, but more significantly, it factors to different degrees in the major conflicts between Mother and Father, between Father and Mrs. Shears, and between Father and Christopher. The minor conflicts often arise from Christopher’s trouble with social interaction. Early in the novel, for instance, Christopher hits the policeman because Christopher severely dislikes being touched. The policeman arrests Christopher, so Father has to come pick Christopher up, leading to a small argument between Father and Christopher as they drive home from the police station.
The larger conflicts, however, tend to result indirectly from the way Christopher behaves as a result of his condition. For instance, the challenge of caring for Christopher evidently played a part in Mother’s decision to leave years earlier. Although this action takes place outside the story Christopher tells in the novel, we learn of it when Christopher discovers Mother’s letters. She talks about how Christopher once became nervous in a crowded store, and when she tried to move him he knocked several mixers off a shelf. Mother says she left because she felt it was in Christopher’s and Father’s best interests, and she suggests that Christopher’s behavior proved more than she could cope with. “Maybe if things had been different, maybe if you’d been differant [this is her spelling error], I might have been better at it,” she writes. Mrs. Shears also apparently breaks off her relationship with Father—resulting in the anger that leads Father to kill Wellington—at least in part because Christopher’s condition caused them stress. As Father explains why he murdered Wellington, he says, “I think she cared more for that bloody dog than for me, for us. And maybe that’s not so stupid, looking back. Maybe we are a bloody handful…I mean, shit, buddy, we’re not exactly low-maintenance, are we?” Christopher’s condition leads more directly to his conflict with Father than it did to the conflict in these instances. Specifically, Christopher’s limited understanding of other people causes him to believe Father might actually kill him, since Father at this point has already admitted to killing Wellington. Christopher runs away to London largely in response to this fear, and the conflict we see between Father and Christopher in the second half of the novel derives to a great degree from this misunderstanding of Father’s motives.
Take a Study Break!