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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.
More main ideas from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
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