Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Many of the characters in the novel become irritated with Christopher at one time or another because of the difficulty they have communicating with him. Christopher has trouble understanding metaphors, such as the dog was stone dead. He also has difficulty with nonverbal forms of communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and even the tone of someone’s voice. He tends to take statements literally and requires very specific instructions in order to follow a command. He says, for example, that when people say “Be quiet” they don’t specify how long he should be quiet for. As a result, we often see characters struggling to make Christopher understand them since their ordinary way of speaking fails to communicate their meaning to him. These exchanges underscore how Christopher’s condition affects his social skills, and they emphasize for the reader the difference in perspective that Christopher experiences compared to the average person.
Christopher’s frequent asides about science and technology, such as his fantasies of astronauts and space shuttles and musings about alien life forms and the workings of the human mind, recur throughout the book. Christopher feels most comfortable with subjects that he views as logical, such as physics and math. As a result, he thinks about these topics continually. But Christopher also displays a fascination with subjects that appear to him vastly greater in scope than human life, such as the relationship between time and space or the nature of stars, which he breathlessly describes as “the very molecules of life.” These subjects appear to allow Christopher to put his own life in perspective, helping him to cope with the difficulties he encounters on a daily basis.
Christopher often finds solace in interacting with animals and displays great consternation when he sees them harmed. He engages with animals so readily because he finds them easier to understand than people. An animal expresses its wants and needs plainly. Dogs, for example, growl when they feel threatened and wag their tails when they feel happy. Christopher can understand these simple visual cues. He even praises the nature of dogs early in the novel, saying they’re faithful and honest and more interesting than some people. Consequently, animals often serve as a foundation for trust between Christopher and other human beings. Christopher speaks with Mrs. Alexander in part because she cares well for her dachshund, Ivor. Later, after Father hits Christopher when he finds Christopher’s detailed record of his investigation, he takes Christopher to the Twycross Zoo to apologize, because he understands that Christopher will find the environment comforting. Animals also provide Christopher with the companionship he doesn’t find in other people, particularly Toby, Christopher’s pet rat, which serves as Christopher’s constant travel companion. When Toby dies, Father buys Christopher a puppy, hoping to rebuild his trust with Christopher and to provide Christopher with a new companion.