Summary: Chapter 157

On Monday evening, Father goes out to fix a flooded cellar, so Christopher sneaks into Father’s room. He counts 43 letters addressed to him in the same handwriting. The first letter describes a memory that Mother has of Christopher playing with a wooden train set she bought him for Christmas. Christopher made timetables for all of the train lines. Spelling errors occur throughout the letter, like “woodden” and “timetabel.” At the bottom it is signed “Love, Your Mum.”

In the next letter, Mother explains why she left the family. She recounts a time that Christopher had a fit in a crowded store while she was Christmas shopping. Christopher became frightened by the number of people in the store, and when Mother tried to move him he started screaming and broke two mixers by knocking them off a nearby shelf. Then he wet himself. He wouldn’t stop screaming and they had to walk home because Mother knew he wouldn’t want to get on a crowded bus. At home, Mother cried to Father, who then became angry with her for being selfish. She describes how she began to feel very lonely and argue with Father a lot. Then she started spending a lot of time with Roger. Roger said he didn’t love Eileen anymore and asked Mother to leave Father for him.

One evening at supper Christopher threw a cutting board, which broke her toes. She had to go to the hospital and couldn’t walk for a month. Afterward, Father blamed her for losing her temper. While she recovered, she saw how much more calmly Christopher acted around Father than with her. She decided Christopher and Father would be better off without her in the house and moved in with Roger in London. Father was so angry and hurt by her abandonment that he forbade her from calling Christopher or coming to visit. She ends the letter by asking Christopher to please write her back.

In the next letter, Mother writes about her new job as a secretary in a real estate office. She asks if he received the present she sent. In a fourth letter, Mother talks about going to the dentist with Christopher. Christopher stops reading because he feels sick. He realizes that Mother didn’t have a heart attack and that Father has been lying to him. He curls into a ball on the bed and passes out. When he wakes up it is dark outside. He has vomited all over. Father comes into the room, but to Christopher his voice sounds small and distant. Father sees the letters and begins to cry. When Father touches Christopher to guide him to the bath it does not hurt like it usually does.

Summary: Chapter 163

Christopher recounts an exercise that Julie, his first teacher at school, had him perform when he was young. In the exercise, Julie showed him a tube of Smarties candy and asked him to guess what was inside. When he guessed Smarties, Julie revealed that the tube contained a little red pencil. Julie then put the pencil back in the tube and asked what Mother or Father would guess were they to come in at that moment. Christopher figured they would say the tube held a little red pencil. Julie told Mother and Father that Christopher would always have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view. Christopher no longer has difficulty with these situations, however, because he thinks of them as puzzles to be solved.

Christopher describes an experiment he saw in a TV series called How the Mind Works. When a person looks at a page of text, they really only see the small area that their eyes are currently focused on. The mind fills in the image of the rest with an image it presumes to be true. If the text elsewhere on the page changes while the eyes aren’t looking at it, the mind doesn’t notice. People assume that computers are just machines without minds. But Christopher explains that in actuality the mind is a complicated computer, and that even feelings are just a picture in your mind of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen. If it is a happy picture you smile, and if it is a sad picture you cry.

Analysis: Chapters 157-163

Mother’s letters, which serve as the only time someone other than Christopher narrates, provide the reader with insight into Mother’s character that is uncolored by Christopher’s interpretation. Christopher publishes Mother’s letters in their entirety, down to spelling errors, and in the letters Mother describes her feelings frankly. For instance, she essentially admits that the stress of caring for Christopher destroyed her marriage with Father and caused her to flee the family. Mother’s accounts of Christopher’s behavior as a child also allow us to see how much Christopher has progressed in managing his condition, something Christopher has alluded to before. As Mother describes, Christopher’s wild tantrums and inability to socialize were far more pronounced when he was younger. Notably, Mother appears to blame herself for some of Christopher’s behavior when she observes that Christopher acts more calmly around Father and writes that Christopher and Father might be better off without her. She also openly expresses her guilt at abandoning Christopher, and she assumes when she doesn’t hear back from Christopher that Christopher remains too angry with her to write. She evidently doesn’t realize Christopher has not received her letters.

Read an in-depth analysis of Christopher’s mother.

Christopher feels deeply hurt by the information that he gains from the letters, as evidenced by the strong physical reaction he has. When he realizes that Mother abandoned him and Father to run away with Mr. Shears (whom she calls by his first name, Roger), and that Father has kept the truth from Christopher for two years, pretending all the while that Mother has died, Christopher passes out and vomits all over himself and his bed. He appears too shocked to even feel any sense of relief at knowing that Mother is alive. As we have seen, Christopher measures love in large part by a person’s honesty, and he realizes at this point that Father, the person that cares for him more than anyone, has deceived him. Christopher feels so distraught that for a moment he even forgets his great dislike of being touched and lets Father guide him to the bathtub.

Read more about Christopher’s subjectivity as a theme.

We also gain more insight into the specific details of Christopher’s condition in this section. As we see from the exercise he does in Chapter 163, in which his teacher reveals that the Smarties tube contains a pencil rather than candy and then makes Christopher guess what another person would think the tube contains, Christopher has trouble recognizing that other people have their own minds. In other words, he has difficulty considering a situation from someone else’s point of view. Although Christopher has developed a workaround for this problem, specifically by thinking of these situations as puzzles to be solved, the reader can see that this inability to empathize still affects Christopher’s understanding of the world and other people. It plays a particularly large role in Christopher’s social impairment and in his inability to recognize the emotions underlying different facial expressions. It keeps Christopher isolated from people in an almost literal sense, in turn making him feel just as comfortable—or even more comfortable—being alone as he feels in the company of other people. This deficit is also an important symptom of autism, providing more evidence that Christopher likely has a mild version of the disorder.

Read more about social disorder and logic as themes.