“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon
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The novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” isn’t just a young autistic boy’s story. Whilst it does describe the protagonist Christopher Boone’s “reality”, the narrative is much deeper. The issues that surround Christopher are vital to the storyline, providing a complexity that suggests the “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is far from simple. While a major part of the novel, autism is not the only theme explored. In addition to autism itself, the effects of this disorder are central to the characters involved in Christopher’s life, and is the root cause of many dramatic events. The break-up of Christopher’s parents Ed and Judy can partially be attributed to their son’s behavioural problems, which leads to more problems.
In “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” there are two authors; writer Mark Haddon and Christopher Boone, a sufferer of the disorder autism. Haddon uses Christopher as a means of expressing the human condition – that we all struggle, all achieve and all fail repetitively throughout our lives. Although Christopher thinks and behaves in a different way to us, readers can recognise his humanity and identify with his feelings of terror, anger and wanting to be alone. Instead of judging, Haddon encourages us to redefine our perceptions of those with autism and other marginalised groups in our society.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is written in the first person from the point of view of an autistic boy named Christopher Boone. He lives in Swindon in England and looked after solely by his father Ed Boone. Ed carries out many essential duties in addition to those of a father, in accordance with his son’s specific needs. These needs affect Mr Boone greatly, and to deal with this constant pressure and stress, Mr Boone turns to alcohol. Combined with his annoyance concerning Christopher’s idiosyncrasies, this substance abuse sometimes leads Mr Boone to lash out at Christopher, both verbally and physically. This unmanageable anger leads to the killing of the Boone’s neighbour’s dog Wellington, which is the catalyst for Christopher’s murder mystery novel, Who Killed Wellington? It is through the process of writing this story that Christopher makes many life changing discoveries.
While trying to find his notebook, which his father confiscated, Christopher stumbles upon the hidden letters from his supposedly dead mother. Until this moment, Christopher had believed his mother had died of a heart attack, as his father told him. Mr Boone also confesses to killing Wellington. As Christopher abhors untruthfulness and cannot tell lies himself, Christopher becomes distrustful of his father. He also is terrified of Mr Boone, as says, “I have to get out of the house. Father had murdered Wellington. That meant he could murder me, because I couldn’t trust him… because he had told a lie about a big thing”. Truth is vitally important to Christopher, and when his father lie to him and broke that trust, he went in search of his mother to get away from Mr Boone.
The stress of managing Christopher’s disorder has a different affect on each character in the novel. Christopher’s mother, Judy Boone, attempts to deal with the strain and burden of taking care of her autistic child for a long period of time, before finally leaving two years prior to when the novel begins. Christopher has a profound affect on his mother. Having to take care of such a demanding child is too much for her short temper, and she is consequently unable to deal with her son and the problems he poses. Her coping mechanism differs greatly from Mr Boone’s; instead of seeking comfort in alcohol, she seeks comfort in her neighbour, Roger Shears.
She says “couldn’t take it anymore”, and begins to spend less time with her family and more time with Roger, which concludes in an affair. A common judgement that is attached to mothers who leave their children is that they are unfeeling, uncaring and cold-hearted people. However, Judy was under considerable pressure for an extended period of time, and also posses a relatively short temper. Thirteen years of constant worrying and compromising to fit her son’s needs wore down her patience, and the only way out she could see was to leave her house and family.
Siobhan is a teacher at the special school that Christopher attends. She educates Christopher about life outside school, about socialising with others and shows him ways to deal with aggravation and stress. Siobhan is a sharp contrast to other characters, especially Mr and Mrs Boone. Siobhan is calm and collected when faced with Christopher’s behavioural problems. She is also well informed about Christopher’s condition, and this knowledge gives her great insight in the issue of autism and how to deal with the disorder. Siobhan is in some ways representative of the ideal “parent” for a child suffering from autism, but she has a huge advantage over Christopher’s actual parents – she can emotionally detach herself at any stage from the whole situation, which Mr and Mrs Boone are unable to do. Mrs Boone makes a huge effort to separate herself from Christopher and his problems, but her conscience will not let her.
Her guilt for leaving her son is great, and she sends Christopher weekly letters. These letters show her inability to sever all connection. She alludes to the reason for this in her letters; the simple reason that Christopher is just too important to let go of completely because he will always remain her son. When Christopher goes on the harrowing journey to seek and find his mother, again the affect of Christopher and his disorder takes precedence over all other things. Her initial reaction is one of shock, but Judy allows Christopher to stay with her. Mrs Boone accepts Christopher back into her life, and in some ways is able to fix up and atone for her mistakes.
While autism affects each character in diverse ways, it is clear that autism has the largest impact on the main character Christopher Boone over all others. His autism affects him every day of his life, in the choices he makes, the way he thinks, the way he reacts to people and the way they react to him. Christopher is a medium for the author Mark Haddon to explain and explore the human condition, which encompasses the experience of being a human being. And in Christopher we all can identify problems that we face, struggles that we have to overcome and successes that we have.
Haddon’s purpose for his novel is much broader than just recounting events in a child’s life. In Christopher we can recognise our own failings and successes, though we may have a different opinion to what these are. Christopher is infinitely human, not a “spaz” or “Mad as a fucking hatter” as asserted by characters in the novel. While Christopher’s “reality” may not be reality as we perceive it, to him it is the absolute truth. Tolerance is a strong theme in the narrative. By looking at Christopher’s experiences, Haddon invites us to reflect upon our own lives and our reactions to people like Christopher, as well as the fragility and variation of everyone’s separate realities. Mark Haddon suggests to us through the novel to see beyond Christopher’s issues and understand that everyone go through the same difficulties.
In conclusion, the novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is not simple at all. Even though the format of the novel is similar to that of a diary, it contains much more than a day to day account of Christopher Boone’s life. It explores a wide range of themes and issues, mainly on the affects of profound autism and the problems this particular disorder presents to each character in the novel. The main influence of Christopher’s autism is pressure and stress, which leads to different but damaging results in each separate case. Tolerance and understanding are also vital themes, and by examining Christopher and his life, we reflect upon our own existence and the behaviour of those within our lives. Christopher is also symbolic of the human condition, and author Mark Haddon shows us through “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” that we all endure similar hardships and triumphs as we go through life.
Bibliography:Haddon, Mark. Curious incident of the dog in the night-time. New York: Doubleday, 2003.