Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon


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Small group discussions will take place on: 4/27 (page 79 due), 5/4( page 155 due), 5/10 (page 221(end) due)

CURIOUS INCIDENT TEST: 5/14


Part 1: You will be placed into discussion groups of 4-5 students and will meet weekly to discuss questions from your study guide. It is YOUR responsibility to manage the group discussion. Everyone must participate in order to earn points for the discussion.

Part 2: Each week I will post an ONLINE discussion question under the discussion board here on this website. Once you finish the reading assignment, check out the question and post a response here on the wiki. You'll respond like a thread with the whole class, so just keep the conversation going! Pose more questions, bring up things you've talked about in class, or outside material if it's relevant. You know, EXPLORE. Posts should be between 75-150 words.

remember: QUALITY posts are a dialogue
therefore, you need to build upon the posts and responses of other learners to create discussion threads. Make sure to revisit the discussion forum and respond (if necessary) to what other learners have posted to your initial responses.Each thread is worth 20 points.

What do I mean by a quality post?

The following are some ideas to set the stage for substantive participation for the development of your critical thinking skills:
  1. Ensure that the posting contributes to the overall discussion thread that is being developed. Your response must contain some reference back to the original discussion question. Stay on track by always referring back to that original discussion question.
  2. Try to use your posting to add value to the discussion. This is more effective than simply responding to meet a requirement.
  3. Check to see that the posting expands on the main theme (in the discussion question, or assignment posting).
  4. Make sure your posting is at least 75-150 words.

Other Ideas for Participation

  • Share a related experience.
  • Comment on others' experiences.
  • Ask students questions about their ideas/experiences.
  • Consider an idea being discussed, and offer a different perspective on it.
  • Describe an interesting idea from the week's reading, and explain what insights you gained from it.
  • Ask the group a question about the week's reading.
  • Disagree (respectfully, of course) with a point that someone else has made.
  • Discuss a related issue on which you would like some feedback.
  • Describe how you have applied the recent course concepts to your personal/professional life




Author:

Mark Haddon

Nationality/Ethnic Background:

British

Genre and Sub-genres:

Fiction
1st Person Novel
Bildungsroman: coming of age through a trial or tough experience
Mystery

Pertinent Biographical Information of Mark Haddon:

  • Earned a BA in English at Oxford University and an MS in English Literature at Edinburgh University.
  • Believes in Atheism and reflected this belief in the main protagonist, Christopher, who states that Christians are stupid for believing in God because believing in God is illogical. Haddon describes himself as a "hard-line atheist," but includes Christian figures in his works, saying "I am atheist in a very religious mould."
  • Worked with children and adults that had mental and physical disabilities.
  • After graduating college, worked several small jobs, including one as a live-in volunteer for someone with multiple sclerosis and one at Mencap, the leading charity in the United Kingdom for people with learning disabilities.
  • Is a wide-ranging artist. Haddon has worked as a novelist, a poet, a screen playwright, a radio drama writer, an illustrator and cartoonist for magazines and newspapers, and a painter and seller of abstract art.

Literary Historical Period/Movement and Pertinent Background

  • Postmodernism
  • Authors in this period did not necessarily care about what labels were given to their works. Haddon provides what many do not, straying away from the usual complex and intricate setting and background, and instead provides a complex character, enabling a provocative look into the self, rather than the surroundings and environment.
  • When it was originally published in 2003, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was printed with two different covers in order to appeal to both youth and adult audiences.

Major Characters, Their Relationships, Their Conflicts

  • Christopher Boone: Christopher John Francis Boone, the protagonist and narrator of the story, has a form of autism which inhibits him from understanding the world outside of his extreme likes and dislikes. Christopher struggles understanding human emotion and human tendency to use figurative language amidst conversation. For instance, common jokes and metaphors frustrate Christopher because he doesn’t understand why people don’t just explicitly say what they mean. Due to this discontent, Christopher tends to dislike people because they are confusing and capable of what he perceives as lying. Instead, he relies on concrete ideas and images, like math and science, for stability. When Christopher feels as though his stability is threatened, he often reacts in a violent, unruly manner.
    The book is written as though Christopher was writing it himself, thus allowing readers to see the world the way Christopher does. We are taken through Christopher’s journey to discover who murdered his neighbor Mrs. Shear’s dog, Wellington. We watch as Christopher grows as a character, ultimately inciting change in his surrounding characters, as well.
  • Ed Boone: Ed Boone is Christopher’s father who became a single parent after his wife walked out on he and Christopher. Ed often struggles handling Christopher’s autism and becomes frustrated when he doesn’t understand what Christopher wants. Ed struggles to articulate his emotions which often causes him to lash out and sometimes seem uncaring when in actuality, he loves Christopher very much. Because Ed understands Christopher’s inability to interpret human emotion and reasoning, he chooses to hide his wife’s departure by telling Christopher that she died of a heart attack.
  • Judy Boone: Judy Boone, Christopher’s mother and Ed’s wife, has difficulty understanding Christopher’s autism and easily becomes irritated with his sporadic behavior and unpredictable outbursts. Her constant frustration put tension in her relationship with her husband, Ed, and results in a divulging affair with the Mr. Shears, a neighbor of the Boone family. The two supposedly fall in love, and Judy Boone decides that it will be better for everyone if she no longer stays with her family. She tries to stay in touch with Christopher even after she has departed, but Ed prevents her from doing so.
  • Siobhan: Siobhan is Christopher’s special education teacher who helps Christopher cope with his autism by attempting to teach him how people function both emotionally and physically. Siobhan offers alternative methods to disruptive behavior for Christopher while simultaneously functioning as his mentor.
  • Roger Shears (Mr. Shears): Mr. Shears is the Boone's neighbor who leaves his wife early on in the novel due to his affair with Judy Boone, Christopher's mother.
  • Eileen Shears (Mrs Shears): Mrs. Shears is a neighbor of the Boones and the wife of Mr. Shears. We find that Eileen was a significant part of Ed Boone’s life when Judy Boone and Mr. Shears left. Christopher remembers she often came over to help cook meals or clean the house, attempting to be a comfort to Ed and Christopher.
  • Mrs Alexander: Mrs. Alexander is one of Christopher’s neighbors who provides Christopher with information about his parents and the Shears, subsequently aiding his investigation as to who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. Though Mrs. Alexander is a stranger, Christopher decides to trust her enough to gather information from her that pertains to his investigation.
  • Wellington: Wellington is Mrs.Shear’s large, black poodle that Christopher finds dead in the Shears’s front yard.
  • Reverend Peters: Reverend Peters is a minister at Christopher’s local church and the proctor for Christopher's math test.
  • Toby: Toby is Christopher's aging pet and one of the boy’s only friends. Christopher brings Toby along during his investigation. In addition, during his escape to London, Christopher brings Toby as his companion.

Brief Plot Summary

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order, and predictability shelter him from the messy wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, for which he is initially blamed.

Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face-to-face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.

And herein lies the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the freshest debuts in years: a comedy, a heartbreaker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read.


Motifs (Recurring Images, Ideas, Figures of Speech, Symbols, Colors) & Their Thematic Significance

Mathematic Motifs

  • Prime Numbers appear throughout the novel as all the chapter numbers are prime, and Christopher is obsessed with them. He claims to know “every prime number up to 7,057” (p. 2), explains how to determine prime numbers (p. 11), and says, “prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them” (p. 12).
  • The A-Level Math test is a difficult test that only special, intelligent students take, and it represents Christopher making progress and overcoming the cruelties of society. It shows his superiority in a subject, ability to function in life, and ability to behave like a normal student, despite his disabilities.
  • Christopher uses math as a distraction from his unpleasant surroundings as a way to calm himself down and escape from the world. He can always count on math to clear his head and distract himself because, unlike everyday life, he completely understands math, no matter how complex the problem. He is often found doubling numbers in his head, thinking about squaring numbers, or philosophizing about math to avoid emotionally managing with his situation.
  • Puzzles: Christopher continuously challenges himself with puzzles like Conway's Soldiers and 100 Number Puzzles. He even carries around a puzzle piece in his pocket, symbolizing his puzzling life. In addition, he compares the murder mystery of the novel to one large puzzle. For Christopher, puzzles are personal, stimulating intellectual challenges.
Christopher likes math as an escape from the social world because it his something that he can do independently. It had clear and definite meaning for him. Math is his only reliable source of information and intimacy he has. Christopher needs math to make up for his social inadequacies. He relates his own conflicts to math, which helps him to form a solution and create order in any situation.
Themes: There is a difference between social intelligence and "book smarts." People use pleasures to take their minds off unpleasant topics and experiences.

Scientific Motifs

  • The Supernatural: Christopher knocks religion, God, and any supernatural beings several times. He is disbelieving in any religion because he cannot logically make sense of any Biblical claim with math or science. Biblical allusions in the novel contrast Christopher’s concrete idea of truth. The motif of the supernatural leads to the theme that humans cannot make order of what they don’t understand, and that humans desire to make order in life.
  • Computers & Machines: Christopher compares his mind to a machine and the events in his life to computers. He uses these comparisons because talking about a machine makes it easier for him to explain what is going on in his mind. When he is bombarded with the idea of a new place or new images, he resolves to feeling like a computer crashing, the only way he can describe his feelings (p.143). He uses this distant comparison to communicate the theme that humans and life can be overwhelming at times and are difficult to understand. The reader also observes the theme that humans search for stability, as Christopher seeks to live like computer games, which have a stabilized, controlled environment in which there are set outcomes and logarithms to determine game play and events.
  • Scientific Discoveries & Explanations: Christopher is interested in current scientific issues and the reasons behind science, showing his value of concrete facts and his tendency to thoroughly explain abstract and complicated ideas. His consideration for scientific discoveries reveals the theme that humans can be optimistic about life if they do not take facts for granted.
  • Outer Space: Christopher is fascinated by outer space, stars, and space exploration (ex. the Apollo Space Missions). Christopher enjoys imagining the stars because they give him a sense of the world and his role in it. He finds his identity through realizing that he is insignificant compared to the vast outer space world, an idea that can be translated to any one. He also appreciates the starry sky because it is something "you can work out in your own mind just by looking at the sky above your head at night and thinking without having to ask anyone," demonstrating the human struggle for independence (p. 10).

Sensory Motfis

  • Violence: Christopher relies on his Swiss Army Knife for a sense of security because he often becomes scared of his surroundings and doesn't know how to react except with violence. He also hits his mother and breaks her toes when he did not know how/did not want to cope with an unfortunate situation. The violence and knife in the novel lead to the themes that violence can be caused by simple misunderstandings, violence ironically helps us feel safe, and humans often don't know what can make us calm (unlike Christopher).
  • Small spaces: Christopher often retreats to little spaces where he can be alone, such as an airing cupboard or shelves in a train. The solitude illustrates the theme that sometimes humans like to be alone, and other times not. By being alone, Christopher can feel safe, think clearly, and be calm. Hiding in small spaces also allows him to feel independent, translating to the theme that humans want to be independent.
  • Yellow: Christopher hates the color yellow and will refuse anything of the color. For him, it symbolizes trouble and confusion. He rationalizes his hatred with a decision-making model. Despite his best attempts, he continuously comes in contact with yellow and eventually begins to learn to cope with its presence. His reaction to yellow communicates the theme that we are influenced by superstitions and that humans use decision-making methods to simplify life and create order.
  • Red: Red is a symbol of happiness and peace for Christopher. He allows the color to define his days and actions and believes that this logic works for others too. This value of red enforces the theme that humans attempt to create order and meaning out of everything in life.

Other Motifs

  • Mysteries: In addition to the novel being a murder mystery story, Christopher discusses Sherlock Holmes and his mysteries several times. He identifies with the archetype of a detective because he is very observant and takes in all the little details, presenting the them that humans will amalgamate facts of an event to give them order, no matter how disconnected.
  • Uniformed Personnel: Christopher appreciates uniformed persons, such as policemen, military, and CIA agents. He likes the idea of uniforms to clearly indicate someone's purpose and to create order with institutions. This satisfaction with uniformed personnel indicates the theme that humans desire structure in life.
  • Dreams: Despite his disabilities, Christopher frequently discusses his dreams to be an astronaut and succeed in other areas of his life. His determination throughout the novel presents the theme that humans like to have big dreams and that it's okay to have big dreams because they lead to great places, despite the difficulties they create.
  • Lies/Truth/Honesty: Christopher highly values the truth. In fact, he claims that he cannot lie at all and wants those who lie to go to be prison. He struggles with the fact that his disorder causes people to bend their view of what is true and not. Honesty in the novel leads to the themes that humans value truth and must cope with the difference between appearance and reality and that all humans lie at times, even if they are convinced that their type of lying isn't morally wrong.
  • Cursing/Frustration: Adults, unsure of how to manage themselves when interacting with Christopher, often curse and become very frustrated. Similarly, Christopher is offensive towards "all the other [stupid] children" (p. 43). Society generally does not understand children with special needs, does not have patience for people who are different, and assumes that all people are normal and should act a certain way. Alternatively, the idea of frustration communicates the theme that we all have special needs. His parents' frustration also shows the theme that parents of children with special needs struggle.
  • Animals: Animals are present in the novel with Christopher's companion, Toby the rat, Wellington the murdered dog, and a new dog at the end of the story. Toby is the only character that Christopher can trust and relate to. While the murdered dog represents confusion and conflict, the new dog is a symbol of new life and new chances for Christopher and his father. The interaction with animals sends the message that humans can often relate to and rely on animals better than other humans.
  • Feelings & Detachment: From the first few pages, Christopher admits that he cannot understand emotions, feelings, or even expressions. He is harsh and unsympathetic towards others, often misunderstanding their feelings. In addition, he emotionally separates himself from situations (ex. he talks about his "dead mother" as if he had no relationship to her; he discusses the world ending as if it was a trivial circumstance) with a detached tone. These difficulties with identifying emotions shows the theme that each individual copes with emotion a different way, and that we can separate ourselves from an emotionally-wrenching situation to cope with it better.

Other Significant Thematic Elements (Significant Character's Names, Significant Quotations, Significant Actions/Events)

  • "I think that people believe in heaven because they don't like the idea of dying, because they want to carry on living and they don't like the idea that other people will move into their house and put their things into the rubbish" (p. 33). Christopher talks about the human behavior of belief in an afterlife. He is detached, as usual, and claims that people only believe in heaven because they worry about their future. This idea relates directly to the theme that all humans worry about the future. Also, the fact that Christopher uses a logical approach, as usual, to attempt to pin down complex ideas and emotions relates to the theme that humans desire order and structure in a chaotic world.
  • "I will get a lady to marry me and be my wife and she can look after me so I can have company and not be on my own" (p. 45). This quote from Christopher shows that even he, who talks about going into outer space completely alone, looks for order and worries about the future. Even though he does not relate to others very well, he wants to ensure his well being in the future. He's worried about it, so he's creating imaginary solutions. Furthermore, Christopher is planning ahead so he has order in his future, so this also relates back to the theme that humans desire order.
  • "Mother hit me sometimes because she was a very hot-tempered person" (p. 82). Christopher observes one of his mother's faults. She could not handle her situation, and she was often quick to anger. Thus, she demonstrates the theme that we all have personal problems we must overcome. Just as Christopher has his issues, so does his mother.
  • "but it is a good maths problem to do in your head when you don't want to think about something else because you can make it as complicated as you need to fill your brain..." (p. 148). Christopher is sitting inside a very crowded train station, overwhelmed by the abundance of activity. Everything is chaotic and out of order. So, to make sense of it, Christopher does a math problem (math motif) to calm down. Christopher continually uses math problems as a means of calming down because he can order and make sense of them, unlike the real world. Thus, Christopher's math problem reveals the theme that humans desire to create order in a chaotic world.
    "Christopher, I'm really, really sorry. About everything. About Wellington. About the letters. About making you run away. I never meant..." (p.197). This is when Christopher's father finally gets the chance to apologize to Christopher. He realizes his wrong and is very willing to apologize to his son. Thus, he shows that we all have personal problems and handicaps we must overcome.
  • The name Christopher, meaning "carrying Christ," is significant. The biblical Saint Christopher was given this name because he carried Christ across a river. In the novel, Judy Boone tells Christopher that his name means being kind and helpful. However, Christopher doesn't want his name to be about someone being kind and helpful. He wants his name to be unique to him. Chris wanting a unique name for himself represents his trying to create order in life and an identity for himself. Thus, his name relates to the theme that humans desire order and structure in a chaotic world.

Major Themes

  • One theme that resurfaces throughout the novel is that we all have personal problems and handicaps that we must overcome. Throughout the novel, Christopher constantly struggles with the symptoms of his autism. He overcomes many of his issues in order to find Wellington's killer and get to London to see his mother. Christopher leaves the safety of his home and navigates his way through crowded train stations. In addition, Christopher's father has to overcome his personal problems with his ex-wife and his son. Mr. Boone ultimately tells Christopher the truth about his mother and Wellington but is able to regain his trust by the end of the novel.
  • Another theme is the desire for humans to create order and structure in a chaotic world. For example, Christopher understands math problems because they have definite answers and he can use logic to solve them. In addition, he uses pictures of people's faces to try to understand complex human emotions. Christopher creates rules for himself in order to keep his world structured as well.
  • Another important theme is that our actions are more important than our words. For example, Christopher’s father is angry with his ex-wife for leaving them. He defends himself by pointing out that all she did was write some letters, while he cared for Christopher, cooked his meals, clothed him, and loved him. The acts Christopher’s dad performed for him were much more important than the letters his mother wrote.
  • The fact that all humans worry about the future is another theme that resurfaces throughout the novel. We all, at some time or another, worry about what is to come – will we have enough money, food – will our job be secure – will our spouse remain faithful? Christopher too, worries about the future. When he does think about the future, his head hurts. However, Siobhan (his teacher) tells him to focus only on the present, for that is all he can control at the time. We should all try to follow Siobhan’s advice and worry less about the future and more about the present. We can only take things one step at a time and should just enjoy the good things that happen in our lives as they come.
  • Another theme that comes up often throughout the novel is that lying is often easier than telling the truth; we often lie when the truth seems too painful.For example, Mr. Boone lies to Christopher about his mother. Mr. Boone did not want to have to explain how his wife left them for another man. Instead, Mr. Boone created the lie that she had died.
  • Throughout the novel, we also see how trust is absolutely necessary for relationships to succeed. When Christopher learns that his father killed Wellington, he no longer trusts him and decides to run away. Christopher’s father has to earn his son’s trust back, which he does by the end of the novel. Mr. Boone tells Christopher that he would never hurt him. He also gives Christopher a puppy to apologize for killing Wellington.

Sources