A Child Called It | Study Guide

Dave Pelzer

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Course Hero. "A Child Called It Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 Feb. 2019. Web. 11 Aug. 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Child-Called-It/>.

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Course Hero. "A Child Called It Study Guide." February 7, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Child-Called-It/.


Course Hero, "A Child Called It Study Guide," February 7, 2019, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Child-Called-It/.

A Child Called It | Themes


Impact of Mental Illness on Family

In a family, the basic needs of love, safety, food, and shelter are provided. Dave Pelzer shows how these ideals are upended when a parent is mentally ill. Rather than ensuring his safety, his mother becomes the main threat to it. This causes Dave to respond to his mother more out of fear than love, though he does love her and craves her love in return. As the abuse intensifies, Dave is deprived of food, adequate clothing, warmth, and even shelter as he is made to sit outside in wet clothing. While Dave's brothers are praised and encouraged, contributing to their sense of self-worth, Dave's mother withholds any encouragement from Dave, even when he wins a contest.

Being a part of a family means having a sense of position and belonging, but Dave's family members value their own survival over his as they are controlled by their mother's anger and bizarre behavior. Dave moves from feeling like he is a part of a "Brady Bunch-like" family where he is valued by his parents to losing his position as a son. As Dave's mother's alcoholism and bizarre behaviors increase, Dave is gradually disenfranchised from the family. His punishments separate him physically from the family. Initially, he is made to stand in the corner. Then he is not allowed to eat meals with them. Eventually he sleeps in the garage. The physical separation evolves into emotional separation as his brothers join in the neglect and abuse, possibly to ensure their own well-being, given the lack of safety and security they sense.

The status of family members is communicated by a family's language. Dave initially refers to his mother as "Mother." This shifts to "that bitch," and then "the Bitch," indicating she no longer occupies the position of mother to him. Similarly, Dave's mother calls him "the boy" and then "It," indicating she no longer affords him status as a son. Dave also refers to his home as "her house" to indicate it is the place she controls.

Parental Care and Self-Worth

Parent-child interactions play a critical role in communicating a sense of self-worth to a child and contributing to the child's developing sense of self-esteem. In the Pelzer home, the parents' treatment of Dave strips him of not only a healthy sense of self-esteem but also of all human dignity. As they deprive him of physical affection, care, food, and clothing, Dave begins to both feel and act more like an animal than a human being.

Self-esteem grows as family members encourage one another and share accomplishments, and Dave experiences such encouragement as a young child. When his mother teaches him to swim at a young age, she expresses pride in his accomplishment, nurturing his sense of self-worth. However, over time, she distances Dave from all the family's happy times: traveling together, sharing meals, and engaging in holiday traditions. Told he is a "bad boy," he begins to believe he is undeserving of love; called an "It," he loses all sense of self-worth and desires death. Readers come away from Pelzer's story with the impression that only those early years of encouragement, the faint support of his father, and Dave's own self-will saved him from a terrible fate.

Strength of the Human Spirit

Despite the horrific treatment Dave Pelzer endures, he exhibits a will to survive and the ability to imagine a better life. In addition, he maintains remarkable hope that his situation will improve.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Dave expresses faith in his parents long after they have lost his trust. Though time after time, Dave's superhero image of his father proves faulty, he remains steadfast in his view of his father as protector. When Dave's mother exhibits some kindness toward him, he believes she has changed.

The scene in the Epilogue as Dave revisits the places of his childhood with his son indicates he has survived with his spirit intact. He breaks the cycle of abuse, giving and receiving love from his son. He views his experiences as having contributed to his strength. By naming his son Stephen, Dave indicates he has forgiven his father for failing him and, instead, chooses to honor him.

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