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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Study Guide

Mark Haddon

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Themes



Christopher clings to the truth because he believes truth is the simplest, most accurate explanation for any given phenomenon, helping to keep his mind from being overwhelmed by possibilities and fantasies. Even when complicated, the truth is still the simplest to remember and understand. Christopher is rigid in his interpretation of the truth. He does not like novels, metaphors, or anything without a solid basis in fact. He assumes whatever anyone tells him is true, which is why he has a hard time understanding jokes and literary devices, or how a person's tone can change the meaning of their words. He believes truth is absolute, like science, although this conflicts with one of his cherished beliefs: as science makes new discoveries, facts can be proven wrong. He sees no reason to doubt his father's story about his mother's illness and death, which is why the disclosure of that lie is the ultimate betrayal Christopher could experience.

Yet, while claiming to be consistently honest, Christopher has enough self-awareness to acknowledge that he sometimes manipulates facts and the truth for his own purposes. He tells "white lies"—omitting part of the truth—to his father, mother, and various police officers. For example, in Chapter 127 he uses semantics to try to convince his father he has not broken any of his promises. Christopher claims to want absolute truth, yet he is not above seeking out its gray areas to get his way. Christopher explains his relationship with the truth in a way that highlights his deeper understanding of morality: "I do not tell lies. Mother used to say that this was because I was a good person. But it is not because I am a good person. It is because I cannot tell lies." Christopher doesn't seek truth because it is morally just; he pursues truth because it is the least complicated solution to any given question or situation. He recognizes other people can be complicated, like the world and even himself, but he resents this fact, and complexity, as embodied by the nature of truth, becomes one of the novel's major conflicts.

Christopher's struggles with the truth also demonstrate his tendency toward amorality, a tendency he exhibits in numerous other ways: he reacts more strongly to the death of Wellington than his mother's seeming death, and his favorite dream involves the death of everyone on the planet who isn't like him, including his parents, who love and care for him. Like everyone else, he has a strong instinct for self-preservation. His mental condition makes it impossible, or nearly so, for him to show empathy for the feelings and needs of others. It isn't that Christopher feels nothing in regards to other's feelings and emotions; it is that he feels these too intensely to cope with them. Another of the novel's major conflicts is whether Christopher will learn to direct and manage his feelings appropriately or whether he will continue to allow them to overwhelm him.

Family and Forgiveness

Just as Christopher struggles with questions of morality, so do his parents, proving no matter what one's mental or emotional abilities, negotiating the terrain of human relationships is difficult and mistakes are easy to make. Mrs. Boone abandons her son because his behavioral problems overwhelm her and she finds herself unequal to the task of caring for him. Mr. Boone is so devastated by the loss of his wife he makes some poor choices: he lies about her whereabouts to Christopher and then digs himself a deeper hole by permanently erasing her from their lives. Proving his patience in handling Christopher's behavioral problems is little more than a façade, he cracks under pressure and takes it all out on Wellington, killing his friend's dog because he is hurt by the end of a relationship. Christopher's reaction to all this turmoil is surprising. He never seems as troubled by the knowledge of his mother's abandonment as he does about the lies of his father. Lies upset him. These eclipse Mrs. Boone's failures as a mother. In Christopher's mind, Mr. Boone commits two grave transgressions: he lies about his mother, and he lies about killing the neighbor's dog. For someone for whom speaking the truth is essential, the lies of his father are almost unforgivable. But he doesn't seem to understand or care his mother lied to his father.

Whether or not Christopher is angry with her, Mrs. Boone moves past any guilt she feels for walking away from her son and immediately reasserts her proper role in his life in the face of her lover's animosity. In Christopher's best interest, she returns to Swindon to face her ex-husband, and despite the tension between them, she works to reconcile father and son. The relationship between parents must find amicable ground to best serve Christopher. Mr. Boone and Christopher must also make sacrifices and work to restore their relationship after Mr. Boone's multiple betrayals. As Mr. Boone says, "This just hurts too much ... You have to learn to trust me ... This is more important than anything else." Bound together in a common struggle, the Boone parents make grievous errors but must learn to forgive each other and face their family struggles together in the interests of their son. Christopher, too, must struggle even harder to get on the path back to his family. Somehow he has to learn to forgive his parents, to learn to trust them again. For someone who shows little ability to see things from other's perspectives, this will be extremely difficult and take a long time.


Christopher Boone has a unique narrative style, strange behaviors, and a brilliant mind. He goes to "special" school and recognizes his excellence in comparison to others. He also recognizes his unusual behaviors and the problems "normal" teenagers don't have to deal with. While the novel clearly defines "normal" and "problematic" behaviors, it also acknowledges that "normal" is not necessarily "better." At the end of the novel he fantasizes about living in an apartment, working, and having a wife, so he clearly wants a "normal" life. He also relishes being "special," disparaging "stupid" people who believe in God, people who don't identify tiny details in new situations and don't try to understand complex mathematical proofs. He disparages Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, for thinking he could speak to his dead son through a medium, and his father for putting on his pants before his socks. He recognizes every person has "special needs" yet aren't given that label. Although Christopher goes to a special school for children with mental, emotional, and behavioral problems, he also has tremendous intellectual gifts and the potential for a fairly "normal," even noteworthy, successful future. He excels at his studies and pursues them with a passion which has the potential to make his life meaningful in ways most people's lives are not. He is certainly perseverant, something his parents take great pride in. Christopher's story sends an underlying message of tolerance for those outside "normal" society, even if instigated by an intolerant character.

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