Background and Purpose

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime (2003) is the first novel of British writer Mark Haddon. His first-person narrator is an autistic teenager, a savant in math and physics, but an innocent in every other respect. At 15, the protagonist must learn by rote how to understand and navigate the frightening world of emotions, including his own. Some critics have hailed Christopher as a new kind of postmodern hero, but his voice is as distinctive as that of Huck Finn, Holden Caulfield, or David Copperfield. In the passages below (“chapters” are numbered using only prime numbers), we encounter Siobhan, Christopher’s main teacher and counselor at his school for children with special needs.

The Reading Excerpt

Chapter 29.

I find people confusing.

This is for two main reasons.

The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.”

Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose, it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry, and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.

The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors

     I laughed my socks off.

     He was the apple of her eye.

     They had a skeleton in the cupboard.

     We had a real pig of a day.

     The dog was stone dead.

The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it comes from the Greek words (which means from one place to another) and (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.

I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.

My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words  Χριστός (which means Jesus Christ) and Φepeiv and it was the name given to St. Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.

This makes you wonder what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story, which means that it is a lie, too.

Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.

Chapter 71.

All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are. I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.

But Siobhan said we have to use those words because people used to call children like the children at school spaz and crip and mong, which were nasty words. But that is stupid too because sometimes the children from the school down the road see us in the street when we’re getting off the bus and they shout, “Special Needs! Special Needs!” But I don’t take any notice because I don’t listen to what other people say and only sticks and stones can break my bones and I have a Swiss Army knife if they hit me and if I kill them it will be self-defense and I won’t go to prison.

Using Skills To Understand The Passage

Discussion Questions

1.  What is the basis of Christopher’s confusion about people? What skills does he lack that most children learn effortlessly in their earliest years? What do we discover in the first 13 lines about the limitation of verbal communication?

2.  What do we learn throughout the passage from chapter 29 about the limitation of literal thinking? What kind of meaning to metaphors “Carrie “? What is the value of connotations? Why does Christopher want his name to signify only himself?

3.  The passage from chapter 71 concerns euphemisms, which Christopher might well have told you is a word that comes from the Greek ev meaning good and Φnui meaning speak. As he points out, modern British children are taught that words like  spasticcripple, and mongoloid are “nasty“ and the label “special needs“ is to be substituted. What ironic effect does this change have on connotation? Why does Christopher’s analysis of the situation tell us about the nature of meaning?

Writing Prompt

Dramatic irony results when a narrator understands less than the reader. Analyze how dramatic irony works in these passages and discuss its overall effect on the reader.

Peer Feedback Instructions

Please reply to at least one of your classmate’s responses.

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