Essay The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time
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In Mark Haddon's contemporary novel, "The curious incident of the dog in the Night-Time", the protagonist, Christopher Boone, does seem completely unsuited to narrating a novel, as he takes on his authorial voice, thus demonstrating symptoms of his disability, 'Asperger's Syndrome.' This is a syndrome that enables him to see the world only through his limited perspective, which is closed, frightened and disorientated - which results in his fear of, and inability to understand the perplexing world of people's emotions. His description of events can be somewhat unreliable as he is unable to see the real truths that lie before him. As he narrates, readers are confronted with his peculiarities - whether it is not liking to be touched, his fear…show more content…
However, what makes him a fascinating narrator is how he has learnt to deal with some of his phobias - as he also cannot bear loud noises, physical contact, strange people or unfamiliar places, he uses coping strategies such as 'groaning', 'screaming', 'hitting' fasting or even 'crawling' into small spaces. We see his distress at being grabbed by the policeman at the scene of Wellington the dog's death, which results in initiating one of his coping strategies, 'hitting'. Later we learn, Christopher attacks his father after his novel has been discovered. Overall, Christopher does convey to readers that his biggest underlying fear is of physical assault/illness, thus why he carries his 'Swiss Army Knife' and gets out the 'saw blade' when feeling scared. Christopher's phobias may suggest that he is unsuited to narrating a novel; however by including such accounts of how he deals with them single-handedly adds twists to the plot, as such sideline traits make the book readable apart from when he goes into excessive detail about mathematics and complex scientific explanations. Christopher is completely suitable to narrate this novel in a sense that he also caters for various audiences - people who live with or without the syndrome.
The most engaging aspects of Christopher's narrative include
There is a special type of first-person narrative that requires the reader to supply what the narrator cannot understand. Much of what "happens" in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not grasped by Christopher, its narrator. The reader comprehends, as Christopher never will, the farcical drama of parental discord that he witnesses. Even when he discovers the truth about his mother, but living in London with a lover, he has no idea of his father's reasons for lying (his cowardice and protectiveness).
Christopher, the book jacket tells you, has Asperger's syndrome, though this is never named in the novel. He has no understanding of others' emotions, though he doggedly records their symptoms. "He looked at me for a long time and sucked air in through his nose," he observes, when his father is, we infer, near despair. Yet requiring the reader to fill in these gaps allows for a tragicomic intuition of characters' feelings that a more adequate narrator could not manage.
The "inadequate narrator" is not an established critical term. Yet the more usual "unreliable narrator" seems inaccurate for a narrator who, however un-comprehending, is entirely trustworthy. We are not invited to be sceptical about what Christopher tells us. As he says several times, "I always tell the truth". Indeed, his very truthfulness is a kind of limitation on his understanding of the world. He cannot negotiate his way through conversations.
Narrative inadequacy is not so unusual in fiction. Think of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, whose narrator is qualified by her inarticulacy. We infer what she suffers through her inability to express it. Then there is the model for the inadequate narrator, the eponymous heroine of Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740). A 15-year-old servant girl, she is too innocent to comprehend the schemes of her predatory master, though we as readers see them all too clearly. These narrators are innocent, like Christopher, but they are also limited by their language. One effect is a satirical indictment of those nominally sophisticated adults whom each narrator describes and tries to understand.
Christopher's peculiar ingenuousness is as much fictional device as medical condition. You do not have to check him against a psychiatric textbook to believe in him as a narrator. The reader is left to piece together the meanings and motives of the characters around him; he never explains or interprets. "When I was little I didn't understand about other people having minds... But I don't find this difficult now." He has decided to turn life into a detective story, for "if something is a puzzle there is always a way of solving it".
The inadequate narrator lets us glimpse the inadequacies of all the adults he encounters. The reader senses the torments and forbearance of Christopher's father, uncomprehended by him. Christopher knows things about others only by their conventional signs. When his father shouts, this means anger. When there are tears "coming out of his eyes", he must be sad, though he wrongly and characteristically supposes that the cause must be the death of their neighbour's dog, Wellington.
Christopher is also detached from his own torments. When things become too much, he curls into a ball and hides in a small space, or simply screams. When he reads the letters from his mother that his father has hidden from him, he has no description to offer of his feelings, just an account of a kind of seizure. "I couldn't think of anything at all because my brain wasn't working properly." This is no figure of speech. When the patterns of thought and habits of behaviour on which he depends collapse, there is nothing else.
The irony is that his inadequacy as a guide to human psychology is balanced by a fastidious accuracy in matters of report. "I am really good at remembering things, like the conversations I have written down in this book, and what people were wearing, and what they smelled like." His exactitude shows up the evasions of the other characters. Imagining things is what makes Christopher frightened. "And this is why everything I have written here is true."
· John Mullan is senior lecturer in English at University College London
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