Here is a typical student essay written with my assistance (Dr Jennifer Minter/English Works Notes, 2017)
IN THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME CHRISTOPHER BOON IS MORE GIFTED THAN LIMITED.
There is no doubt that Christopher’s autistic disposition limits his personal growth and affects his relationships with others. Using the first-person narrative perspective and incorporating diagrams and graphs into his story, Hadden encourages readers to recognize the limitations of Christopher’s emotional and social world. To show Christopher’s awareness of his emotional shortcomings, Hadden lists from A to R his narrator’s list of “Behaviour Problems” (59) . Most of these “problems” relate to his insensitivity towards people. “K” involves: “Not noticing that people are angry with me.” When Christopher is holding Wellington in Mrs. Shears’ front garden, she screams “What in fuck’s name have you done to my dog?” Christopher misunderstands Mrs. Shear’s emotional reaction to the death of Wellington and Haddon suggests that Christopher thinks he is doing her a favor by finding out who killed him. For similar reasons, Christopher struggles to cope with double meanings and ambiguity such as metaphors and puns and this inability affects his emotional attachments. Christopher interprets the metaphors in a literal manner and so cannot fully understand what they mean. He states “I didn’t know what the third degree was”, he is not sure about the meaning of “let’s rustle up some tucker” and the complex nuances of “white lies” and “people’s business ” also escape him.
Owing to Christopher’s emotional limitations, he contributes to the disintegration of his family. He is aware that he causes stress, but is unable to minimize it and for this reason, as his mother’s letters reveal, she reached “the end of her tether” . When Christopher discovers that his father hid the mother’s letters he emotionally disintegrates and is unable to realise the complexity of his father’s dilemma. Whilst Christopher’s world literally crumbles, and he feels sick, he is particularly annoyed that his father told a lie. “I couldn’t trust him because he told me a lie about big thing”. Christopher completely overreacts to the lies and the sense of betrayal and this leaves him vulnerable and miserable. “I felt giddy, it was like the room was swinging from side to side as if it was the top of a really tall building.” Christopher believed that his father is just as capable of killing him as he is of killing wellington. IN this regard, Haddon includes the letters personally and spontaneously written by Christopher’s mother to invite readers to see her distressed emotional mindset. She explains: “I was at the end of my tether.” (134) In her stream-of-consciousness style, Haddon reveals that she was close to a nervous breakdown. Christopher’s mother said “I remember that night I just cried and cried and cried.”
Through Hadden’s sensitive characterization of Christopher, readers also become aware that his limitations also become the source of his strength. Hadden uses prime numbers for chapter numbers and includes diagrams to reveal Christopher’s singular and remarkable talent in mathematics. For this reason he is encouraged by Siobhan to do his A levels because of his superior talent. He is aware that mathematically he is talented, “I am intelligent” (83) and his interest in maths stems from (78). Haddon demonstrates Christopher’s exceptional mathematical gifts when Christopher works out a challenging math sum “”I thought about this and said,’216,864’. Because it was a really easy sum because you just multiply 864 x 1,000 which is 864,000. Then you divide it by 4 which is 216,000 and that’s 250 x 864. Then you just add another 864 on it to get 251 x 864. And that’s 216,864.” (84) Haddon uses Christopher’s obsession with Sherlock Holmes to explain his particular ability to detach his mind from situations and be objective (92). “And this is like me too, because if I get really interested in something, like practicing maths, or reading a book about the Apollo missions, Great White sharks, I don’t notice anything else. “Christopher says, “I detach my mind at will and concentrate on the board and after a while the person I am playing will stop concentrating and then they will make a mistake and I will win “(92) Owing to his talent he has plans to complete his A levels and pursue a maths and/or physics degree (267).
Hadden suggests that it is ironic that his greatest limitation, which is to forgive and to understand his father’s pain and love also becomes the source of another gift, which is to have the courage to challenge the security of his emotional boundaries. During his trip to London he takes significant risks. Inadvertently, Christopher challenges the limits of his autistic disability and confronts his worst fears. The trip to London leads to considerable personal growth, strength and it also challenges his mother and father to accept responsibility for their decisions, their lies, and their personal problems that contributed to their separation. Christopher’s courage and risk-taking lead to a horrifying journey in which Christopher learns to confront his fears of confined spaces, unfamiliar territory and sensory overload. Haddon suggests that when a situation is chaotic, Christopher needs to simplify it and re work it from a logical and familiar perspective. This becomes his strength when he is the underground railway station and does not know where to go.
Haddon uses the trip to London to show readers how a disability such as autism does not necessarily limit an individual’s growth and that sometimes limits can lead to personal growth and stimulate confidence. “I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of who killed Wellington and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.”