Rampenthal, Analysis: Curious Incident

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time made me feel… sad. That seems to differ from everyone else’s thoughts on the book. I don’t think the book is bad by any means, but I when I finished it I felt bummed, not hopeful.

Christopher has two severely dysfunctional parents, parents that he is stuck with. His own mother abandoned him and no amount of letters can make up for that. His father is verbally and physically abusive to him. His father also brutally stabs a dog. Stop and think about that – he killed a dog in a fit of rage. That’s not a normal act. Stabbing a dog (or any animal) is psychotic. I wouldn’t go near him again if he was my father. But Christopher’s choices are limited and he is stuck with his awful parents. This made me think of all of the autistic children in real life and all of the terrible parents out there. What are the chances that every autistic child has a patient and understanding parent? Zero. I imagine there are autistic children out there that have it much worse than Christopher. In fact, I looked it up and found that 1 in 5 autistic children have been physically abused and 1 in 6 have been sexually abused. Other sources say children with disabilities are twice as likely to be abused than their neurotypical peers. Due to their difficulties communicating, autistic children make perfect targets for predators.

I know that other readers of this book were left with feelings of hope, but I just can’t see it that way. Just because it ended on a semi-decent note doesn’t mean that everything is ok. Christopher’s parents may seem better at the end, but it’s naïve to think that everything will stay ok. There will be more fights, more drama, and more bad parenting.

Then there is college. The book ends with Christopher’s dream of going to college. While people with ASD can and do go to college, succeeding there is easier said than done due to the fact that there are very few colleges with autism support. The UK, where the book is set, does seem to offer more help to autistic students than the US does. But either way, college isn’t a cake walk for someone with ASD (or even for someone who is neurotypical).

I feel like this post may seem really pessimistic, but I think I am being a realist. The book ends so hopeful and that just doesn’t feel real to me.  Life is hard for all of us, but it’s especially difficult for someone who is autistic.

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2 thoughts on “Rampenthal, Analysis: Curious Incident

  1. Trevor Sundelius

    Amanda,

    I felt a similar feeling as soon as I learned of Christopher’s dad and his deceit. From there on for me, the book turned very pessimistic. On personal levels, I have no tolerance for disloyalty or affairs in any relationship, but you’re right when you said it was hard to get hopeful again. There were so many things to be kind of concerned about that it made it hard to look past. From the initial murder of a dog (who does that?) by a woman his dad was in a romantic relationship with, his mother abandoning them, his dad telling him she’s been dead, and then the friction caused when he lives with her and Mr. Shears are all just a few examples of how this book can take on a very negative context.

    If we jump into a time machine and travel back to when we were 15 years old, I feel like Christopher could have handled it better than a lot of us could have. All of this time thinking your father and mother were in a normal, loving relationship until her untimely death, only to find out about all of the drama, the lies and the fact it was all hidden from you as opposed to the parents just getting a divorce. Based on a little digging through the Center for Autism Research’s website, I found that there are really and legitimately no major differences in divorce rates or common concerns of parents with children with ASD or parents with neurotypical children.

    So my argument is that a lot of the confliction, danger and exposure to things he was too young to handle could have all been handled much differently, possibly through a divorce. It’s not always the answer, but considering the infidelity concerns and eventual, arguably emotional abuse his father caused Christopher, it very well could have been warranted. But alas, that wouldn’t be such an interesting story, would it? I feel for Christopher, especially considering he put his life in danger to find his estranged mother and to live with her after losing trust in his father and what she had done prior.

    Again, the only real bright spot that made me happy for Christopher was his A-Grade exam. But as you mentioned, college is a whole other animal that no one in his class really can warn him about, and with his parents obviously having things more important to them going on, I am honestly impressed he wants anything to do with either of them whatsoever. He did solve his mystery and sharpen some of his deductive reasoning skills, much like a younger Sherlock Holmes, but at the price he paid…was it worth it? He almost got hit by a train, traveled all the way to London alone as a prime target for predators and was even in taken to the precinct by police officers after assaulting one of them during a loss of control. That doesn’t very much sound like a heart-warming, courageous adventure. But rather a depression-driven, irrational escape attempt that he can blame on the very poor decisions of his parents.

    Source: https://www.carautismroadmap.org/is-divorce-more-common-in-families-living-with-asd/

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  2. schillererica

    I, too, found this novel to be rather sad and depressing, not only because of the problems with Christopher’s portrayal (which others have discussed in their posts), but also because of the way his parents handled or failed to handle their own problems.

    Rather than portraying accurately the struggles of an autistic teenager, I think this novel focuses more on the struggles of parents with autistic children. Most if not all of the action of the novel–the death of Mrs. Shears’ dog, his mother’s supposed death and affair–resulted not from struggles Christopher himself was having, but from the struggles and stresses of his parents. The novel was as much about how his parents coped as it was about how he coped, which I found interesting.

    The biggest sorrow I felt while reading this book came from the way both his parents’ struggles seemed to be real, honest mistakes. The main thought I had on them after it was all over was, “They did the best they could.” Both parents, father and mother, clearly had some serious issues and deep character flaws, but they also both obviously loved their son and wanted him to be happy and safe. I think Christopher’s father definitely had some sort of psychotic break when he killed the dog; considering all the stress he was under, the man could probably have benefited from some serious counseling. I am glad that Christopher’s mother does seem to have gotten help, since Christopher mentions she starts taking medication to make her “happier,” but I feel as though both parents could benefit from some sort of outside assistance beyond what seems to be provided by Christopher’s school. Raising a child is difficult and stressful, and many parents need counseling at some point during their child’s growth. I suppose the happy part of the story is that neither of his parents gave up or walked out on his life–they do both seem to be trying.

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