Study Guide

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Analysis

  • Tone


    This one's not too tough. Even our narrator knows he's detached:

    These are some of my Behavioural Problems
    A. Not talking to people for a long time [...]
    K. Not noticing that people are angry with me. (73.2)

    He doesn't like "chatting" or talking to people in general, and he hates being touched. He can't identify emotions in others, and has trouble recognizing them in himself. So it's no wonder that his attitude toward everything is pretty distant.

    Take a look at this passage:

    Father was standing in the corridor. He held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan. I held up my left hand and spread my fingers out in a fan and we made our fingers and thumbs touch each other. We do this because sometimes Father wants to give me a hug, but I do not like hugging people, so we do this instead, and it means that he loves me. (31.5)

    This is an incredibly sweet moment, we think. But we get the feeling that Christopher doesn't get that it's sweet. The subtle difference between "we do this instead, because he loves me" (not his words) and "we do this instead, and it means that he loves me" (his words) actually reveals massive difference in tone. He knows what things mean (that's why he's so good with logic), but he just doesn't feel them.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That's quite a hefty title. Let's take a closer look.

    Christopher really likes Sherlock Holmes, and he constructs his own book as a murder mystery along the lines of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. As such, he chooses a title similar to Doyle's own, like "The Adventure of the Empty House," or The Hound of the Baskervilles, which Christopher describes at length.

    One crucial difference between Christopher's title and Doyle's is that, as his teacher Siobhan notes (7.7), most murder mysteries are concerned with a person's murder, not the murder of a dog. But Christopher argues that the murder of a dog is just as interesting as the murder of a person. Throughout the story, Christopher seems to be able to connect to animals better than he connects to humans, so we see where he's coming from.

    We might also point out that in the book's first paragraph, all the elements of the title are introduced and explained: it's shortly after midnight, there's a dead dog lying on the lawn, and the narrator is unsure how and why it came to be there, and why it's dead. The title, perfectly matter-of-fact, is a nice encapsulation of Christopher's "Writing Style."

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has an awesome ending that reminds us of the introduction. That's what we call some satisfying symmetry. We wouldn't expect anything less from someone as math-loving as our narrator, though. What we might not expect is the pretty red bow with which he wraps it up.

    To be sure, it's a very happy ending, but it actually comes as a bit of a surprise. Things had been getting worse and worse for Christopher for the whole second half of the book, and then with only a few pages from the end, things still aren't looking so good. He writes, "there were more bad things than good things" (233.137). Among them, Toby dies. (RIP Toby. We hardly knew ye.)

    But then everything turns around in pretty short order. What's the catalyst for such a change? Well, let's see. Christopher's father makes yet another heart-wrenching apology, which totally doesn't move Christopher. But then… he buys him a puppy! And Christopher is very, very happy about that. The puppy will have to live with Christopher's father (his mom's place is too small), so that will presumably help them reconnect.

    Then Christopher finds out that he got the highest possible grade on his exam. In the months that follow, he begins planting a garden with his father, and studying for the next big math exam. More than anything, though, what makes the ending so joyous, and pretty inspirational, is Christopher's final reflection on his adventure in the book's final sentence:

    And 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. (233.170)

    A fine ending, indeed.

  • Setting

    Swindon, England; London, England. Present day.

    This book is as inescapably English as… fish and chips, or bangers and mash, or tea and crumpets, or [insert your own favorite quintessentially English foodstuff]. The similarities come up in the little things: Christopher watches David Attenborough on TV (149.60), his mother reads a biography of Princess Diana (233.112), and his father insists on staying home on a Saturday to watch a football (as in, soccer) match between England and Romania (67.1). However, we can assume Christopher has no sense of being English, and no connection to his fellow Englishmen in general.

    This puts him in an interesting position of presenting an accurate picture of life in his home country, while also being completely unaware that English culture might in any way be unique. Surely he would notice, if he went somewhere else, that things there were different, and he would probably call those things "weird" and have a difficult time with them. That said, he does recall having once been to France, but only mentions their speaking a different language (67.4). His conclusion from that experience is to come away simply "Hating France" (73.2). And, really, what's more English than that?

    Back to the details, though. The first half of the book takes place within a remarkably small area – what Christopher himself describes as "home, or school, or the bus, or the shop, or the street" (181.2). These are the places where he feels comfortable, because, as he claims, "I have seen almost everything in it beforehand and all I have to do is to look at the things that have changed or moved" (181.2). Christopher's familiarity with these places comes through in his writing – his familiarity is somehow contagious, and even without much by way of detailed description, we feel like we know them ourselves.

    As he moves outward in concentric circles of unfamiliarity, he draws us diagrams of these new places. While these new maps supposedly help us know these places better (for example, the layout of his neighborhood), they also really heighten what uncharted territories they are.

    In the second half of the book, when Christopher tries to step outside of this familiar space, he's completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliar things: not only their number, but their size and intensity. And the way he describes things is accordingly wrapped in a mixed-up confusion. The diagrams get more and more complicated (for example, the train station) and then devolve into lists of postal codes, like "London NW2 5NG" (211.40), and subway stops (211.54).

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Written from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy, this book is quite easy to follow. The language is crisp and clear, and very approachable. There are delightful lists and diagrams and illustrations, and once the big plot twists start turning, we're carried effortlessly through the short text.

  • Writing Style

    Matter-of-Fact, Explicative

    Christopher Boone says what he means – sometimes to a fault. And this matter-of-factness is clearest in his writing style. Yep, that's right – Christopher's writing style, not Mark Haddon's. (We're pretty sure our author, Mark Haddon, doesn't actually write this way.)

    We'll throw an example your way, but you could flip to any page of this book and find an equally relevant passage:

    But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burnt and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn't ask at the crematorium because I didn't go to the funeral. (61.12)

    This is some pretty heavy stuff for a kid to think about – his mother's death, that is – but Christopher is still matter-of-fact and very informative. Everywhere in the book, he explains everything in great detail, but never seems to interpret what he's describing. He'd make a great textbook author. What do you say, Chris?

  • Imagery

    We can't think of another book with such an uncomfortable relationship with imagery. Just check out this passage, in which Christopher writes directly about his use of imagery in the book:

    Siobhan said that when you are writing a book you have to include some descriptions of things. I said that I could take photographs and put them in the book. But she said the idea of a book was to describe things using words so that people could read them and make a picture in their own head.

    And she said it was best to describe things that were interesting or different.

    She also said that I should describe people in the story by mentioning one or two details about them, so that people could make a picture of them in their head. Which is why I wrote about Mr. Jeavons' shows with all the holes in them and the policeman who looked as if he had two mice in his nose and the thing Rhodri smelled of but I didn't know the name for. (103.27-29)

    Pretty cool, right? That's a good starting point for any discussion of the importance of imagery in literature, we'd say. From there we might go one level deeper, and explore the nature of these images, and what they mean on a symbolic level – yes, quite deep.

    If we were talking about Shakespeare, say, or The Great Gatsby, this would keep us busy for days and days. But Christopher isn't so interested in that, so let's stay focused here for a second. He goes out to the garden and describes what he sees, and hears, and smells, concluding, "But I couldn't smell anything. It smelled of nothing. And this was interesting, too" (103.39).

    For this reason, perhaps the best example of detailed imagery in the book comes from other folks instead. Christopher's mother fantasizes about the man she could have married if she hadn't married Christopher's father:

    And he'd be, ooh, a local handyman. [...] And we'd have a veranda with figs growing over it and there would be a field of sunflowers at the bottom of the garden and a little town on the hill in the distance and we'd sit outside in the evening and drink red wine and smoke Gauloises cigarettes and watch the sun go down. (113.11)

    Wow, sounds pretty idyllic, right? We simply adore figs… it's pretty easy to see how this is both a nice fantasy to hold onto, as well as a vivid contrast to the drabness of her life and her disastrous marriage.

    That said, Christopher's ability to describe the world around him is, paradoxically, limited – rather than truly expanded – by the rather unique way he sees the world. As he says himself, "I see everything" (181.1). He can't simply pluck out a portion of a landscape, or a specific aspect of the environment and focus on that. Nope, he notices every single thing, down to the tiniest detail – and is not very good at knowing which things are more important than others.

    The best examples of this arrive in the second half of the book, when he's absolutely bombarded by sensory stimuli, and sees things he's never seen before. Our favorite is when he arrives in London and tries to figure out where to go by reading all the signs surrounding him (211.27). While at first he can read them no problem, soon they pile on top of one another and jumble up all together until they're just a nonsensical block of hieroglyphics, perfectly representing Christopher's mental state.

  • Prime Numbers

    Shmoop doesn't need to do much for this one because Christopher pretty much lays it out for us:

    Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. (19.6)

    Prime numbers are like life. Period. Do you agree? Why do you think Christopher chose to use prime numbers to number his chapters?

  • Broken Glass (in the framed photo)

    Talking about symbolism in The Curious Incident is a little tricky. Christopher goes out of his way to intentionally include some imagery in his book, but symbolism, on the other hand, totally escapes him.

    So, occasionally, when we do see symbolic importance in an event, we have to think of the real-life author (i.e. Mark Haddon) at work. One easy example of this is comes near the book's conclusion, when Mr. Shears arrives at Christopher's house carrying a cardboard box filled with his mother's things (233.112). He climbs out of the cab, throws the box angrily into the front yard, and when it lands, a framed photo of Christopher falls out of the box and the glass smashes onto the grass.

    Yep, there's no avoiding it – this is some heavy-handed symbolism. It's like in a horror movie, when the young woman says, "I'm just going to go down to the basement to find a flashlight," and thunder booms overhead, lightning flashing in the window. In this case, the photo smashing can point to any number of things:

    • Christopher's role in the messy end of their relationship
    • Christopher's rekindled relationship with his mother, making photo memories unnecessary
    • Or perhaps even Christopher's fragile connection to his own identity (see our section on his identity in "Themes").

    What we do know is this moment is not at all unintentional.

  • Colored Cars

    Christopher has a system for determining what his day will like, and it all depends on the color of the cars he passes on his way to school. This system is definitely representative of the order and structure that Christopher needs in his daily life in order to not be in constant freak-out mode.

    But then, one day, his system gets disrupted:

    And the next morning I looked out of the window in the dining room to count the cars in the street to see whether it was going to be a Quite Good Day or a Good Day or a Super Good Day or a Black Day, but it wasn't like being on the bus to school because you could look out of the window for as long as you wanted and see as many cars as you wanted and I looked out of the window for three hours and I saw 5 red cars in a row and 4 yellow cars in a row which meant it was both a Good Day and a Black Day so the system meant it was both a Good Day and a Black Day so the system didn't work any more. (229.43)

    Christopher realizes that the rules of his world are no longer useful in this scary new world in which he finds himself. But more than that, this sudden disorder symbolizes the chaos that has taken over in his life where order and logic once reigned.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Christopher Boone)

    If you read our thoughts on "Why Should I Care?", you know how important the narrator is to this story. Actually, if you read the book, you know how important the narrator is to this story.

    Christopher Boone is a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome. We dare you to find another book told from that point-of-view. This kid sees the world in a way we would never imagine on our own, and because the story is told in the first person, we get a VIP pass into his brain.

    How would this story be different if it were told in the third person and we only heard about Christopher instead of from him? Reading Christopher's own take on the world helps us empathize with him, sure, but it also opens our minds to the possibility of seeing the world through a different lens. And that's an opportunity we'll seize, thank you very much.

      • Allusions

        Literary References

        • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (7.7, 107.1-21,)
        • Sherlock Holmes (47.6, 107.1-2, 139.1, 179.25)
        • Doctor Watson (47.6, 107.1-21, 179.25, 179.68)
        • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (139.1, 139.6, )
        • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (89.1)
        • Georgette Heyer, The Masqueraders (113.4)
        • The Boscombe Valley Mystery (179.25)
        • The Sign of the Four (179.68)
        • Shakespeare's Globe (181.2)
        • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (233.104, 233.111)

        Historical and Biblical References

        • St. Christopher (29.8)
        • Jesus Christ (47.6)
        • "And in The Bible it says Thou shalt not kill but there were the Crusades and two World Wars and the Gulf War and there were Christians killing people in all of them" (59.5)

        Pop Culture References