Study Guide

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Language and Communication

By Mark Haddon

Language and Communication

Think of the most frustrating conversation you've ever had. Maybe it was with a customer service representative, or the voice on the loudspeaker in the drive-thru. The times when it just seemed like, although you and the other person were technically speaking the same language, you simply couldn't manage to be understood (or understand). This is what it's like for Christopher to talk to, well, anyone. He doesn't know the small quirks of language that we take for granted: the turns of phrase, the sarcasm, the slang, the lingo. You feel for him, because he's trying so hard, so earnestly hoping to communicate effectively. But in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the policeman, the shop owner, and the neighbor are all taken aback by Christopher's flat, straight way of speaking. What effect does this have on Christopher? How would things be different for him if he could better communicate himself, and better understand those around him?

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Christopher's mother wonders in her letters whether Christopher will be able to understand them. And although he never writes back, she continues to write him every week. Does this seem strange? Why is she writing these letters – for Christopher's benefit or her own?
  2. Christopher writes that when his parents lived together, they were constantly arguing. Do you think this has contributed to his trouble communicating well?
  3. For someone who has such trouble communicating with people, Christopher certainly succeeds in writing an engaging book. Should we be surprised by his ease with writing? How's written communication different from the spoken kind?
  4. Compare Christopher's conversations with Siobhan with his conversations with his father. How are they similar? How are they different?

Chew on This

Christopher claims to be unable to do "chatting" (67.67), yet all the quirky asides in his book are essentially a form of chatting.

Christopher says it's easy to communicate with animals because we can always tell what they're thinking. But here's another reason: often, when he speaks to a stranger, that person laughs at him for not knowing slang or for not understanding jokes. So, Christopher really likes talking to animals because they never ridicule him.