Study Guide

Todd Hewitt in The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)

By Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt

So let's face it: As far as heroes go, Todd is on the cranky end of the spectrum. He's not a jerk or anything, but we definitely would not want to get stuck in a broken elevator with him, or be around him after he failed a test. Especially since we'd have to hear all his cranky thoughts, too, in addition to his words.


Todd throwing a tantrum is like snow in the North Pole (well, if there was land in the North Pole)—in other words, it's a regular occurrence. See, dude is a fighter, but not because he knows how to throw a good punch (he often doesn't). No, by fighter we mean he argues. Constantly. With everyone he meets. Maybe it's the world he's grown up in, maybe it's his personality, but Todd won't take anything without a huge fuss.

And we're talking about things that clearly are for his own good. For example, when Ben sends him Todd for his own protection, Todd's reaction is "No it's not all right. It's not all right at all" (4.93), despite Ben's obvious concern and the fact that Ben has been looking out for him for, oh, say, pretty much his entire life up to this point.

You'd think Todd might learn to get along with the nicest, most mild mannered, and only girl he's ever met, but instead, he's always on Viola's case. When they're staying at Hildy and Tam's place, he storms off after a fight he starts with her:

I grab my sheets and blanket under my arm and I stomp off to the room where we ate. I throw them on the floor and lay down, a room away from Viola and all her meaningless, evil quiet. (16.81)

You showed her, buddy… In Todd's defense, to him, quiet is evil since it isn't something he understands. Is it a sort of rash assumption? Yes, but the poor guy is being chased and has been driven from his home, so we'll cut him a little slack when it comes to heightened suspicions.

There's good news, though: Todd's bark is way worse than his bite. He may kick and scream through every page, but it turns out that what actually defines him in the story is that he's not actually a dangerous guy. Unlike the other Prentisstown dudes, Todd's innocent of crime. He just likes to put on a show.

Consider this: When Todd first discovers the hole in the Noise, he's so moved that he actually tears up. Sweet, right? But then Manchee teases him for his display, and Todd's response to his dog's taunts reveal our main man's true nature: "'Shut up,' I say and aim a kick at him. It misses on purpose" (1.115). See? Bad bark, but no bite whatsoever.

Because he's a softie trying to be a tough guy, Todd's pretty insecure. Despite his efforts to be hardcore, the real Todd always shines through the cracks. This is really shown in his narration. For instance: "I think and I'm so hacked off, still raging with anger and hate (and fear, yes fear, shut up) that I don't even look round to see if Aaron heard my Noise" (1.41). You know who he's telling to shut up? Us, his readers. So yeah, insecure is definitely the word for this dude.

Which leaves us with one question: If he's really a softie, why is Todd such a jerk? Read on.

You Can Take the Boy Out of Prentisstown, But You Can't Take Prentisstown Out of the Boy

Todd's anger reflects the anger of Prentisstown. He describes the Noise, which "washes down the hill like a flood let loose right at me, like a fire, like a monster the size of the sky come to get you cuz there's nowhere to run" (2.20). Sounds terrible, right? This Noise is full of complaints and groaning about life, and there's nothing Todd can do to stop it since it's all other people's thoughts. To drive home how harsh living like this is, the author presents the Noise in scratchy, bold, nasty-looking fonts. No wonder Todd's not the happiest of campers.

Here's the other thing: Todd doesn't know anything outside of this unhappiness. He's never left Prentisstown when we meet him—heck, he's been told there isn't anywhere else to go—so he holds no hope for a different sort of life. When he first hears a non-Prentisstown Noise, he's shocked: "He's got Noise like pouring out of him like a bright parade, all full of unwelcome welcome and pushy good feeling" (15.8). Todd's mind is basically blown. His whole life, he's assumed that everyone is angry and hateful; it's all he's known.

In this sense, we can see Todd as an innocent victim of his society. He can't help his bad behavior to a certain point. Ooh, did we say innocent victim? Yeah, we totally did. And that brings us to our next point.

Innocent Victim

Despite the attitude, there's one thing that kind of defines Todd in the story: He's not a killer. Pretty much everyone he meets tells him this—they're all, "And that's why yer so very special, ain't you? The boy who can't kill" (41.82). But before you withhold your high-fives for acts of basic human decency, remember that in Prentisstown, this makes him exceptional in the truest sense of the word. He's the only person with no blood on his hands.

As the last kid left in town, Todd's been raised like a lamb for the slaughter. How so? He's the only thing standing in the way of Prentisstown being totally united as a community built by and for murderers. Aaron tells him:

"You were the final test, the last boy. The one that completes us. With you in the army, there's no weak link. We would be truly blessed. If one of us falls, we all fall, Todd." (41.80)

Coming of age in Prentisstown involves killing a sacrifice—you're simply not a man until you do—and Todd is the last holdout on this requirement. Not on purpose, mind you, but simply because he's the youngest one in town and, as such, his time to kill hasn't yet come. In theory, though, once Todd kills, too, all of Prentisstown will be united as criminals. Todd bounces before this can happen, though.

For a long time Todd doesn't really realize what makes him different because he doesn't know about the whole murder-to-be-a-man ritual in Prentisstown. And because he can't figure out why he's different, he fights himself—a lot. When he finally does learn the truth, it's the biggest power trip ever. He realizes that it's the best weapon he could use:

I'm ready. I realize I am ready. Everything that's happened has brought me here, to this place, with this knife in my hand and something worth saving. (41.5)

Quite the revelation, right? Everyone else may have already crossed over to the dark side, but Todd has the power to throw a wrench in the whole system, to choose to behave otherwise and, in doing so, set a new course for both himself and the process of becoming a man. It's a pretty big deal, and the fact that he's not guilty defines Todd in the story.

Ignorance is Bliss… Right?

So we've established that Todd has been fed lies his whole life, and we've established that while he knows that he needs to get away from Prentisstown, he doesn't know why, so now let's look at the fine print here.

Wait a second, though…Wait, wait wait…

You may have caught this detail—gold star if you did—but if you didn't, we're going to let the cat out of the bag: Todd actually knows what's up all along. Well, at least about becoming a man in Prentisstown. Mind blown? Let's take a look.

Todd does a very good job of pretending that he doesn't know what's going on, but that's what he's doing: pretending. See, he gives us hints of things that he sees in other people's Noise, stuff that he ignores on purpose. For instance, when he's asking Ben why he has to leave Prentisstown before his birthday, he sees something in his Noise:

One month's time is the first thing it says, and there it all is… how every last bit of boyhood is killed off… holy crap… and I don't want to say no more about it. And I can't say how it makes me feel. (5.50)

Ladies and gentlemen, right there—in Chapter 5—Todd finds out about the whole murder-to-become-a-man schtick in Prentisstown. And he proceeds to pretend to know nothing about it. This says something really important about Todd: Even though he wants so badly to be a man, he's actually avoiding it. He doesn't want to be this kind of man, to face whatever manhood in Prentisstown entails.

Near the end, when Ben tells Todd the out and out truth about Prentisstown, he says, "I know where it's heading. And I changed my mind. I don't want to finish. But I do, too" (36.63). All along then, tucked amongst the fuss about growing up, is Todd's desire to be a different kind of man. So while he may say he doesn't know why he's running, or what he's running to, the truth is that he does. And while there are books left in the series, as this installment ends, we're feeling pretty confident he's found it.