Curious Incident Big Idea No 1: We understand our world through language
This is the first post in our series called 5 Big Ideas. It is Big Idea No 1 from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Each week we will cover a new Big Idea from an HSC text or related text so make sure you subscribe to our blog to get all of our posts. If you want us to cover a text that you are studying, leave a comment and let us know which one you would like us to look at next.
One of the main ideas Mark Haddon explores in the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is the importance of language as a mediator for how we experience the world around us. Some of our experiences are ‘real’ (in the sense that they are physical) and we see this at the opening of the novel when Christopher touches the dead dog Wellington in order to show his sadness. He doesn’t need to express this in words. It is a universal experience - we all have the same emotions and they happen in a kind of pre-linguistic (before language) phase. But soon after the opening chapter we see that the language we commonly use to explain and understand our emotions and the emotions of others doesn’t quite make sense in Christopher’s world - and it immediately creates problems when he hits a policeman. When it comes to communication Christopher has some very distinctive beliefs and habits. The examples that he draws from the world of mathematics and science show this. It would be easy to say that this is because Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome but Haddon is not showing us just what happens in that particular case. He is using Christopher’s example to show how we all rely on language to help us understand ourselves and the world - and we all have our own distinctive beliefs and rules that we use, it’s just that usually we don’t think about them or become conscious of them. Christopher’s difference isn’t there to show that he is not like us - it is to show that we are all Christopher. We all have to guess at what others are thinking, or what the rules of a social situation are, or why we behave the way we do. This is part of what makes the book so brilliant. From such a unique character, Haddon has created someone we can all relate to.
Many of the language choices that Haddon makes create the unique narrative voice of Christopher which makes the novel so distinctive. The narration is in first person and the sentences are often short and to the point: “The dog was dead” (p. 1) for example, hits the reader with its directness and lack of euphemism. Christopher understands the world in a very factual, simplified way. When Siobhan shows him emoticons to help interpret other people’s reactions he can understand happy and sad but not all of the other nuanced emotions in between. We'll look more at Haddon's language choices in the next big idea.
Want to know more about your HSC text and how to write about it effectively? Work with us face-to-face at our office in Roselands by contacting us here. Follow us on facebook to get updates at facebook.com/westernsydneytutors