Students’ Study Guide for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-
Like all well-written books, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark
Haddon, generates many questions and ideas from many different angles. The purpose of
this study guide is to expose you to as many of these questions, ideas, and angles as possible, in order to stimulate your interest, encourage you to re-read passages, and engage you in the book’s complexity as you examine it by yourself or discuss it with
others. By reading the book this summer, and by using this study guide, you will be thamply prepared for the Discussion Event on August 27!
How to Use This Study Guide
; This is a study guide, not an examination or test! As you read through this guide,
take note of the questions and ideas that pique your curiosity and that encourage
you to explore your interests more fully.
; Spend 10 minutes reading through the entire study guide, not just part of it, before
looking at the questions in more detail. Each section of questions takes you
through major aspects of the book and through passages and chapters that are
memorable. Then, once you’ve familiarized yourself with this guide, go back to
each section in the guide. Recommended time spent on this study guide: 1 hour.
; As you read the book and use this study guide, share your experience and ideas
; Bring the study guide with you, along with any notes you may have taken, to the
Discussion Event on August 27. You are not required to take notes on the book
prior to this Discussion Event, but you are guaranteed to have a better grasp of the
book if you do jot down some notes before you arrive on campus. (And because
you’ll be taking lots of notes during your university years for all of your classes,
you might get into the habit of doing this now, with this book…!)
First: An important, 5-minute task
Christopher Boone, the narrator of The Curious Incident, is unique. Everything about the
novel – its plot, pacing, dialogue, characterization, perspectives, ideas, format, style, 1themes, and motifs – takes its cues from this unusual and engaging narrator. Because Christopher is autistic, the very first thing that you will want to do is to spend 5 minutes on-line, looking up Autism and a related cognitive condition, Asperger’s Syndrome, on
the web. Knowing something about these conditions will enable you to appreciate Christopher’s “take” on life and to understand more fully how and why he sees things the way he does.
1 A motif is a thing, any thing – an object, a color, an article of clothing, a pattern of action, an element of the landscape, a phrase, etc. – that is repeated throughout an entire narrative, and because it is repeated, this thing takes on special significance and adds meaning to the story. For example, Christopher’s many graphs and charts become one of the story’s important motifs.
General Questions about your Reading Experience
The following questions ask you about your impressions – your “gut” response or your
subjective response – to the novel. These questions also ask you to explore how this book may or may not be different from other stories that you have read. Read the six questions listed here, attempting to formulate answers, in your mind, to as many as you can.
1. What was your first impression upon reading the first few pages of this novel?
2. In what ways did your first impression about the book change, as you continued
to read the story? Why did it change? If your first impressions did not change,
why is this the case?
3. What made reading this book an unusual, engaging, and sometimes challenging
4. It is safe to say that most of you have not read a book such as this one before.
Because you haven’t, the novel will strike you as “different” in many ways. In
what ways is this novel different from many of the other novels or short stories
that you have read? Examine everything about the novel, from its style (word
choice, voice, sentence structure, and sentence length) and characterization, to its
plot and formatting (e.g., chapter numbers, use of italics, boldfacing, etc.) and
make a list in your mind, or on paper, of all the ways in which this novel does
NOT fit your usual idea of a novel.
5. Despite the novel’s many oddities, the author of the work, Mark Haddon, has still
told you a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In other words, The
Curious Incident makes use of literary conventions common to many, if not all, 2 What aspects of The Curious Incident remind works of fiction or similar genres.
you of other stories that you have read, or even films that you have watched?
What conventions of all novels are also followed and developed in this story?
6. Generally speaking, what did you appreciate the most about this story? The least?
Questions about the Narrator
Describe anything and everything about Christopher John Francis Boone that you can remember (and if you can’t remember certain things, then take a few minutes to re-read
portions of the story that strike your fancy, so that you can get a “feel” for this narrator).
Since the whole story is filtered through his gaze, the more you try to see the world through his eyes, the more you’ll come to appreciate the special way in which he tells his
Questions about the Narrator, continued:
1. What does Christopher like? What does he not like? Does he offer any
rationalization for his likes and dislikes?
2 We use the word genre to describe certain kinds or classifications of literature. Novels are one genre;
short stories are another; poetry is still another, sonnets are a sub-genre of poetry, and so on.
2. What does Christopher eat?
3. Where does he live? With whom?
4. What kind of school does Christopher attend? Who are his teachers? 5. What does Christopher see in the world around him? What details and things in
this world does he share with his readers? What information about the world does
he omit? Why does he include information about some things but omit
information about other things?
6. How does he see the world around him? What might be his attitude toward the
world around him: other people, animals, his mother and father, his teacher,
nature, the neighborhood in which he lives, his home, his belongings, etc.? 7. How does Christopher make sense of his environment? What makes sense to him
and what confuses him, and why?
8. To what extent does Christopher change or grow during the narrative? 9. In what ways would you describe Christopher as a static, 2-dimentional character
or a dynamic, 3-dimensional character? Offer some explanations for your answers. 10. Regardless of whether or not Christopher is autistic, in what ways are
Christopher’s viewpoints, attitude, and behavior the same as some of our own?
Play “devil’s advocate” for a moment, as ask yourselves how Christopher is more
like than unlike us. What do you learn about yourselves when you compare
yourselves to Christopher? What do you learn about your world when you see the
world through Christopher’s eyes?
11. How would this story change if we didn’t have a first-person narrator but had
instead, say, a third-person omniscient narrator?
1. Who are the other characters whom Christopher discusses or describes? Scan
through the book, listing as many persons as you can.
2. How do others respond to Christopher?
3. What function do these persons play in Christopher’s life?
4. Does Christopher seem to have a favorite person in his life? Does he treat all
persons the same throughout the book?
5. To what extent is Christopher’s world “peopled” by other people? If people do
not occupy a central part in his life or thinking, then what does occupy him?
Questions about the Plot
A story’s plot involves the chronological sequencing of events within the story. Talking
about the plot of a story, as well, often cannot take place without talking about the characters in the story that give the plot its shape or without discussing the narrator who
tells us the story. Finally, we can have plots and sub-plots, the latter of which may be revealed as the primary plot unfolds.
1. What is the plot of this story? What happens first, second, third, and so on?
2. What is the plot of this story, condensed into a few sentences?
3. What are a few examples of Christopher’s digressions from the plot? When he
digresses, what does he talk about? Examine the digressions as a group. When
does Christopher digress? Is there any rhyme or reason to the timing of his
digressions? Is there a pattern to the digressions? How might the digressions
relate to the plot in some fashion, or help us understand Christopher better?
4. If the primary plot of the story involves Christopher’s discovery and solving
of the neighbor dog’s violent death, what might the novels sub-plots be? How
do these sub-plots get revealed through the course of the story? How do the
sub-plots relate to the story’s major plot?
5. Take the major plot of the story – the murder mystery – and re-tell the story
from a non-autistic person’s point of view. How might the plot change?
Questions about Passages and Chapters
23 questions about the story follow below. They take you from page 1 of the novel to the very end. These questions focus your attention on key events in the plot, on certain digressions in the story, on certain characters (especially Christopher), on the book’s style, on some of the book’s dialogue, and on important interactions between Christopher and others. Read through all of the questions, if possible, circling several – eight to ten –
questions that interest you. How might you answer some of these questions?
1. Read the first paragraph of the novel (p. 1). What do you learn about Christopher
by reading this passage? What do you learn about what is important to him? How
does he see things? How might he be different from you, or even the same? What
kind of narrative style characterizes this passage? 3 has drawn for him 2. Why does Christopher tear up the piece of paper that Siobhan
3. Examine the footnote on p. 5 of the book. When does Christopher use footnotes?
Page 8 also has an example of numbered lists, and page 53 has an example of
boldface. When does Christopher resort to such additions or “flourishes” in his
storytelling? What do these font changes, lists, and so on, tell us about this
4. Christopher provides insight into his behavior on p. 7 when he begins to press his
forehead on the ground, ignoring the policeman. However, the policeman does not
have the vantage point that we have. If we were ignorant about Christopher in the
way that the policeman is, what would we think of Christopher? If the policeman
had known what we know about this narrator, how might he have approached
3 “Siobhan” is a female Irish name pronounced “Shiv-awn.”
5. Chapter 19 (p. 11) provides us with a digression on prime numbers. What do we
learn, factually speaking, about such numbers as we read this chapter? What do
we learn about this digression on prime numbers vis-a-vis the chapter that
precedes it? In other words, how does Chapter 19 shed light on the subject matter
of the previous chapter? What philosophy does Christopher extract from his
digression on prime numbers (read the end of Chapter 19 for an answer to this
6. How would you characterize the relationship that Christopher has with his father?
Re-read chapter 41 (pp. 20-21). Try to see the relationship through Christopher’s
eyes, through his father’s eyes, and through your own eyes.
7. When Christopher is told that his mother has died, what is his response (pp. 26-28,
chapter 53). In this chapter, as in many other chapters, he intersperses short
sentences into his narrative. In fact, some of his paragraphs in this chapter are
only 1 sentence long. What kind of information is conveyed in these short
paragraphs? What is significant about the beginning of chapter 59, the very next
chapter? Where has the discussion of his mother gone, and why?
8. Everybody processes the ideas of death and dying differently. Christopher, on pp.
33-34, discusses his rabbit’s death, his mother’s death, and the idea of dying. In
what ways does Christopher’s scientific, factual interpretation also end up being a
kind of consolation for him or for us?
9. Chapter 67 gives us a wonderful glimpse into the world of non-autistic persons,
through the eyes of an autistic person. Examine, for example, the tee-shirt slogan
that Christopher quotes on p. 36, and his comments on the idea of “chatting,” on
the top of p. 40. When you see bits and pieces of your own world isolated and
discussed, in the way that Christopher isolates and discusses them, how does your
own world appear to you now? Discuss other pieces of our non-autistic world
that Christopher points out for us throughout the novel. (See also p. 184 and lots
of other pages!)
10. Christopher lists his “behavioral problems” on pp. 46-7. What do we learn about
our own behavioral “problems” by reading Christopher’s list? What do we learn
about his parents’ difficulties as well?
11. Mrs. Alexander, a neighbor, ends up being quite conversant with Christopher.
Describe their relationship (and check out pp. 56-61 as well). What does
Christopher learn not merely about the dog’s murder but about his mother and
father as well, from this neighbor?
12. Christopher describes the “Monty Hall” math problem on pp. 64-5 and he
provides us with a description of clouds on pp. 67-9. To what extent are these
digressions unrelated to the story? What do these digressions tell us about
Christopher? Find other digressions that are interesting to you and/or that may be
relevant to the rest of the story (pp. 86, 88, etc.).
13. “My memory is like film,” says Christopher (p. 76). He continues to say that he
never forgets anything, and from this he derives a great deal of confidence. What
other tools does Christopher have to deal with problems, conflicts, uncertainty,
14. “I looked at the letter and thought really hard. It was a mystery and I couldn’t
figure it out” (99, referring to a letter from his mother that he finds in his dad’s
room). When do Christopher’s tools fail him? When does the world shake up
Christopher? Examine the passage on 113 (“I don’t know what happened then
because there is a gap in my memory, like a bit of the tape had been erased…”)
and the passage on 120 (“I killed Wellington, Christopher”) and Christopher’s
response to these two frightening situations.
15. To what extent does Christopher develop new tools for being in the world, other
than the ones he already has, in order to solve problems that his usual behavior
does not permit him to solve? In other words, can you locate a passage or chapters
that indicate that Christopher is changing in his own way to meet the demands of
his life? “The mind is just a complicated machine,” says Christopher (p. 116).
How does Christopher adjust to the complicated world around him by also
adjusting the “complicated machine” of his mind?
16. The “truth” is very important to Christopher. When he shares information with us
about Orien and other constellations, he says, “And that is the truth” (126). How
does Christopher react when the truth becomes grey or fuzzy?
17. Pages 129 to the end of the book chronicle Christopher’s journey to see his
mother in London. How does Christopher survive on this journey? What
characterizes this journey? Whom does he meet? How does he cope? What does
he learn? What skills does he use in order to arrive safely at his mother’s?
18. Why does Christopher say that he “doesn’t like new places” (140)? See p. 143 as
19. This novel contains a great deal of gentle humor -- much, or most, of it
unintentional. Take, for example, the dialogue on p. 150 or Mrs. Alexander’s dog
“poo” (p. 56). Locate other passages that are humorous and share them with
others. What makes them funny?
20. What does Christopher learn once he arrives at his mother’s house?
21. While at his mother’s house Christopher has one of his “favorite” dreams (pp.
198-200). What makes it his favorite? And would this dream be a favorite of
yours? Why or why not?
22. How would you describe Christopher’s family, once he moves back to Swindon?
What has changed for the better? How has the mother changed, and how has the
23. To what extent does the book conclude on a note that ties up all loose ends? Or
are there some loose ends still dangling?
Themes, Ideas, Issues, Cruxes
And now for the broad strokes of The Curious Incident. Below are big ideas that this 4novel generates: ideas, themes, issues, problems, etc. Highlight a few that strike your fancy and that you’d like to discuss during the Reading Event in August.
; The autistic world vs. the non-autistic world: shared traits; differing traits
; Diversity: being different; being “other”; what makes us similar to or different
from others; inclusion into a group vs. exclusion from a group; disabilities – how
you define such a thing and what sets you apart from others
; Education: how we learn; what we teach
; Perception: how we see the world around us; what shapes our perceptions
; Family: parents; parenting; children; separations; divorces; reconciliations;
functional vs. dysfunctional families
; Growth and change: what makes us grow and change; why we stay the same
; Emotions: the things we feel, why we feel them, and how we express them
; Journeys: the places – literal, figurative – that we go to; the paths that we take to
; Epistemology: what we know, and how we know what we know; means of
knowing ourselves and the world
; Communication: methods of communicating with others; what we communicate,
what we withhold, and why
; Truth and Reality: what is real or true, or not, to you or to others, and what shapes
our notion of truth and reality; the degree to which truth and reality are distinct
; Good and Evil: what is good in Christopher’s world? And what is evil? Does he
have a concept of good and evil? What is right or wrong to him, and why? How
do Christopher’s morals differ from your own?
; Coping: getting by in this world; what we do to survive
; Philosophies of life and living
; Themes and ideas that you have discovered – list them here!
thWe look forward to seeing you in your discussion groups on August 27! Between now
and then, please direct your questions to me at Reading@nau.edu.
Dr. Anne Scott
Coordinator, Summer Reading Program
Assoc. Professor, English Dept.
Assoc. Director, Honors Program
4 A theme is a major idea – often, an abstract idea – reinforced by many, if not all, aspects of a particular piece of writing. Usually we express a theme through a single word or a simple phrase: e.g., the theme of
justice; the theme of good vs. evil, and so on.