Christopher's experience of emotion is far different from that of a neurotypical character. He is unable to name or distinguish nuanced emotions, and his ability to read or empathize with other people's emotions is limited. His therapist, Siobhan, tries to help him identify emotion in himself and others using simple line drawings of faces. He is able to relate to a smiling face, which he identifies as
"happy," like when I'm reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend I am the only person in the whole world
He identifies the frowning face as
"sad," which is what I felt when I found the dead dog
However, he is unable to relate to or identify more complicated expressions, such as surprise, confusion, or frustration. Besides happy and sad, the only emotion that Christopher ever names as a narrator is fear.
Most of the time, Christopher is perceived as being alienated from his emotions, as seen in his exchange with Mrs. Shears when she brings up her husband's affair with Christopher's mother.
And I replied, "But I don't feel sad about it. Because Mother is dead. And because Mr. Shears isn't around anymore. So I would be feeling sad about something that isn't real and doesn't exist. And that would be stupid."
Partly because Christopher is only able to emotionally process things that are happening to him in the moment, others see him as detached or unemotional. In actuality, he feels things deeply but is only able to react to his immediate reality and the things that he sees as logically affecting him.
His intense experience of emotion can be seen when he discovers his mother's letters in his father's closet. The revelation that his father lied to him causes him to feel dizzy and sick, and he eventually throws up and passes out. Although Christopher is unable to name the emotions he feels when under such distress, he can identify the physiological responses his body undergoes, often describing it as feeling "sick" or "giddy." In this way, Christopher processes intense emotion physically rather than through words.