What language and style does Mark Haddon use in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, author Mark Haddon's writing style stands out because he intentionally employs many methods to develop Christopher's voice and characterization. Due to Haddon's writing style, the reader is able to understand the thought processes of a person with autism, like Christopher, which also helps to develop the theme of tolerance.

One aspect of the writing style that helps develop Christopher's voice and characterization is very simple syntax. Most sentences are written as simple sentences, which means they only consist of one independent clause; most of the simple sentences are also very short. However, periodically, Haddon will employ the use of a compound or complex sentence, as we can see by looking at the opening section of the book.

A compound sentence consists of two independent clauses joined by any conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so), such as in the following:

It had curly black fur, but when you got close you could see that the skin underneath the fur was a very pale yellow, like a chicken.

A complex sentence consists of one dependent clause and one independent clause, such as in the following:

Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture.

The dominant use of simple sentences in the writing style helps to characterize Christopher as a very straightforward thinker. In addition, peppering the sentences with more complex sentences also helps the reader see that, though Christopher is a straightforward thinker, he is not a simple thinker with limited understanding.

A second aspect of the writing style concerns the use of repetition. Many words are repeated throughout, such as the word "dog" in the opening paragraph. Such repetition is often even created through parallelism, which occurs when a writer intentionally creates patterns in wording or grammar to express a point. We can see parallelism in the repetition of the phrase "the dog was" in the beginnings of both the two following sentences:

But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.

The repetition of words helps show that Christopher is a very precise thinker. Many writers might substitute the word dog for the pronoun it, but doing so can create wording confusion. The avoidance of using the word it shows that Christopher has a very clear, focused understanding of exactly what he is speaking of.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Haddon uses the language that a bright autistic person might use to describe the world in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The chapters are numbered according to prime numbers as the narrator, Christopher, is a math whiz. Christopher is very good at noting factual details and patterns. For example, he notes that his neighbor's dog is killed at 7 minutes after midnight (page 1). He notes that Mr. Jeavons has 60 circles in each of his brown shoes (page 5). However, Christopher is unable to make sense of the emotions of the people around him. When his neighbor is yelling at him, for example, he says he cannot make sense of it. The style is idiosyncratic and reflects the way Christopher thinks and feels.

The language is generally simple, declarative sentences that tend to begin with "I" and contain a verb right after the subject. The language reflects the way in which Christopher sees the world, as he is far more certain of how he feels than the way in which other people feel.  

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