A Child Called "It" book cover

A Child Called "It"

by Dave Pelzer

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Exploring the dynamics of abuse and favoritism in Dave's relationship with his mother in A Child Called "It"


In A Child Called "It", Dave's relationship with his mother is characterized by severe abuse and favoritism. His mother singles him out for extreme punishment and cruelty, while showing preferential treatment to his siblings. This dynamic creates a hostile and isolating environment for Dave, exacerbating his suffering and highlighting the impact of parental favoritism and abuse on a child's well-being.

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Besides physical abuse, what other aspects define Dave and his mother's relationship in A Child Called "It"?

In Dave Pelzer's A Child Called "It," his mother is openly abusive of her son. The most obvious abuse is that of a physical nature, and her mental illness drives her to create a variety of painful and tortuous "punishments" for her son, even when he is young. To the outside world, Dave's mother...

...glowed with love for her children.

She seemed the perfect caregiver. However, at home she was viciously insane.

From a psychological standpoint, all of his mother's frustrations and anger (even though they were unjustified) were poured down on Dave.

As a child living in a dark world, I feared for my life and thought I was alone.

While young, he was forced to repeat of himself, to himself:

I am a bad boy!

His mother became not only his tormentor, but his jailer as well. She abused him emotionally and mentally by isolating him from others—as Dave is ignored by other family members—his older brother, later his younger brother, and even his father—who should have defended him—his suffering is increased.

Child abuse has a domino effect that spreads to all who touch the family. It takes its greatest toll on the child and spreads to the immediate family to the spouse who is often torn between the child and their mate. From there it goes to other children in the family who do not understand and also feel threatened.

Sometimes the abuse was a combination of physical punishment and mental and emotional abuse, as Dave was forced to sleep away from the family—sometimes in the garage or in the basement.

Sometimes at night I would wake up and try to imagine I was a real person, sleeping under an electric blanket, knowing I was safe and that somebody loved me.

For a long time, Dave's only desire was to become as "invisible" as possible so that he could survive—hoping his mother would not notice him. As he got older, the relationship became something of a twisted contest: Dave's mother abused him and he did all he could to thwart her. When Dave experienced the smallest of successes, he was "thrashed repeatedly." He tried often to outsmart his mother, but usually she caught on quickly and he was brutalized again.

Toward the end of the story, Dave's mother tried to rob him of his identity; first he was referred to simply as "The Boy." Finally, she told him he was nothing more than an "it." This was another form of mental torture as his mother worked to diminish his sense of identity and his humanity. There never seemed to be any reason for her behavior other than her psychoses.

In the very early years, his mother loved and cared for Dave. As she became more unstable, the relationship deteriorated to physical torment; later it changed into a battle of the wills—a mental contest; and, finally Dave's mother's emotional cruelty reached a new low when she told him that he was nothing: a "nonentity." While the physical abuse is horrific, equally terrible is the emotional and mental abuse Dave also endured.

Additional Source:

Pelzer, David. A Child Called "It." Omaha: Omaha Press, 1995.

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Why does Dave's mother only abuse him and not his siblings in A Child Called "It"?

A Child Called It is American author Dave Pelzer’s personal memoir of the physical and emotional abuse which he suffered at the hands of his mother as a child. Dave was abused from the age of four to twelve, when a teacher finally called the police and Dave was removed from the home and placed into foster care. At the time Dave thought he was being arrested and taken to prison.

The police officer and I walk outside, past the cafeteria. I can see some of the kids from my class playing dodge ball. A few of them stop playing. They yell, "David's busted! David's busted!"

Dave’s mother, Catherine, was initially a kind and loving mother to all of her children. However, when Dave (the middle child at the time) was four years old, Catherine became emotionally and violently abusive towards him. Catherine was violent in a number of ways including hitting him, starving him, stabbing him, making him sleep in the garage, and also making him eat vomit, feces, and ammonia. His father, who Dave had once thought of as a hero, did nothing to stop the abuse:

I stuttered, “Father… Mo . . . Mo . . . Mother stabbed me.” He didn't even raise an eyebrow, "Why?" he asked. "She told me if I didn't do the dishes on time, she… she'd kill me.” Time stood still. From behind the paper, I could hear Father's labored breathing. He cleared his throat before saying, “Well… you ah… you better go back in there and do the dishes."

As the years went on, Catherine became more violent and more sadistic. Dave is unsure why his mother acted like she did, although she was suffering from depression and alcoholism. Dave also doesn’t offer any opinion on why his mother only abused him and not his siblings. What is clear to the readers is that Catherine's behavior was cruel, sadistic, and unimaginable.

"Get one thing straight, you little son of a bitch! There is nothing you can do to impress me! Do you understand me? You are a nobody! An It! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead? Dead! Do you hear me? Dead!"

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Why does Dave's mother only abuse him and not his siblings in A Child Called "It"?

This is a question that the reader must struggle with throughout the book, just as David wrestles with the same conflicted idea. His abuse at the hands of his mother was horrific; she made him swallow vomit, feces, and ammonia. David survived being choked, stabbed, and almost starved by the woman who was supposed to love him most in the world.

Even as an adult, Pelzer does not know with certainty why his mother singled him out for abuse. He says that his mother claimed she was abused by her own mother (which his grandmother denies). He questions whether she was completely overwhelmed in being a single mother to five young boys. And he thinks that maybe she suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness. Regardless of the root source of her dysfunction, her alcoholic tendencies likely made the situation incredibly worse. In fact, her boys donated her body to science when she died, and her liver is now displayed at the University of Utah's medical center as an example of a "grossly diseased organ."

A cousin of the family describes Dave's mother as "a mess, a total recluse." Her own mother said that her "daughter told me I was not a member of the family. Alcoholism does strange things to people."

In cases of horrific abuse, it is natural to look for a reason that could cause one person to turn so unjustly and horrifically on another. However, in the brains of those who seek to abuse children, there simply is no logical reason for such cruel behavior, and it is impossible to ever understand why David's mother treated him with such violent contempt while sparing his brothers.

In short, she was a very sick woman.

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Why does Dave's mother only abuse him and not his siblings in A Child Called "It"?

In A Child Called It, the narrator, David, shares stories of abuse by his mother. David's mother suffers from depression and is an alcoholic. She refers to her son as "It" and punishes him by withholding food, beating him, and forcing him to swallow ammonia. David learns that his mother's physical appearance often allows him to predict how he will be treated. If she spends time on her appearance, she will often not treat David as harshly.

David does not state exactly why his mother targets him and not his brothers. David's brothers are treated as part of the family, while he is excluded. In the first chapter of the book, as David is in the room with the police officer and school staff members, he tells them, "Mother punishes me because I am bad." In his second book, The Lost Boy, David recalls thinking his mother was sick and that perhaps that could be the reason why his mother only targeted him.

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Why does Dave's mother only abuse him and not his siblings in A Child Called "It"?

A Child Called It, written by David Pelzer, tells of the horrible abuse one child faced at the hands of his mother. Although David, the first-person narrator, never openly states why his mother chose to abuse him over his brothers. Yet one can infer about a few reasons David's mother abused him and not his brothers. First, David's voice "carried farther than others." It seems that his voice got on his mother's nerves. Second, David seemed to get "caught at mischief" more than his brothers. His numerous mischievous moments angered his mother greatly. Third, David's mother is an alcoholic. Given David's voice and "mischief," her drunkenness during these moments would force her to lash out at David, as well.

David's mother came to call him a "bad boy." Because she identifies him, over his brothers, as the bad child, her anger is always directed at him. David's mother also believes her husband, David's father, cares too much for him. When he is away, David's mother treats him (David) very poorly to discipline him for his father's loves.

Although not a reason named in the text specifically, David's mother could have some type of mental illness (which she self-medicates with alcohol). One could argue that she suffers from postpartum depression (a depression which follows the birth of a child). The PPD could have come on after David's birth, and she could blame him for her falling into depression.

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