A Child Called "It" book cover

A Child Called "It"

by Dave Pelzer

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

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In A Child Called "It", Dave's mother abuses only him and not his siblings, the reason for which is unclear. Initially a kind and loving mother, she turned violently abusive towards Dave when he was four. Her abusive tactics were extreme and sadistic, yet she spared his siblings from such treatment. Dave and the readers are left unsure as to why she singled him out. It is speculated that her actions may have been influenced by depression, alcoholism, and possibly an undiagnosed mental illness.

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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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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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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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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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