A Child Called "It" Themes

  • A Child Called "It" is Dave Pelzer's bestselling memoir of child abuse and survival. When he was just a child, his mother began abusing him in horrific ways, beating him, starving him, and once even stabbing him in the chest. To this day, Dave Pelzer's case is still considered one of the worst cases of child abuse ever reported in California.
  • In addition to physically abusing her son, David's mother stripped him of his identity, first calling him a "bad boy," then "The Boy," then, simply, "it." In the face of this abuse, young David struggled both to stay alive and to hold on to his identity as a human being worthy of love and affection.
  • David's other family members did little to nothing to help him while he was being abused. In fact, his brothers often laughed at him, and one was even trained to watch him and report back to his mother. This just goes to show how easy it is for families to enable and normalize abuse.


Child Abuse

Child abuse is the central theme of Dave Pelzer's memoir A Child Called "It." In 1973, when David was removed from his mother's care, his was considered the worst case of child abuse ever reported in California. What shocked readers was not the fact of the child abuse but the sheer ingenuity of it. David's mother did not merely beat him; she starved him, burned him, stabbed him, ordered him to eat his own vomit, and smeared feces on his face. Her erratic behavior made it impossible for David to predict what she would do next and whether he would survive it. He realized that the only way to "win" was to live. He never let her see him cry and frequently stole food in order to supplement the meager diet of scraps she fed him. He suffered not only at home but at school, where he was called a thief, ridiculed for his clothes and his smell, and held back a grade because he couldn't do any of his schoolwork at home. It's amazing how long it took people to realize what was going on. David wore the same clothes to school every day for over two years before his teachers finally called the police. David's memoir demonstrates how shockingly easy it is to normalize abuse.


One of the most horrific elements of the abuse was the way David's mother gradually stripped him of his identity. In the beginning, she smashed his face into the mirror and forced him to repeat that he was a "bad boy"—but, even then, his name was still David. Only later did she begin referring to him as "The Boy," depriving him of his individuality and making him sound like an inconvenience. The abuse also had the effect of isolating him from his brothers, his friends, and the other children at school, making it impossible for him to form relationships or express himself. In her eyes, David became a non-entity, an "it" undeserving of humane treatment. Her attempts to strip David of his humanity failed,...

(The entire section is 524 words.)