The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

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What are the similarities and differences in how "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and "The Black Balloon" portray the difficulty of coping with life?

Quick answer:

In both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Black Balloon, family members struggle to cope with children who are themselves struggling with autism and behavioral difficulties. Since the children themselves cannot change very much, the story in both cases deals with their families learning to adapt and cope with intrinsically difficult circumstances.

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It is always a moot point whether and to what extent a situation is intrinsically difficult or whether one's inability to cope makes it so. In both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Black Balloon, difficulties are experienced both by children who have trouble relating to those around them and by those who have to care for these children.

In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, both of Christopher's parents demonstrate their inability to cope with him, his mother by running away and his father by lying to Christopher about her departure and pretending that she is dead. Christopher himself, by contrast, has difficulties in coping with the world around him but is able to make a heroic journey to London on his own, despite many dangers that worry him. His disability (which is not named in the text but appears to be something like autism) makes matters difficult, but not impossible.

Similarly, in The Black Balloon, Thomas seems to suffer from his brother Charlie's erratic behavior far more than Charlie does himself, and the story is primarily about Thomas learning to cope. Perhaps the most important difference here is that it is another child, rather than adult parents, who bears the main responsibility of caring for Charlie. At the end of the film, Charlie urinates on his brother's leg, an act which would certainly have triggered Thomas's inability to cope earlier in the narrative but now provokes only laughter.

Both Christopher and Charlie lack the ability to change much, but they are able to cope with their conditions. In each case, therefore, the narrative deals with those around them learning how to cope and finding that it is difficult to do so, but not impossible.

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