Logic versus Emotions
The theme of logic versus emotions might also be called order versus chaos. Christopher is only at home in the world of logic, science, and mathematics. These create order in his world and allow him to make sense of it. These disciplines consist of rules he can understand, rules that do not change from minute to minute and do not depend on a subjective, personal response. He needs to study and think about math and science because they keep him grounded in a world of objective fact and reason, which for him provides unalterable proof about reality, about the way things really are. He is extremely good at this, with an astonishing memory and a gift for making mathematical calculations in his head.
The other side of life, the subjective realm that consists of emotions, feelings, and human interactions, are a constant source of fear and discomfort to Christopher because he does not understand them. They represent a kind of chaos for him, the very opposite of the order and stability he feels when he is studying math or science. He does not know how to read facial expressions, for example, so often he does not know how to interpret what people are saying. He may be attached to his parents emotionally, but he does not show it in any discernible way. He does not like to be hugged or touched in any way. If he feels in an uncomfortable emotional situation he will try to shut down completely, covering his ears and sometimes also making a groaning sound, which he calls “doing groaning.”
The dichotomy of logic versus emotion, order versus the chaos of human feelings and relationships, is reflected in the structure of the book, which alternates between chapters in which Christopher explains some aspect of the world as he sees it with his logical mind—which he sometimes describes as being like a machine—and the turbulent, everyday world of human interactions, in which the tide of feeling and emotion ebbs and flows, and Christopher is all at sea.
Although Christopher is unaware of it for much of the novel, and does not, even as he discovers the truth, have the capacity to evaluate it very well, family dysfunction is at the heart of the novel. This is what creates the mystery in the first place, since Christopher’s father kills the dog as the result of his unhappy involvement with Mrs. Shears, which only happened as a result of the affair that his wife had with Mr. Shears. This was not a happy home for Christopher to be raised in. The conflicting emotional entanglements, and the fact that some of the marital problems that Christopher’s parents ran into were due to the difficulties of raising a child with special needs, all helped to create a very difficult situation for young Christopher.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family is hard for any child, let alone someone like Christopher, who cannot connect well with either his own emotions or those of other people. It is a tremendous shock to Christopher when he discovers that his mother, who he thought was dead, is in fact alive and living in London. His father’s concealing of what really happened is a betrayal of Christopher by the one person who should have found a way of telling him the truth. The result is that Christopher is angry at his father and then soon becomes frightened of him when his father confesses that he killed the dog Wellington. At this point, not only are mother and father estranged, but Christopher is estranged from his father. Also, Mother is living far away with another man, yet thinks that she is staying in touch with Christopher by writing to him. She does not know that Christopher has not received any of her letters. The family situation could hardly be worse.
Although Christopher has difficulties in dealing with people and understanding emotional situations, it might also be said that his father is not much better. In fact, had Ed Boone followed Christopher’s practice of trying never to lie, he might have avoided the egregious lie of telling his son that his mother was dead, rather than the simple truth that she had left them to live with Mr. Shears in London. No good comes from this lie, which is compounded when Christopher’s father feels compelled to keep it up by hiding the letters that his wife sends to Christopher. His father’s devious actions, designed at first to protect his son, thinking it would be better if he did not know, make Christopher’s simple, literal-minded integrity seem admirable by comparison.
Eventually, however, the adults in Christopher’s life find a rapprochement. His mother returns to Swindon and she and Christopher live together once more, and Christopher also gets to see his father regularly. It seems he is also gradually learning to trust his father once again. This is never going to be a happy family, but Christopher manages to survive it with his ambitions and optimism intact.
Throughout the novel Christopher shows a dogged persistence and perseverance in his inquiry into who killed Wellington, and in all other things. He is not one to give up. He sticks to his orderly, rational, logical approach to life, as he understands it, eventhough that approach might seem illogical to some. On his journey to London, he uses this way of thinking, and the skills that derive from it,to negotiate all kinds of new and scary situations. This journey is a bold move toward independence on Christopher’s part. He shows he can make decisions for himself and act on them (even though the impetus for his trek to London is based on the false notion, which nonetheless appears quite logical to him, that since his father killed Wellington, he might also kill him, Christopher).
In this respect, the novel, although framed as a mystery, has elements in common with coming-of-age tales. Christopher, in learning how to deal with so many new and difficult situations, takes a leap from childhood into young adulthood. This growth is noticeable also in his passing of the math A-level,which in England is a university entrance exam that students normally take at the age of eighteen, not fifteen, which is Christopher’s age. Given his perseverance and his talent, it is not difficult to envision a successful future for Christopher, despite his difficulties in connecting emotionally with other people.