ENGL 212: Modern British Novel

Dr. John Neary

Spring 2016, Freshman Year


  • 2 In-Class Written Exams
  • Daily Writing Exercises
  • A Self Reflection in Connection to a Novel
  • A Creative Writing Assignment
  • A Comparison/Contrast Essay


The purpose of this essay involved comparing and contrasting two of the nine novels we read around the characters, themes, or a literary issue.  While writing, we were to keep a general audience in mind.  I chose The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Haroun and the Sea of Stories and looked at the similarity of the boys’ perspectives amidst two distinct writing styles.

Dog vs. Hoopoe

Authors such as Salman Rushdie and Mark Haddon have different ways in how they write their stories.  Some authors like Rushdie use fantasy worlds to convey their messages and meanings; whereas, other authors use the setting of the real world to relate what they want to point out.  The authors pick what they want to focus on and build around their points, each a little differently or monumentally.  Haddon focuses more on characterizing his characters throughout a novel, especially in his work, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Rushdie focuses more on using his fantasy world to promote an idea, seen predominantly in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Whatever style or focus an author decides, their characters help bring it all together.  Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time both convey messages on life through adolescent boys while using two distinct styles.

Haddon uses first person to narrate The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Told from the point of view of a fifteen year old boy who is on the autistic spectrum, Haddon’s novel reveals a sense of how someone on the autistic spectrum’s mind may work.  Through the first person narrative, Christopher, the main character, provides honest thoughts and feelings as he ‘writes’ what he believes to be a mystery novel about him trying to find the murderer of a neighbor’s dog.  Each little chapter reveals some tidbit about how Christopher thinks and feels about people and life in general.  For instance, he has a very blunt way of looking at death and the inevitable extinction of the universe and people.  In the back of a police car, instead of worrying over what will happen, Christopher ponders over how everyone will become extinct before the universe finishes expanding (Haddon 10-11).  After a teacher tells him that his mother went to heaven, he thinks, “But when mother died she didn’t go to heaven because heaven doesn’t exist” (Haddon 32).  In his mind, if there was a heaven, then the government would be rocket-shipping corpses into black holes.  An odd image but it helps give an interesting look on how he thinks and views subjects.  From there, his chapter reflects on how decay works to slowly dissolve everything that ever made up the living creature (Haddon 33).   Not only does such thoughts as these reveal the different mindset Christopher has, but we also see more touching moments as he talks about how he cannot lie or make jokes.  Haddon composes Christopher in an endearing light that shows how he sometimes does not notice some of his own wit.  With the main character being on the autistic spectrum, this style choice helps create a better relationship between the character and the audience.

Because of Christopher being the narrator of the book, the chapters are broken up differently than the norm to further characterize him.  Instead of the traditional counting of chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, and etc., the chapters are numbered in prime numbers only.  Haddon carefully picks this because of Christopher’s comfort with prime numbers.  Whenever he feels stressed, he will start factoring prime numbers or doing other mathematical equations to settle him down.  For instance, when Christopher discovers that his mother is alive, he starts factoring two’s in order to clear his mind and bear through his overstimulated body (Haddon 120).  As he studies in his school, Christopher focuses on math because of him being gifted in it and wanting to prove to everyone else that he is not “stupid” (Haddon 44).  In chapter seventy-one, he says, “All the other children at my school are stupid” (Haddon 43).  Because of him knowing the stereotypes and names that follow autistic people, he uses his advanced level of math to shield himself.  Christopher mentions how he is the only one to ever reach A-level math in his school.  This advanced level of math helps him rise above the cruel remarks the other children make about how he will be stuck doing menial jobs or cleaning up after animals (Haddon 25).  Even though Christopher has trouble discerning emotion in others and himself, through his ‘mystery novel,’ his emotions can be inferred through his thoughts and actions.

Not only does Haddon use different chapter numbers, but he also includes pictures, maps, and other images to show the inner workings of Christopher’s mind.  To help him discern emotions on people’s faces, Siobhan, Christopher’s main teacher, draws pictures of a smiley face, a sad face, and some odd in between faces (Haddon 2-3).  Christopher includes these in his narration to refer to people’s emotions later on in the story.  Through this, Christopher reiterates how he struggles with emotional intelligence.  As he moves around places, such as his neighborhood and his mother’s apartment area, he includes a map to refer to as a guide to what he sees (Haddon 35, 188-189).  A mass block of text shows how his mind becomes overstimulated as he looks at the train station signs which turn into incoherent letters and symbols (Haddon 170).  Other charts he includes touch on things that interest him such as the “Monty Hall Problem” and frog populations (Haddon 64-65, 100-102).  Some graphs and lists move through his peculiarities, like his hate for yellow and brown, and his options to predicaments (Haddon 84, 130-131).  Every little image included in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time helps us better understand Christopher.

Salman Rushdie takes a different approach in his story, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by writing in a completely different style.  Haroun’s story is told more like a nostalgic fairy tale.  When reading it, a person can imagine a storyteller telling the story out loud among a crowd of children.  Written in third person, the novel revolves around Haroun, a young boy, as he tries to understand the importance of stories.  Using third person helps establish an objective view on the events occurring around Haroun and the people of Sad City.  Composed of twelve chapters that are broken up into little scenes among the chapter, Rushdie creates a longer episodic adventure for Haroun that is similar to other fairy tales such as The Arabian Nights and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Taking Haroun out of the ‘real world’ and placing him in the fantasy land of Story helps create an interesting world reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.  Rushdie uses the fantasy world to create an idea of escape and to create a metaphor for how stories are born.  Water genies, kingdoms always in night or day, and people called eggheads make up the world of Story along with talking fishes that digest fresh stories.  With the use of the fantasy world, Rushdie creates a fantastical world that helps refer to an issue while using more implicit means to drive home his points on the world.  The familiar fairy tale of the piece helps ensure a gentle, more fun time with the story and a memorable tale as well.  The events that occur, such as shapeshifting shadows and sewed lips, are memorable events that would at least stick in the mind of a child or young adult.

Not only is the story about Haroun finding the value of stories, but it is also a commentary on the need for free speech and the importance of allowing people the freedom of speaking.  Politics are poked at through Prince Bolo, Princess Batcheat, and Snooty Buttoo as Rushdie paints the royal members as annoying and clueless about how the world works.  Snooty Buttoo shows the darker, more selfish side of politics as he attempts to persuade Haroun’s father, Rashid, to tell people stories that will make them want to vote for him (Rushdie 47).  The Cult of Bezaban mirrors extremist ideas of censorship and the want to silence all protest and new ideas.  Because of the Cult of Bezaban, the Land of Chup became altered to the point that there was no more schools, theatre, and other programs that would allow free speech or thinking (Rushdie 101).  The most devoted members of the Cult of Bezaban would sew their mouths shut to insure that they would follow silence throughout their life.  Through this group and Khattam-Shud, Rushdie frames the danger and worry of groups and people that promote censorship and limiting speech.  Furthering the uneasy idea, Rushdie paints the villain of the tale as something non-threatening: a clerk (Rushdie 153).  Usually when people think of villains, they are painted as dark, menacing, intimidating, and so much more.  Yet, Rushdie ventures for the unconventional approach of a boring man who inflates his importance and hold over people to make others do his bidding (Rushdie 156).  Shaping Khattam-Shud in this way, Rushdie highlights the ill revelation that some of the most ordinary, dull people are capable of horrible, monstrous acts.  A shadow may disappear in light but a human can only be revealed through his or her actions.  Even then, some people are very good actors.

Behind almost every character’s name and place, Rushdie uses a special meaning to help with the story idea of the novel.  The moon and the lost name of the Sad City, Kahani, means ‘story,’ just like in the land of Story (Rushdie 209).  The name of the Language of Gestures used by some of the inhabitants of the Land of Chup, which is Abhinaya, is the actual name of the classical dance gesture language in the Indian culture (Rushdie 217).  Similarly, the meaning behind “Chup” is actually quiet, which is perfect for the quiet people of the Land of Chup.  As for the villain, Khattam-Shud appropriately means “the end,” fitting because of his desire to end stories (Rushdie 39, 160).  Using these meanings helps create credibility to the characters and their world.  Their names characterize them as well as their actions.  Blabbermouth, a page, needs no more characterization as the name insinuates all that is needed to know about her.  Rushdie using names in this way connects with his idea of the power of naming something.  As Iff, the water genie states, “To give a thing a name, a label, a handle; to rescue it from anonymity… that’s a way of bringing the said thing into being” (Rushdie 63).  The names of the characters help create the character fully.  The other added details, such as Khattam-Shud being clerk like, would not be as prevalent without the meanings.

Both Haddon and Rushdie use their characters to help convey messages in their novels, even though they use very different methods.  Haddon focuses on showing Christopher in an understandable light for those ignorant of autistic people and children.  Rushdie uses his child like story to shed light on the importance of stories and free speech.  Despite their different approaches to their novels, both Haddon and Rushdie are successful in showcasing their characters to promote their messages.  People of all ages can learn from both of these books or have a nice time spending the day or night with Haroun or Christopher.


Works Cited

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Random House,  2003. Print.

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. New York: Granta in Association with Viking, 1990. Print.