A Child Called It

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Dave Pelzer, the protagonist and narrator of A Child Called “It”, is a survivor of child abuse. For years as a child, his Mother beats him, burns him, and subjects him to dozens of other cruelties. During his years in Mother’s house, Pelzer goes through psychological trauma in addition to his physical abuse. He begins to hate himself, to resent his brothers for avoiding any abuse, and to question whether his life is even worth living. However, Dave escapes Mother in 1973 when his school nurse, along with a handful of teachers, decides to alert the police to Dave’s condition. The police, recognizing that Dave’s parents must be abusing him regularly, take Dave away from his home for good. Throughout his time living with Mother, and for the rest of his life, Dave preserves his courage and dignity, promising himself that he’ll never give Mother the satisfaction of begging for mercy. Dave’s life’s story, while harrowing and frequently horrific, is ultimately optimistic. As an adult he has a child of his own, who he claims to treat with nothing but love and compassion. In this way, he breaks free from the vicious cycle of child abuse, and finds ways of coping with his trauma without denying or ignoring his past.

David Pelzer / Dave Quotes in A Child Called It

The A Child Called It quotes below are all either spoken by David Pelzer / Dave or refer to David Pelzer / Dave. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Child Abuse Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Health Communications edition of A Child Called It published in 1995.
Chapter 1 Quotes

After I count her steps, making sure she’s gone, I breathe a sigh of relief. The act worked. Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven’t let her take away my will to somehow survive.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first chapter of A Child Called “It”, Pelzer establishes one of his most important themes: the refusal to submit to cruelty. In the 1970s, Dave Pelzer is a small, defenseless boy, living with an abusive mother. Mother wields almost total power over her child; she can deny Dave food, force him to clean the house for hours, and beat him senseless, seemingly without any fear of punishment. But in spite of Mother’s power, Dave finds small, personal ways of resisting Mother. Although he’s too young to fight back, Dave refuses to give in to despair. No matter how horribly his mother abuses him, he won’t give up and let her see his misery.

Although Pelzer’s book is a harrowing read, and full of almost surreally horrific events, it’s not a pessimistic story. Dave survives Mother’s abuse, thanks largely to his courage and determination. Instead of giving in to despair and self-hatred, he preserves his will to survive.

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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!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter One, which takes place in 1973, a police officer escorts Dave Pelzer away from his school. Dave, still a young child, thinks that he’s being arrested. In reality, Dave is being forcibly separated from his abusive Mother—after years of cruelty, he’s finally free.

It’s interesting that, as Dave walks away from school with the police officer, his classmates yell that he’s going to jail. First, this reminds us that Dave is an unpopular student (thanks largely to Mother’s manipulations—she starves him and forces him to wear the same clothes day after day, alienating him from his peers). Second, this is the first time in the memoir that readers hear Dave’s name—previously, he’s been referred to as “you little shit,” or other terms of abuse. Readers learn David’s real name at the same time that David is being freed from his Mother’s cruelty; perhaps, this symbolizes a milestone in David’s life. Before now, Dave has been an “it”—a dehumanized slave to his Mother’s cruelty. Now, for the first time in years, Dave is being treated as a human being.

Chapter 2 Quotes

From above, I felt someone hug my shoulders, I thought it was my father. I turned and became flushed with pride to find Mom holding me tightly. I could feel her heart beat. I never felt as safe and as warm as that moment in time, at the Russian River.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Two, Dave talks about his early childhood. Strangely, Dave’s early years with his Mother are idyllic: she’s a model parent, who seemingly treats her children with nothing but affection. The chapter closes with this passage, in which Dave and his siblings go to the nearby Russian River and look out at the water. Dave feels warm and secure as Mother embraces him. (Notice that, in this chapter, Dave refers to his mother as “Mom,” perhaps suggesting that, at this point, he had a much more intimate, loving relationship with her.)

The passage is baffling because, only a few years later, Mother becomes a cruel, abusive parent—moreover, Dave never explains why she changes (he suggests that alcoholism and marital strife are involved, but never explores either possibility in depth). Mother’s volatility (i.e., the fact that she seems to love Dave but later abuses him for no apparent reason) makes her an especially terrifying character—perhaps the most frightening thing about her is that she’s unpredictable and generally impossible to understand.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Mother would simply grab me and smash my face against the mirror, smearing my tear-streaked face on the slick, reflective glass. Then she would order me to say over and over again, "I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

As Dave Pelzer grows older, Mother begins to abuse him more and more harshly. She begins hitting him in the face, smashing his face into the mirror, and forcing him to repeat that he’s a bad boy. Although Mother’s physical abuse is harsh, her psychological abuse is arguably even harsher. By forcing Dave to repeat that he’s been bad, she effectively forces him to accept that he deserves his punishment and, by extension, that he’s an inherently bad person who doesn’t deserve happiness or kindness. As Pelzer makes clear toward the end of the memoir, he’s spent years trying to fight the psychological effects of Mother’s abuse. After being conditioned to believe that he was a worthless human being, he learns to love and respect himself in the ways that most people take for granted.

While I was cleaning the bathroom, I overheard an argument between Mother and Father. She was angry with him for "going behind her back" to buy me the paintings. Mother told Father that she was in charge of disciplining "the boy" and that he had undermined her authority by buying the gifts. The longer Father argued his case, the angrier she became. I could tell he had lost, and that I was becoming more and more isolated.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, which takes place shortly after Christmas, Dave overhears his parents arguing about his Christmas presents. Mother, who’s begun to abuse Dave very harshly, has told Dave that he won’t be receiving any Christmas presents because he’s a bad boy. Father, on the other hand, has purchased a few gifts for Dave; however, after an argument with his wife, he seemingly agrees to submit to her authority and continue to treat Dave as a bad child.

Throughout the book, Father is the family member who Dave loves best. However, Dave also acknowledges that Father is a weak, spineless man, who declines to protect his own child from his wife’s beatings. As the book goes on, Father becomes less and less willing to stand up for Dave, and eventually surrenders him to Mother’s cruelty altogether.

Standing alone in that damp, dark garage, I knew, for the first time, that I could survive. I decided that I would use any tactic I could think of to defeat Mother or to delay her from her grizzly obsession. I knew if I wanted to live, I would have to think ahead. I could no longer cry like a helpless baby. In order to survive, I could never give in to her. That day I vowed to myself that I would never, ever again give that bitch the satisfaction of hearing me beg her to stop beating me.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Chapter Three is full of horrific acts of cruelty, it ends on a cautiously optimistic note. Dave is still getting used to his new life: with Mother beating him and abusing him almost every day. However, he comes to realize that he must never submit to Mother’s authority: at the very least, he must preserve his dignity and self-respect, rather than begging her for mercy. Dave keeps his promise to himself for the remainder of his time spent living with Mother.

Why does it matter that Dave refuses to beg Mother for mercy? Dave isn’t strong or old enough to fight back against Mother; throughout the memoir, however, one gets the sense that Mother wants Dave to beg her for mercy, and that she’s abusing him because she wants him to acknowledge her power over him. In a way, by refusing to beg for mercy, Dave “wins” the terrifying game that Mother plays with him. The passage exemplifies the quiet, internal “resistance” that Dave maintains throughout his time in Mother’s house. He’s not powerful enough to escape Mother, but he’s determined enough to maintain his dignity.

Chapter 4 Quotes

When I returned from school the next afternoon, Mother smiled as if she had won a million-dollar sweepstakes. She told me how she had dressed up to see the principal, with her infant son Russell in her arms. Mother told me how she had explained to the principal how David had an overactive imagination. Mother told him how David had often struck and scratched himself to get attention, since the recent birth of his new brother, Russell. I could imagine her turning on her snake-like charm as she cuddled Russell for the benefit of the principal.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Russell Pelzer
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Four, Dave’s teachers begin to notice that he shows signs of serious abuse—his clothes are always torn, and he’s covered in bruises and scratches. However, as Pelzer explains it, Mother is able to alleviate Dave’s teachers’ concerns by lying and claiming that Dave hurts himself to get attention, and that he’s jealous of the new baby, Russell. After this chapter, Dave’s teachers don’t raise any serious concerns about his condition until 1973, when they finally call the police and ensure that Dave won’t live with Mother anymore.

The passage paints a disturbing picture of life in the 1970s, a decade during which it was, apparently, all-too easy for abusive parents to get away with their crimes. From a contemporary perspective, Mother’s excuses for Dave’s appearance are utterly unbelievable—what child would hit himself every day for months out of jealousy? But perhaps because Dave’s teachers don’t have much experience with child abuse, or much training for how to deal with it, they accept Mother’s excuses and effectively give her permission to continue abusing her child.

Sometimes at the grocery store, if I felt things weren't just right, I didn't steal anything. As always, I finally got caught. The manager called Mother. At the house, I was thrashed relentlessly. Mother knew why I stole food and so did Dad, but she still refused to feed me. The more I craved food, the more I tried to come up with a better plan to steal it.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Because Mother refuses food to Dave on a regular basis (she feeds him sometimes, but not enough), Dave is forced to look for food in other place. He tries raiding the trashcans at home, stealing food from his peers, and, eventually, shoplifting from a local grocery store. On one occasion, the manager of the grocery store catches Dave in the act of stealing, and reports him to Mother, who beats Dave (even though the only reason he’s stealing food in the first place is that she’s denying him three meals a day).

The passage is another example of how negligent people could be regarding child abuse—the manager of the grocery store is just trying to do his job and protect his property—it never occurs to him that Dave is stealing because his parents are abusing him severely, not because he’s a bad kid. Furthermore, the passage shows how, as a result of Mother’s abusiveness, Dave is forced to rely on his own ingenuity and courage.

I knew no one could help me. Not my teachers, my so-called brothers or even Father. I was on my own, and every night I prayed to God that I could be strong both in body and soul. In the darkness of the garage, I laid on the wooden cot and shivered until I fell into a restless sleep.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

As Dave’s life goes on, he begins to give up on other people. His mother is abusive and cruel, his brothers treat him like a slave, and go along with Mother’s abuse, and even Father—seemingly the kindest person in his family—is a horrible, neglectful parent who allows Mother to hit and starve his own child. Dave teaches himself not to rely on other people; however, he also turns to God for help and comfort (A Child Called “It” is an explicitly Christian book at times, and Dave credits God with helping him survive his time with Mother and becoming a proud, responsible adult).

In a way, Dave is wrong to believe that he’s alone in the world; indeed, the only reason he’s freed from Mother’s abuse is that his teachers work together to help him. However, Dave can hardly be blamed for feeling that he’s alone: he has no friends or loving family members, and so he learns to rely on himself.

The more I tried to focus on my options of what she might do to me, the more my inner strength drained away. Then an idea flashed in my brain: I knew why Mother had followed every step I took. She wanted to maintain a constant pressure on me, by leaving me unsure of when or where she would strike.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of this chapter, Dave goes to a neighbor’s house to beg for food; to his horror, the neighbor is one of Mother’s friends—he’s sure that the friend will call Mother, and Mother will end up beating him for daring to ask other people for food. When Dave gets home from school that day, however, he finds that Mother is unusually quiet and passive. Gradually, he realizes what Mother is trying to do: knowing full-well that Dave is terrified of her, she’s trying to overwhelm with the anticipation of punishment waging psychological warfare on her son.

The passage confirms what may have been obvious already: even in her own mind, Mother isn’t abusing Dave because she wants him to be a “good boy”—her only motive for hurting him is pure sadism. Furthermore, it’s important to notice that Dave matures while learning how to understand his Mother’s cruelty. As he grows older and more observant, he begins to understand what tactics Mother is using to hurt him, both physically and psychologically (even though he never really learns why Mother is hurting him in the first place). Dave is clearly a smart, insightful kid, which makes Mother’s claims that he is stupid, useless, and “bad” seem even crueler.

Chapter 5 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 89-90
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Five, one of the most famous (and notorious) parts of the book, Mother stabs Dave with a kitchen knife while Dave is doing the dishes. Mother has been drinking heavily, and she staggers toward Dave, driving the knife into his chest. Both in the book and in interviews, Pelzer has insisted that the stabbing was, technically, an accident—Mother was very drunk and, in spite of her record of abusiveness, wasn’t trying to cut her son with the knife.

In this passage, however, Dave tells Father that Mother has stabbed him. Outrageously, Father seems unfazed by this news. Instead of doing anything to help his suffering son, he tells Dave to continue following Mother’s directions and do the dishes. It’s clear in this passage that Father is a weak, cowardly man who has no business being a parent. Father may be the gentlest and kindest person in Dave’s family, but he’s about a million miles from being a good father.

I willed the wound to heal. Somehow I knew it would. I felt proud of myself. I imagined myself like a character in a comic book, who overcame great odds and survived. Soon my head slumped forward and I fell asleep. In my dream, I flew through the air in vivid colors. I wore a cape of red … I was Superman.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Related Symbols: Superman
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter Five, Dave is still reeling from his injury: Mother has stabbed him with a kitchen knife, and then treated the wound with a tiny amount of gauze. Furthermore, she forces Dave to sleep in the cold, uncomfortable garage, as usual. Dave spends the night in horrible pain. However, instead of shouting out for Mother’s help, he forces himself to bear the pain. He wakes up and proceeds to treat his wound with water, until it no longer bleeds as much. Proud of himself, Dave dreams about being Superman and flying through the sky.

The passage is a key example of how Dave learns to fend for himself as a result of his parents’ neglect and cruelty. No child should have to treat his own wound; however, because he does so, Dave becomes a more mature, confident person. The figure of Superman symbolizes the way that Dave teaches himself to make the most out of his dire situation, turning lemons into lemonade (notice that Superman’s red cape parallels Dave’s bloody red shirt). Thrust into a situation in which most people would collapse in despair, Dave summons the strength to take care of himself and remain hopeful for the future.

Chapter 6 Quotes

To survive her new game I had to use my head. Lying on the tiled floor I stretched my body and, using my foot, I slid the bucket to the door. I did this for two reasons: I wanted the bucket as far away from me as possible, and in case Mother opened the door I wanted her to 1et a snoot full of her own medicine.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mother has forced Dave to clean a bathroom with Clorox and ammonia. She locks the door, meaning that Dave has to inhale the rough, toxic fumes of the cleaning chemicals. While cleaning the bathroom, Dave makes a point of pushing the bucket of chemicals as far away from him, and as close to the door, as possible—partly because he wants to limit the fumes he’s breathing, and partly because he wants Mother to inhale some of the fumes.

The passage is a great example of how Dave finds small ways of resisting Mother’s authority, even as he remains her slave. Dave cleans the bathroom, as Mother commands, but he tries to undermine Mother by forcing her to inhale the fumes. Dave’s actions don’t do much to hurt Mother (and it’s quite possible that she doesn’t inhale the fumes at all); however, the very fact that Dave would try to undermine Mother’s authority is a sign that he’s strong, determined, and unwilling to give up his dignity.

At times when I laid in the tub, my brothers brought their friends to the bathroom to look at their naked brother. Their friends often scoffed at me. "'What did he do this time?" they'd ask. Most of the time my brothers just shook their heads, saying, "I don't know."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Ronald Pelzer, Stan Pelzer, Russell Pelzer
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point in the book, Mother has become much more overt in her abusiveness. At first, she made a point of punishing Dave only when Father and Dave’s brothers were out of the house. Now, after years of abuse, she punishes Dave when he’s surrounded by family. Furthermore, Dave’s siblings are so used to seeing their brother’s suffering that they don’t bat an eye at the sight of Dave sitting naked in a cold bathtub for hours. Even more disturbingly, Dave’s siblings ask their friends to come to the house to look at Dave being punished—the neighborhood children seem to accept Dave’s punishments as an acceptable, normal part of life.

Arguably the most horrifying aspect of A Child Called “It” is that, up until 1973, the adults in Dave’s world are no more responsible than the children Dave describes in the passage: they gawk and sneer at Dave, with his threadbare clothing and scruffy appearance, and never make a serious effort to help him. As a result, the passage is a powerful example of how easy it is for people to accept cruelty and outright evil in their lives, as long as it’s not directed at them personally. The unspoken moral of this passage, which Pelzer reiterates later in the book, is that people need to be vigilant and do a better job of looking out for injustice in their communities.

Mother's hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality. "'Well, tell her, sweetheart," Mother said, smiling again. "Tell her that I starve you and beat you like a dog," Mother snickered, trying to get the lady to laugh, too.

I looked at the lady, My face felt flushed, and I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I didn't have the guts to tell the lady the truth. "No, it's not like that at all," I said. "Mom treats me pretty good."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer (speaker)
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mother has treated Dave kindly for weeks. She’s assured him that she’ll never beat or starve him again, and that, from now on, she’ll love him unconditionally. However, Dave eventually realizes what’s going on: Mother is only pretending to be kind to Dave, so that Dave won’t tell the social services officer that she beats him. In the scene described in the passage, Dave has an opportunity to tell the social services officer that Mother abuses him. However, Dave is so intimidated by Mother’s presence that he doesn’t take advantage of his opportunity. Dave has been conditioned to fear his Mother for so many years that, here, when he finally has a chance to free himself from her control, he’s too scared to take it.

If anything, the real “villain” in this passage is Child Protection Services, as it existed in the late sixties and early seventies. It seems utterly unfair that the social services officer would ask Dave if Mother hurts him while Mother is in the room (since abusive parents can often intimidate their children into lying—and, in this situation, Mother clearly does). The characters in the memoir have only a limited awareness of child abuse, and there’s no dependable protocol for how to deal with child abuse, even for a social services officer.

Chapter 7 Quotes

As I sat alone in the garage, or read to myself in the near darkness of my parents' bedroom, I came to realize that I would live like this for the remainder of my life. No just God would leave me like this. I believed that I was alone in my struggle and that my battle was one of survival.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

Chapter Seven starts on an especially miserable note. Dave has been the victim of child abuse for many years now; after so many years, he’s beginning to give up all hope that his life will get better. Dave has come to accept that beatings and starvation are regular parts of his life; furthermore, he’s largely given up praying to God for salvation, or even hoping that his life might improve someday. Surely, he reasons, no God would allow him to treated so horribly.

Although Chapter Seven begins with utter misery, it ends more optimistically. Dave regains his optimism (indeed, the last sentences of Chapter Seven are the lines from the Lord’s prayer about being delivered from evil). Furthermore, Dave comes to understand, that he can depend on other people in his struggle; for example, his teachers risk their lives to help him reach safety. So although this passage dramatizes a crisis of faith in Dave’s life, the crisis doesn’t last forever. Dave learns to fend for himself, but he also comes to believe that God does answer people’s prayers, and that it’s okay for him to depend on other people—his commanders in the U.S. Air Force (in which he serves during the Gulf War), his priests, and his wife and child.

It was a comforting thought that promised an escape from Aggie, her friends and all that I hated in the world. But my better senses returned, and I looked up and fixed my eyes directly on John’s eyes and tried to hold my stare. After a few moments, he must have felt my anger because he turned away taking Aggie with him.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Aggie, John
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In this tense passage, Dave contemplates suicide. He’s put up with cruelty and abuse for so many years; now, however, the abuse is proving to be too much to bear. Dave has nobody to love him; even his classmates treat him with extraordinary cruelty and viciousness, urging him to jump off a ship and die.

The passage is, ultimately, a good example of Dave’s impressive self-reliance and courage. Even when he believes that he has no particular reason for living, and even when everyone in his life, even his classmates, treats him with hatred, he finds the willpower to carry on living. A Child Called “It” is full of tragic events, but it’s not a tragedy; on the contrary, as this passage reminds us, it’s an inspiring story about how Dave maintains his courage and dignity in the face of almost unfathomable adversity.

"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!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Dave has just returned from school with a letter from his teacher, explaining that he’s done a good job on an assignment. Instead of being proud of her son for succeeding academically, Mother tears up the letter and yells at Dave, insisting that he’ll never be more than an “It” in her eyes—a worthless waste of space.

The passage is important for a couple reasons. It explains the memoir’s striking title: Mother dehumanizes Dave, to the point where she claims not to think of him as a human being anymore (and, rather, an inanimate “it”). Furthermore, the passage emphasizes the psychological trauma that Dave endures as a result of living with his Mother for so many years. Mother tries to force Dave to believe that he is, in fact, a worthless waste of space—however, as Pelzer makes clear by the end of his book, he’s triumphed over Mother’s bullying and cruelty and come to see himself as a good person and a proud, successful man.

Father shook his head and said in a sad voice, “I can’t take it anymore. The whole thing. Your mother, this house, you. I just can't take it anymore.” Before he closed the bedroom door I could barely hear him mutter, "I . . . I'm . . . I'm sorry.”

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Father announces that he’ll be moving out of the house. He and Mother have been fighting for a long time now, and now he’ll be living somewhere else (shortly afterwards, Dave learns that his parents are separating permanently). The news that Father is leaving is especially tough for Dave because, in addition to the usual anxieties that accompany a parent’s departure, Dave is frightened that, without Father around to protect him, Mother will begin abusing him even more severely.

The passage is also the defining example of Father’s weakness. He understands that Mother is abusing Dave and, on some level, he recognizes that this abuse is fundamentally wrong. But even so, Father doesn’t have the courage or the willpower to fight on behalf of his son; indeed, he seems to regard Dave as a burden, which he’s eager to escape forever (notice that Father includes Dave—“you”—on the same list as Mother and the house). It’s no wonder that Dave grows up believing that he can’t rely on anyone but himself—his only protector in the house is a pathetic coward.

As Mother drove out of the McDonald's parking lot, she glanced back at me and sneered, "You are all mine now. Too bad your father's not here to protect you."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, immediately after Dave says goodbye to Father for the last time, Mother confirms Dave’s worst fears. Just as he’s suspected, Mother is going to abuse him even more harshly than she did before. Gleefully, Mother tells Dave that he’s at her mercy from now on—nobody’s going to protect him from her wrath anymore. (However, in the previous chapters, it had seemed that Mother was abusing Dave more overtly and that she was no longer concerned with hiding her behavior from Father—suggesting that Father wasn’t really “protecting” Dave in the first place. However, Pelzer doesn’t really address this ambiguity in the book.) The passage confirms that Mother is a sadist of the first degree: she seems to take great pleasure in causing Dave the maximum amount of fear and anxiety, not just physical pain.

Epilogue Quotes

I marvel at the wood how it reminds me of my former life. My beginning was extremely turbulent, being pushed and pulled in every direction. The more grisly my situation became, the more I felt as if some immense power were sucking me into some giant undertow. I fought as hard as I could, but the cycle never seemed to end. Until suddenly, without warning, I broke free.

I'm so lucky. My dark past is behind me now.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Piece of Wood
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Epilogue, Dave Pelzer takes a moment to count his blessings. He thinks back on his traumatic childhood, during which his parents pushed him around like an inanimate piece of wood. Then, quite unexpectedly, Dave’s fortunes turned: the police took him away from his abusive Mother and placed him in a foster home (which Dave discusses in his other memoirs). Afterwards, Dave learned to work hard for his dreams, and became a pilot in the Air Force, and later a successful author. In short, he broke free.

Perhaps the key word in this passage is “cycle.” Pelzer seems to be referring to the seemingly endless violence, both literal and psychological, that traumatized him in the early years of his life. Later in the chapter, Pelzer mentions the generational cycle of child abuse—in other words, the tragic fact that many child abusers were themselves victims of child abuse as children. Pelzer has broken from the cycle in both senses—by having a successful, happy life, and by raising a happy child.

Even now, as salty tears run down my face, Stephen smiles, letting me maintain my dignity. But be knows why I'm crying. Stephen knows my tears are tears of joy. "Love you, Dad."

"Love you, too, son."

I'm free.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen (speaker)
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final sentences of the Epilogue, Dave Pelzer talks about his beloved child, Stephen Pelzer. It’s a tragic truth that many child abuse victims grow up become abusive parents, perpetuating an endless cycle of abuse. Dave has broken “free” of the cycle of abuse, showing his child nothing but love and kindness. In interviews and speeches, Pelzer has often claimed that raising a happy kid is his proudest achievement in life.

It’s also worth noting that Dave’s child, Stephen, is named after Dave’s father, Stephen Joseph (at least in the memoir; Dave changed the names of several characters, including his son). This might suggest that, even after all the neglect and indifference that Father showed Dave, Dave continues to feel some love for Father—perhaps because Father was kinder to Dave than Mother, even if he wasn’t actually kind. Or perhaps Dave chooses the name Stephen to remind himself of the importance of being a loving, attentive father—in short, doing everything Father didn’t do for him.

Perspectives on Child Abuse Quotes

Once exposed, the causes of child abuse can be understood and support can truly begin. Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final portion of A Child Called “It”, Dave Pelzer and a handful of other people offer their perspectives on child abuse. Pelzer writes about his personal experiences with child abuse, but also emphasizes a broader point: although his own experience with child abuse ended happily (with Pelzer’s removal from Mother’s house and with Pelzer’s subsequent success in life), most instances of child abuse end miserably: often, children run away from home and end up living on the streets; in other cases, the children grow up to become abusive parents themselves. By adding a chapter on “Perspectives on Child Abuse,” Pelzer aims to raise awareness of child abuse and protect children from danger. He ends his meditation by emphasizing the importance of keeping children happy and secure—in a word, “playing in the sun.”

My mind returned to the Thomas Edison School in Daly City, California, September, 1972. Enter little David Pelzer as one of my fifth-grade students. I was naive back then, but I was blessed with a sensitivity that told me there was something terribly wrong in David's life. Food missing from other students' lunches was traced to this thin, sad boy. Questionable bruises appeared on exposed parts of his body. Everything began to point to one thing: this kid was being beaten and punished in ways far beyond normal parental practice.

Related Characters: Steven E. Ziegler / Mr. Ziegler (speaker), David Pelzer / Dave
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Steven E. Zeigler, the teacher who, in 1973, helped free Dave Pelzer from his mother’s abusive household, offers his own unique perspective on child abuse. At the time of this writing, Ziegler has been teaching for more than twenty years, and he’s gained a lot of important knowledge about child abuse—both how to recognize it and how to respond to it. In a way, Ziegler’s experience with child abuse parallels the changes surrounding child abuse in America between the 1970s and 1990s: just as Ziegler became less naïve and more informed on the matter, so, too, did American society in general (however, this shouldn’t suggest that all Americans are now well-informed about abuse—on the contrary, a lot more work needs to be done to keep children safe).

Ziegler also emphasizes the importance of staying vigilant and observant when it comes to child abuse. By using their common sense, teachers—and adults in general—can recognize abuse and alert the proper authorities as soon as possible, thereby protecting children from further harm.

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David Pelzer / Dave Character Timeline in A Child Called It

The timeline below shows where the character David Pelzer / Dave appears in A Child Called It. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Rescue
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...police officer walks the narrator outside. As they walk past the narrator’s classmates, they cry, “Dave’s busted!” (full context)
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The police officer drives Dave to a police station. After completing some paperwork, he asks Dave for his Mother’s phone... (full context)
Chapter 2: Good Times
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In the early sixties, Dave remembers, his family is perfect. He and his two brothers, Ronald and Stan, have been... (full context)
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Dave still has vivid memories of celebrating the holidays with his family. The day after Thanksgiving,... (full context)
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One evening, Dave’s parents take him to watch the sunset. As he watches the sun set over the... (full context)
Chapter 3: Bad Boy
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Dave’s relationship with Mom changes very quickly, however, to the point where things get so bad... (full context)
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Mother begins to punish Dave more and more harshly. At first, she punishes him for being loud by making him... (full context)
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...she claims to have lost, and, when they can’t find it, she hits them. Once, Dave forgets what he’s supposed to be looking for, and when he asks Mother what it... (full context)
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One day, while Father is at work, Mother yells for her children. While Dave’s brothers run away, Mother—whose eyes are bloodshot—hits Dave again and again. Suddenly, Dave hears a... (full context)
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Dave loves school because it’s an escape from Mother. He makes friends and gets good grades.... (full context)
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After the summer, Dave repeats the first grade. He’s the most knowledgeable kid in class, since he already knows... (full context)
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...team. She invites children to the house and treats them kindly; some of them tell Dave they wish their mothers were as kind as his. One Wednesday, when Dave is preparing... (full context)
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Alone in the garage, Dave realizes that he’s used his brains to survive. From then on, he decides that he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Fight for Food
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After Mother burns Dave, school becomes his refuge. In September, he returns to school with new clothes; however, Mother... (full context)
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At home, Dave is barely a part of the family anymore. Mother no longer uses his name, and... (full context)
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The year Dave goes to the second grade, Mother becomes pregnant. Miss Moss, Dave’s teacher, asks Dave why... (full context)
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Over the summer, Dave and the rest of the family drive out to Russian River to go camping. Dave... (full context)
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In September, Dave returns to school, wearing the same clothes he wore last year. Instead of driving Dave... (full context)
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Dave runs back to school with the graham crackers and hides them in a garbage can.... (full context)
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After dinner, Mother scrapes leftovers into the garbage can and then makes Dave wash the dishes with scalding hot water. Desperate for food, Dave decides to eat from... (full context)
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Dave’s next plan to get food is to steal frozen lunches from the cafeteria. In the... (full context)
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After Dave eats his vomit, Mother throws some old newspapers at him and informs him that, from... (full context)
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Dave begins begging for food on his way to school. He stops at various houses and... (full context)
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Suddenly Mother calls Dave upstairs. She tells him, “I have a cure for your hunger,” and orders him to... (full context)
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One day, Mother squeezes soap into Dave’s mouth and makes him swallow. Secretly, Dave doesn’t—he just keeps the soap in his mouth,... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Accident
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In the summer of 1971, Dave is ten years old. He’s come to learn what punishments to expect from Mother—above all,... (full context)
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One evening in July, Dave sits by the stairs while the rest of the family eats dinner—Dave isn’t allowed to... (full context)
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As Dave clears the dishes, Mother continues to yell, brandishing a big knife at him and threatening... (full context)
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When Dave wakes up again, Mother is wrapping a cloth around his chest. Mother often said that... (full context)
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Father walks into the house. Dave gasps, “Mother stabbed me.” Without raising an eyebrow, Father asks, “Why?” Dave explains that he’d... (full context)
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As Dave is finishing the dishes, he succumbs to the pain and collapses. He feels Father helping... (full context)
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Before going to bed, Mother feeds Dave some food. He sleeps in the garage, trying not to think of the pain. Eventually... (full context)
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Three days after the “accident,” Dave feels awful, but Mother is back to her old ways. Dave doesn’t ask Mother for... (full context)
Chapter 6: While Father Is Away
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After Dave’s stabbing, Father spends less and less time at home. He makes excuses, but Dave doesn’t... (full context)
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During one period when Father is gone for work, Mother starves Dave for ten days. She makes sure that Dave eats no food, locking the freezer and... (full context)
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When Father is away, Mother forces Dave to clean the bathroom with ammonia and Clorox. She locks him inside, so that the... (full context)
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During the summer, Mother makes Dave mow lawns and give her the money he earns. The previous Easter vacation Mother also... (full context)
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One day, Mother summons Dave to the bathroom, where he finds her filling the tub with cold water. Mother forces... (full context)
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In the coming weeks, Mother begins to use the “bathtub and backyard treatment” on Dave more and more often. Dave’s brothers bring their friends into the bathroom to look at... (full context)
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Fall arrives, and Dave begins the fourth grade. For the first two weeks, the class has a substitute teacher,... (full context)
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By October, Dave’s life has gotten even worse. Bullies tease him, and he has a hard time finding... (full context)
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One morning, Dave is sent to the school nurse. At first, Dave tells the nurse the lies Mother... (full context)
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In late October, Dave’s brothers carve pumpkins for Halloween while Dave sits alone in the cold bathtub. Dave can... (full context)
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Christmas is a rough time of year for Dave, because he doesn’t get to go to school. For Christmas, he receives a pair of... (full context)
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In March, Mother goes into labor, and Father takes her to the hospital. Dave is very relieved to have Mother out of the house, even for a few days.... (full context)
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One Sunday, Mother tells Dave that she’s sorry, and that she wants to “make up for all the lost time.”... (full context)
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Shortly afterwards, a woman from social services arrives and asks to speak with Dave. The woman asks Dave if he’s happy; Dave says that he is. When the woman... (full context)
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Early in the mornings, Father wakes up in the same bed as Dave and kisses him goodbye, whispering, “Try to make her happy and stay out of her... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Lord’s Prayer
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Shortly before entering the fifth grade, Dave decides that there is no God: he’s convinced that no God would let Mother beat... (full context)
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Dave thinks about killing Mother, and making her feel his pain and loneliness. He also despises... (full context)
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At school, Dave’s classmates bully and tease him. A girl named Aggie regularly tells him to “drop dead,”... (full context)
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In fifth grade, Dave’s teacher is Mr. Ziegler. Unlike some of the other teachers, Ziegler makes an effort to... (full context)
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In the coming weeks, Dave begins doing his chores more and more carelessly. He wants Mother to know “I didn’t... (full context)
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The only thing that keeps Dave sane is his baby brother Kevin, who he loves. Shortly before Mother gives birth to... (full context)
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...argues with her own mother on the phone, and then takes out her anger on Dave. She also yells at Father, calling him a “drunken loser,” and even bans him from... (full context)
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That year, for Thanksgiving, Father comes to the house and Mother allows Dave to eat with the rest of the family. The dinner is silent and sad. Afterwards,... (full context)
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As Mother drives home, Dave clasps his hands together and silently prays. As the car pulls into the driveway, he... (full context)
Epilogue: Sonoma County, California
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...the waves pull the wood back into the ocean. In many ways, the wood reminds Dave of his former life—his life began with “being pushed and pulled in every direction.” Dave... (full context)
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Dave knows that he’s been very lucky. He made himself a promise: if he ever came... (full context)
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Dave gets back in his car and drives out to the city of Guerneville. He stops... (full context)
Perspectives on Child Abuse
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The chapter begins with David Pelzer explaining that he was not alone—there were thousands of other abused children in California. Indeed,... (full context)
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By telling his story, Dave has tried to give a sense for what child abuse is like from the perspective... (full context)
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...the chapter, Steven E. Ziegler, David Pelzer’s former teacher, describes September 1992, the month when Dave reached out to him about the child abuse reports Ziegler made twenty years before. Ziegler... (full context)
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...to educate itself about child abuse, thanks to books, films, and child abuse survivors like Dave. (full context)
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...reminds readers to remember the tens of thousands of children who aren’t as lucky as Dave—those who don’t survive their abuse, or who survive and then perpetuate the cycle by hurting... (full context)