In addition to depicting an incredibly abusive parent, A Child Called “It” studies the effects of child abuse on the abused children themselves. For years, Mother beats Dave Pelzer, the author and narrator of the book, leaving him with scars and bruises, but also a longer-lasting sense of shame, guilt, resentment, fear, and self-hatred—in a word, trauma. Through Dave’s eyes, readers come to understand the traumatizing psychological effects of abuse on young children and—more implicitly—how abused children can come to terms with their trauma.
A Child Called “It” suggests that the greatest harm of child abuse is often psychological, not physical. In the case of Dave Pelzer, Mother’s abuse leaves Dave with a lasting sense of hatred—both for other people and for himself. For years, Mother beats him and subjects him to countless forms of physical abuse. However, she insists again and again that she’s hurting Dave because he’s been bad, and even forces him to repeat, “I’m a bad boy.” After many years of abuse, Dave’s life becomes so miserable that he comes to envy and resent other children who lead happier lives than his own. In particular, he comes to despise his brothers, who Mother doesn’t abuse, and his classmates. He also comes to hate himself, partly because Mother has brainwashed him into doing so by making him repeat, “I’m a bad boy” and partly because he can’t stand that he’s too frightened to fight back against Mother’s cruelty.
One of the greatest tragedies of child abuse is that, very often, people who were abused as children grow up to abuse their own children, creating a cycle of cruelty, trauma, and hatred. While it might seem hard to believe that victims of child abuse would beat their own children, they sometimes do so, for the very reasons that A Child Called “It” lists: like Dave, they hate people who seem happier than they are, and take out their frustration and self-hatred by hurting others (and, furthermore, they’ve been taught to do so by their own parents).
A Child Called “It” does more than simply list the evils of child abuse; it shows that Dave Pelzer escapes the cycle of abuse and learns ways of gaining some control over his trauma (as he says in the Epilogue, “I’m free”). As the book comes to a close, Pelzer writes that he’s the proud parent of a beautiful boy, Stephen, whom he treats with nothing but love and warmth. That Pelzer has become a loving parent and is “free” would suggest that he’s escaped the worst effects of trauma, such as self-hatred, PTSD, and chronic anxiety, and has made a happy life for himself.
Some critics, however, have pointed out that Pelzer never explains how exactly he copes with his trauma, and some have even suggested that Pelzer is more interested in selling shocking books than in using literature to help people. Yet Pelzer has also traveled across the country, often working one-on-one with victims of child abuse, suggesting that he’s sincerely committed to helping people cope with trauma, not just thrilling his readers. Furthermore, such criticisms ignore the fact that writing A Child Called “It” represents, in itself, a way for Pelzer to overcome his trauma. Writing about his own abuse took tremendous courage, and by doing so, Pelzer distanced himself from his past, came to terms with his self-hatred, and, in general, found ways of coping with his trauma without denying or forgetting his experiences.
Psychological Trauma ThemeTracker
Psychological Trauma Quotes in A Child Called It
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!"
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.
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."
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.
"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!"
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."
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.