Christopher has trouble understanding other people, so he usually fails to perceive nuances in people’s personalities, instead categorizing them in a certain way that dictates how he interacts with them. These categorizations often influence whether or not Christopher feels that he can trust certain people, and his social interactions depend almost entirely on whether or not he trusts the other person.
Whenever Christopher meets someone new, he assumes they’re untrustworthy until he can see some proof to the contrary. Even the school environment, where most people take for granted that teachers are essentially good people, does not reassure Christopher—he refuses to interact with new teachers until he has observed them for a few weeks to be sure it’s safe for him to trust them. Christopher is very cautious whenever he meets anyone he doesn’t know. Mrs. Alexander makes gestures of friendship which Christopher returns very warily, believing that at any moment she might lead him into danger. Christopher’s judgments of people are often different from general social attitudes, so the fact that Mrs. Alexander is an elderly woman makes her no less automatically trustworthy in his eyes.
For Christopher, trust is completely black and white. Either someone is trustworthy or they’re not, in which case he thinks they’re entirely unpredictable and might hurt him. When Christopher’s father admits that he lied about Christopher’s mother dying and that he killed Wellington, Christopher decides that he can no longer trust Ed. Because of Christopher’s worldview, losing trust in his father means not only that he can’t believe what Ed tells him, but that if Ed could kill a dog, he’s quite likely to kill Christopher, too.
At first, Christopher seems overcautious about whether or not people can be trusted, such as when he leaves Mrs. Alexander’s yard because she’s taking too long to bring out the cookies she’s promised, and he thinks she might be calling the police on him. However, it becomes evident that in fact, his black-and-white view of trustworthiness has blinded him to the deceptions of those closest to him, whom he trusts most—his parents. Christopher’s parents inflict quite a bit of emotional pain on him—his mother leaves him without saying goodbye and his father lies about her death. Thus Christopher’s complete mistrust of others is not so much unnecessary as it is misdirected; at the beginning of the book, he trusts his parents just as blindly as he refuses to trust anyone new, and this prevents him from imagining that his parents might be capable of hurting him and from guessing that his mother’s story might be different from what he’s been told. Christopher does not regard humans as inherently untrustworthy; rather, he thinks he has to figure out which ones are trustworthy and which aren’t. However, the betrayals of his parents, whom he long ago classified as trustworthy, demonstrate that no one can be completely trusted. Even generally trustworthy people with good intentions are governed in the end by emotions, which might lead them to act in harmful ways.
Christopher himself intends to be entirely trustworthy, constantly reminding those around him that he always tells the truth. However, as Ed tries to keep him from his investigations, Christopher becomes less trustworthy, even while telling himself that he’s doing nothing wrong. He disobeys Ed because Ed’s instructions were too vague, and he tells only part of the truth about where he’s been when he goes out. Thus, Christopher himself also proves that people can never entirely be trusted.
Trust Quotes in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
It takes me a long time to get used to people I do not know. For example, when there is a new member of staff at school I do not talk to them for weeks and weeks. I just watch them until I know that they are safe. Then I ask them questions about themselves, like whether they have pets and what is their favorite color and what do they know about the Apollo space missions and I get them to draw a plan of their house and I ask them what kind of car they drive, so I get to know them...
So talking to the other people in our street was brave. But if you are going to do detective work you have to be brave, so I had no choice.
And Mrs. Alexander said, “Your mother, before she died, was very good friends with Mr. Shears.”
And I said, “I know.”
And she said, “No, Christopher, I’m not sure that you do. I mean that they were very good friends. Very, very good friends.”
I thought about this for a while and said, “Do you mean that they were doing sex?”
And Mrs. Alexander said, “Yes, Christopher. That is what I mean.”
And I couldn’t walk properly for a month, do you remember, and your father had to look after you. And I remember looking at the two of you and seeing you together and thinking how you were really different with him. Much calmer. And you didn’t shout at one another. And it made me so sad because it was like you didn’t really need me at all.
Mother had not had a heart attack. Mother had not died. Mother had been alive all the time. And Father had lied about this.
I tried really hard to think if there was any other explanation but I couldn’t think of one. And then I couldn’t think of anything at all because my brain wasn’t working properly.
I felt giddy. It was like the room was swinging from side to side, as if it was at the top of a really tall building and the building was swinging backward and forward in a strong wind (this is a simile, too). But I knew that the room couldn’t be swinging backward and forward, so it must have been something which was happening inside my head.
I rolled onto the bed and curled up in a ball.
My stomach hurt.
I want you to know that you can trust me. And... OK, maybe I don’t tell the truth all the time. God knows, I try, Christopher, God knows I do, but... Life is difficult, you know. It’s bloody hard telling the truth all the time. Sometimes it’s impossible. And I want you to know that I’m trying, I really am. And perhaps this is not a very good time to say this, and I know you’re not going to like it, but... You have to know that I am going to tell you the truth from now on. About everything. Because... if you don’t tell the truth now, then later on... later on it hurts even more. So.... I killed Wellington, Christopher.
I had to get out of the house. Father had murdered Wellington. That meant he could murder me, because I couldn’t trust him, even though he had said “Trust me,” because he had told a lie about a big thing.
And then I saw Toby, and he was also in the lower-down bit where the rails were.... So I climbed down off the concrete...
...And then I heard the roaring and I lifted Toby up and grabbed him with both hands and he bit me on my thumb and there was blood coming out and I shouted and Toby tried to jump out of my hands.
And then the roaring got louder and I turned round and I saw the train coming out of the tunnel and I was going to be run over and killed so I tried to climb up onto the concrete but it was high and I was holding Toby in both my hands.
And Mother shouted, “What in God’s name did you think you were playing at, saying those things to him?”
And Father shouted, “What was I playing at? You were the one that bloody left.”
And Mother shouted, “So you decided to just wipe me out of his life altogether?... I wrote to him every week. Every week.”
And Father shouted, “Wrote to him? What the fuck use is writing to him?... I cooked his meals. I cleaned his clothes. I looked after him every weekend. I looked after him when he was ill. I took him to the doctor. I worried myself sick every time he wandered off somewhere at night. I went to school every time he got in a fight. And you? What? You wrote him some fucking letters.”
And Mother shouted, “So you thought it was OK to tell him his mother was dead?”
...Father said, “Christopher, look... You have to learn to trust me... And I don’t care how long it takes... Because this is important. This is more important than anything else... Let’s call it a project....You have to spend more time with me. And I... I have to show you that you can trust me... And, um... I’ve got you a present. To show you that I really mean what I say. And to say sorry. And because... well, you’ll see what I mean.”
Then he got out of the armchair and he walked over to the kitchen door and opened it and there was a big cardboard box on the floor... and he took a little sandy-colored dog out.
Then he came back through and gave me the dog...
Then Father said, “Christopher, I would never, ever do anything to hurt you.”