"I felt I was living in a nightmare that Mother had created, and I prayed she would somehow wake up."
This quote comes as Dave is talking about the beginning of his abuse. It seems like a nightmare to him because before this time, his mother had treated him kindly and shown him love. In the early years of his life, he had seen what it was like to be part of a loving family, so this sudden shift to maltreatment and hatred feels like a nightmare from which that he cannot awake.
When the police officer tells Dave that his mother will never hurt him again, he is shocked. For the past eight years of his life, his mother's abuse has been all he has known, and he has become accustomed to the idea that other adults would not intervene. Imagining himself free is something entirely new, and it takes him a while to process it. Interestingly, because he chooses to flash forward in the first chapter and then rewind to tell the story of his abuse, readers do not yet know exactly what Dave is free from.
"Mother then ordered me to climb up onto the stove and lie on the flames so she could watch me burn."
This is an example of one of the worst punishments that Dave's mother tries to inflict on him, and it makes clear just how cruel she truly is. Many times, it seems that she actually does want Dave to die, even this early on in his abuse—and it only gets worse as time goes on, when she explicitly states that she wants her son dead. This is also the moment when Dave realizes he can manipulate her and use tactics to ensure his survival.
"After I finished, I felt as though I had won the Olympic Marathon. I was so proud for beating Mother at her own game."
Little moments like the one described in this quote—when Dave manages to outsmart one of his mother's punishments—are what gives Dave the will to survive more than anything else. Once he realizes that she cannot truly break him, he finds the strength to keep going and keep fighting her in these subtle ways.
"Well, you ah... you better go back in there and do the dishes."
Father's reaction to Dave's mother stabbing Dave is not what Dave expects, and it confirms once and for all that Dave's father will not be the superhero that Dave has always hoped he would be. He is not strong enough or brave enough to stand up to his wife to protect his son: she has managed to control him the way she controls everyone else in the family.
"In my dream, I flew through the air in vivid colors. I wore a cape of red... I was Superman."
Shortly after realizing that his father would not be his Superman, Dave realizes that he is his own Superman. He keeps up his strength even after being terribly harmed, fighting off infection and keeping himself alive. He is the only one he can truly count on in this situation, and this confidence in himself and his abilities keeps him going through the terror he is forced to suffer.
"I felt like a fool because I had fallen for it. I was so hungry for love that I had swallowed the whole charade."
When Dave's mother suddenly starts treating him kindly, it seems too good to be true. The ease with which Dave falls for her act shows how desperate for love and affection he really was. In that moment, Dave was willing to ignore years of wrongs she had done to him, as long as she seemed willing to love him again. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that Dave is still just a child who wants his mother to love him, but in this moment, his youth and innocence is extremely clear.
"At the core of my soul, I hated myself more than anybody or anything. I came to believe that everything that happened to me or around me was my own fault because I had let it go on for so long."
Blame is one of this memoir's overarching themes, and from the very beginning Dave blamed himself for what he was going through. First it was because he thought he was a "bad boy" and had misbehaved in some way to make his mother do what she did, and near the end of his abuse, he blamed himself for not doing anything to make it stop. He internalized his mother's abuse, feeling as if it were his fault in some way.
"You are a nobody! an It! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead!"
For years, Dave's mother had called him "the boy," indicating that she viewed him as unworthy of a name or his own identity. This escalates as the abuse continues, and by the last chapter of the memoir, she calls him "it." This theme of dehumanization is so important that it became the title of the book, and it makes it clear just how low Dave felt during his abuse.
"This is my favorite place in the whole world!"
At the end of the book, Dave's son, Stephen, declares that the Russian River is his favorite place in the world. Dave used to feel the same way, before it became corrupted on his last visit when his mother abused him there—however, he still agrees with Stephen, showing that his mother had not truly taken away all of his happiness.
A Child Called “It” Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Child Called “It” is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.