A Child Called "It"

A Child Called "It" Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Daly City, California, 1960s and 1970s

Narrator and Point of View

Dave Pelzer–the man who, as a boy, suffered abuse at the hands of his mother for eight years–narrates the memoir in first-person past tense. The book switches to present tense for the first chapter and the epilogue.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the book is primarily sad, lonely, and desperate, as Dave continuously suffers. However, the mood in Chapter 2 ("Good Times") and the epilogue is much happier.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Dave Pelzer is the protagonist, while his mother, Catherine Roerva, is the antagonist.

Major Conflict

For eight years, Dave is abused by his alcoholic, sadistic mother, and although others in his life are aware that this is happening, no one intervenes for a long time.


While threatening to kill him, Dave's mother accidentally stabs him in the stomach with a knife, seriously injuring him. According to Dave, this was a major event that set the tone for the rest of his time with his mother.


Since Chapter 1 begins at the tail end of Dave's abuse, it foreshadows what is to come in the narrative (i.e. his abuse). Readers know that Dave's mother will do terrible things, but they do not know exactly what she will do.






Imagery is discussed in the separate "Imagery" section in this study guide.




There is a parallel between Dave's relationship with his parents and his relationship with his own son, Stephen. These parent-son relationships are structured parallel to each other, but they are very different because Dave makes sure to treat his son with all the love and care he never received.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



"For a moment, it looks as if the wave is struggling to stay ashore" (pg. 91).

As Dave looks at the ocean in his adulthood, he personifies a piece of driftwood by imagining that it was like him in his childhood, struggling and fighting against everything that tried to drag him backwards and get him to give up.