A Child Called "It"

A Child Called "It" Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5: The Accident


The chapter begins with Dave acknowledging that the summer of 1971 set the tone for the rest of his time with his mother. Things got worse as the summer continued on, with Dave hardly getting any food. One particular July day stands out in his memory. His mother called him upstairs and gave him 20 minutes to finish the dishes, or else he would go hungry again. Dave's little brother, Russell, was with her; he had become mother's "little Nazi," watching Dave's every move, even though he was only four or five years old.

Dave’s mother picked up a knife and threatened to kill him if he did not get the dishes done on time. This did not have an effect on Dave, who heard it all the time. As she was waving the knife, she began to lose her balance, and the knife flew out of her hand and into Dave's stomach.

Dave blacked out, and came to just as his mother was trying to dress the wound. There was no remorse in her eyes for the accident, and it was clear that she would not acknowledge what had happened.

Dave painfully made his way over to his father when he got home, and told him that his mother had stabbed him. Dave was astonished when his father was not shocked, and instead told him to go back in and finish the dishes so that his mother did not hear them talking. Dave realized then that his mother controlled his father just like she controlled everything else. This was a terrible realization for Dave, who had always believed that his father would someday be his Superman.

He finished washing the dishes as quickly as he could, in throbbing pain the whole time. He wanted to give up, but he was determined to show his mother that she could not beat him. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, his mother was kinder to him, allowing him to play with his brothers. He ran a fever in the middle of the night and she stayed nearby, and strangely Dave felt safe knowing she was there. The next morning, however, Dave woke covered in his blood and his mother only told him to clean up and start his chores. He knew that nothing had changed.

Dave's wound became infected, and determined not to ask her for help, he cleaned it as best as he could. It is excruciating, but he finished, and the wound eventually healed. He was proud of himself, and imagined himself like a cartoon in a comic book that had overcome great odds and survived. He was Superman.


This chapter represents a turning point in the memoir. Up until now, while Dave’s mother has undoubtedly hurt him terribly and threatened him many times, he hadn’t yet come close to dying. His mother responds differently when his life actually is in danger, showing traces of kindness and compassion. At the surface, it might seem like she actually cares about him. However, a close reading reveals to both readers and to Dave that all she really cares about is herself: if Dave is seen with this kind of wound, she could be in serious trouble.

There is a strange moment in this chapter, when Dave is sick and fevered and he feels safe knowing that his mother is nearby watching out for him. It has been many years since Dave has felt safe in his mother's presence, so this moment shows signs of his vulnerability and his inner longing to return to the past, when his mother was someone he could trust to care for him. This is a version of Stockholm syndrome, which refers to a hostage having positive feelings towards his captor.

Dave's mother's temperament has begun to rub off on other members of his family, particularly Russell. Their mother showers Russell with attention and yet ignores and abuses Dave, and this contrast has made Russell feel far superior to his older brother. This is an unsettling reminder that this sort of hatred can be taught, and his mother's actions have resulted not only in a huge rift between her and Dave, but between Dave and his brothers as well.

Dave's interaction with his father following the stabbing is an extremely revealing moment. At this point, Dave's former idea of his father has been completely shattered, and he realizes his father will never be the Superman he needs him to be. It is common for children to view their parents as superheroes, so when this notion is broken, a child at last loses his innocence. This is the moment that Dave is forced, once and for all, to grow up.

Instead, Dave has become his own Superman, as he acknowledges at the end of the chapter. He now relies on himself and only himself, rather than harboring the hope that his father would someday stick up for him and save him. He has accepted that he himself is his only hope, and has gained confidence in his ability to survive and fight off his mother's abuse on his own. Dave has matured immensely over the course of the memoir, despite the horrible circumstances that have forced him to do so.