Use of language in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

As The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play, the language can be split into dialogue and stage directions. The dialogue is fast moving and realistic and adds the following to the characters:

  • personality
  • motivations
  • moves the action forward (pace)

The stage directions tell the actors what to do on stage or how to say their lines. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time the stage directions are simple and focus on actions - where actors should stand and what they should do.

When analysing the language Stephens uses, you could use this structure:

  • what are the ideas Stephens is trying to get across?
  • how has he chosen particular words to reflect this?
  • what effect does this have on the audience?

Evidence and explanation of the language used

Character personalityChristopher sees the world in a very precise and detailed way. "Then I went up to my bedroom and turned on my bedroom light and played six games of Tetris and got to level 38 which is my fourth best ever score."When the characters speak they reveal information about themselves. This helps the audience to understand their personalities. This is particularly important with Christopher who has an unusual personality.This helps the audience realise that Christopher remembers details that anybody else might ignore. At times this infuriates the other characters that interact with him but as the audience get to know him it becomes endearing.
Character motivationEd, Christopher's dad reveals when he is lying through his dialogue "No. It's an ordinary hospital. She has a problem.....a problem with her heart."It is important that the audience pick up on what the characters are thinking. It helps them to get a better grasp on their motivations.The pause in this line highlights that his father is lying about the whereabouts of Christopher's mother. At this point the audience can only guess what motivated his father to say this, this engages the audience further.
Moving the action forwardChristopher often states very plainly what he is going to do "I've decided I’m going to find out who killed Wellington".Christopher speaking in such a plain manner is an effective dramatic device. It helps to move the action forward and keeps the audience informed and engaged.The audience know exactly what is driving the plot forward at any moment in time, be it looking for Wellington's killer or Christopher's quest to live with his mother.

How to analyse language

In order to analyse language you should:

  • Choose a section from the text to analyse and then select a quote from it. Make sure that it is relevant to the question and the point you want to make.
  • Consider how the quote reflects character/theme/context.
  • Explore in detail the impact specific words or phrases have upon the audience.
  • Evaluate how effective the author's choice of language is.

How does Stephens use language to illustrate the characters' personalities?

Consider the conversation between Christopher and his father in Part One.


(1) I could see the Milky Way as we drove towards the town centre.


(2) Could you?


Some people think the Milky Way is a long line of stars, but it isn't. (3) Our galaxy is a huge disc of stars of millions of light years across and the solar system is somewhere near the outer edge of the disc.


(2) Is that right?

  • (1) "I could see the Milky Way" - This reveals that Christopher notices things that other people don’t, he is very observant.
  • (2) "Could you?" "Is that right?" - Ed is showing his patience here. He can lose his temper with Christopher but at this point he is listening carefully to him. He takes good care of Christopher.
  • (3) "Our galaxy is a huge disc of stars of millions of light years across" - Not only does Christopher notice things that other people don't - he is very knowledgeable about certain things, especially space and maths.
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