A Child Called It
A Child Called IT is the heart wrenching story of a young boy named Dave Pelzer who was abused by his alcoholic mother from the age of four until he was removed at the age of twelve years old.
Dave lived in a world of starvation, cruelty, and torture for eight years until his rescue by courageous school officials at the age of twelve. This poor boy was forced to wash the dishes, clean the bathrooms, all the while hoping he could get done quickly enough to avoid his mother's rage and have the opportunity to eat some breakfast. All that Dave was allowed were the leftovers of his brother's cereal. This horrific mother would isolate him from the rest of the family; then torment him; and nearly kills him through starvation, she would starve this child for as long as eight days at a time, poisoning and stabbing him, would beat him repeatedly, sent him to school in old, dirty and ripped clothing, prevent him from sleeping in his bed-forced him to sleep in a cold, damp basement while she slowly poisoned him with concoctions of ammonia and bleach.
Daves mothers primary goal was to challenge his survival skills. She wanted to beat him down physically, emotionally, and psychologically. This is why she would starve him. Her goal was to kill him slowly, while torturing him; she actually enjoyed the challenge of finding new ways to set her son up for failure so she could hurt him as punishment. Daves mother was a cruel human being with obvious signs of mental health. The biggest question is why she did not abuse the other children in the same manner as Dave.
To assess the mother on a biological perspective, I would need to know more about her background. Did her mother and father abuse alcohol? Were her parents abusive towards her due to their alcoholism? There must be a physical mechanism in her that would influence her to abuse alcohol as she did. There was something in abusing alcohol that numbed her pain away.
What is known based on the book is that she had a strained relationship with her own mother. Whether that relationship became that way after she began to abuse alcohol and her child is not known. It appears that the grandmother did give opinions on how she disapproved her daughters actions against her family but Davids mother would grow enraged and defensive to any questions about the way she raised her family.
Psychologically, this woman had to have been abused herself. Child abuse is a learned behavior. She had target child selection; she knew who she could vent her rage on and that became her son Dave. Abusing him was like a relief for her; it became a pleasurable sensation and will continue to repeat it to receive the same benefit. Catherine was an alcoholic who had been drinking from the age of 13. She would hide in the outhouse during Prohibition to down bootleg whiskey. Her parents
were divorced, which made them outcasts in that religious community, and Catherine was frequently locked in a closet, denied food, and told how despicable she was, hence, learned behavior. Catherine is a person with self-hatred as a result of surviving a childhood that required complete submission to a hostile or sadistic caregiver.
Catherine was only cruel to the target of her rage. However, the other children may not perceive her as abusive if they do not possess qualities that triggered her rage. Catherine did not treat the older two or younger baby abusively. She had a need for power and control over others including her husband. Catherine surely demonstrated how she needed each of these, it was probably the only situation in her life in which she felt some type of control over.
This family has many underlying issues that the parents never bring to the surface. The father also had alcoholism issues. But in another aspect, one could see how Stephen controlled Catherine. If she could convince herself that David was the bad one, that he was the root of all problems, then after she beat him, she would feel relieved of whatever problem was bothering her. Catherine acted the way she did as a result of Stephen not being around. Their own arguments and disagreements somehow always seemed to involve Dave. I do not believe the mother was insane; she was bright enough to cover up her cruelty. She suffered from self-derogation. The alcohol abuse was a response to low self-esteem and self-rejection due to parental neglect. In her case, alcoholism hindered her judgment and increased her anger and irritability towards her child. I believe Catherine felt abandoned and looked to alcohol for the solution. I don't believe Catherine respected Stephen in the least bit; she put him down and always made him feel inferior.
From a Sociological perspective, Catherine suffered from lack of self- control. The lack of parenting led her to a lack of social stability led of course by her alcoholism. She was unable to maintain friendships due to her anger and insecurities. She also had a very strained relationship with her mother. She had no respect when communicating with her mother, husband, children or friends. Families of alcoholics are known to have increased domestic violence, divorce and child abuse. It is no wonder Catherine behaved this way as she herself was abused. Her past punishments for certain actions determined the actions she continued to pursue. She was exposed to this behavioral model; therefore, she found her behavior to be normative.
Overall, Catherine, her husband, her mother and her children were all extremely dysfunctional. Catherine beat her child senselessly and the Father and the children knew but did and said nothing. The same goes for the grandmother who may have witnessed actions that were not right but made minor attempts to help her grandchildren. Then the school system that stood by for eight years while a boy was beaten day after day with no explanation or accountability from Catherine. All were enablers.
Thankfully, Dave was rescued from Catherine at age twelve, was placed in foster care and managed to become a successful, talented, well-rounded human being that has touched the lives of many with his courage. In the end, Dave broke the cycle. He loves his son and treats him with the dignity, love and respect every child should be shown the opportunity to have.
Early in the book, Dave indicates one of the most important aspects of this book and his own life. He has the will to survive, no matter what, and that will is all that gets him through his experiences sometimes. He writes, "Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven't let her take away my will to somehow survive" (Pelzer 4). This will is what will seem him through difficult times ahead and ensure that despite a dysfunctional family and abuse, he will survive, and grow into a viable and purpose-driven adult who is concerned with abusive families and works with at-risk youth."
Tags: child, abuse, violence, sociology