Boy Stands Up to Abusive Mother: Dave Pelzer’s Story

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What happens in A Child Called “It” when the boy stands up to his abusive mother? How does this affect the outcome of his story?

David Pelzer is abused by his mother. The boy stands up to his abusive mother occasionally, though it doesn’t go well.

Keep reading to see how the boy stands up to an abusive mother in A Child Called “It”.

David Hits Rock Bottom

After the incident with the social services worker—just before starting fifth grade—David loses faith in God and any hope of having a better life. David’s been praying to God for years, and he can’t fathom how he could live such a miserable life if God exists. David resigns himself to simply surviving each day. 

David no longer mourns the lack of dignity and respect he receives. He will do anything to survive, resorting to any means necessary to get food. He even eats table scraps out of the dogs’ food bowl after the dogs have picked through it. 

David detaches himself from physical pain and shows no outward emotion unless it’s strategic, when he thinks it will ease the abuse. Whereas he previously used his imagination to escape his torment, David stops dreaming and fantasizing. (Shortform note: Trauma survivors often stop using their imaginations. Read more about the effects of trauma in our summary of The Body Keeps the Score.)

Brief Rebellion: Boy Stands Up to Abusive Mother

David has sunk so low that he wishes he were dead—compared to his life of abuse and isolation, he thinks death will be a relief. David assumes Mother’s torture will eventually kill him, so the boy stands up to his abusive mother. 

David does his chores sloppily and becomes rebellious, intentionally disobeying Mother. Although this brings harsher beatings, it’s liberating not to cower for the first time in years. 

On one occasion, while Mother takes David and his brothers to the store, he defies everything she tells him and talks back to his brothers when they say anything to him. David revels in the feeling of power because he knows as long as they’re in the store, Mother won’t make a scene. However, Mother beats David as soon as they’re in the parking lot, and then she has him lie on the floor of the back seat of the car so his brothers can stomp on him on the ride home. 

When they get home, Mother puts David in the gas chamber. She throws his rag in the bucket of ammonia and Clorox so that he has nothing to cover his face. David tries sucking some fresh air from the heating vent, but it’s turned off. Mother leaves David in the gas chamber much longer than usual, and when she returns David has to fight to prevent her from dunking his face into the bucket of chemicals. 

This punishment breaks David’s short rebellious streak, and he returns to submission. 

Boy Stands Up to Abusive Mother: Dave Pelzer’s Story

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary:

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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