Richard Pelzer: The Abusive Brother in A Child Called ‘It’

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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Who is Richard Pelzer? How does Dave Pelzer describe his relationship with his siblings?

Richard Pelzer, known in A Child Called “It” as Russell Pelzer, is Dave Pelzer’s brother. He participated in Mother’s abuse and later became the victim.

Read more about Richard Pelzer and his relationship with David.

Family Abuse and Neglect

Mother ostracizes David and essentially forces him into the role of “family slave.” She:

  • Forbids David looking at or talking to anyone
  • Forces David to stand in the garage each night while his family eats dinner
  • Forbids David from playing or watching TV with his brothers
  • Stops using David’s name altogether, simply calling him “the Boy”
  • Forces David to sleep under the breakfast table with only newspapers for warmth; eventually she banishes him to sleep on an old army cot in the cold garage 

By the summer before David’s 11th birthday, the abuse has worsened. 

David is accustomed to his role as the family slave by now. David’s not allowed to look at Mother or his brothers without permission, and while the family’s eating dinner, David now must sit on his hands with his head tilted back like a prisoner of war, as Mother says. 

David seldom gets breakfast, even when he finishes his morning chores. While school’s out for summer break, he never gets lunch. Typically, David gets dinner once every three days, but even that is contingent on him completing his chores within the time limits Mother dictates.

David’s Hate Grows for Richard Pelzer and Family

In David’s loss of hope, he comes to hate everyone around him because no one has stepped in to save him. 

First, besides hating Mother for the abuse, he hates Father for allowing it. Despite Father’s old promises that he would take David away from the madhouse, their relationship has deteriorated. David’s supposed bad behavior and abusive punishment is the source of so many arguments between Mother and Father that David is convinced that Father resents him. 

Making matters worse, Mother often literally brings David into her arguments with Father: She drags David into the room and forces him to say all the foul words Father had used against Mother in the argument. David feels backed into betraying Father, but he goes along with it to avoid the consequences of refusing Mother’s demand. 

Second, David hates his brothers—except his baby brother Kevin—who have been so brainwashed by their Mother that they go along with treating David as the family slave. In one instance, his brothers even take turns physically attacking David. 

(Shortform note: David’s younger brother Richard Pelzer (known as Russell Pelzer in the book) released his own book, A Brother’s Journey, after this book was published. In it, Richard describes how he went from harassing David to becoming the new target of Mother’s abuse after David was taken out of Mother’s custody.)

Finally, David hates himself most of all and feels responsible for allowing the abuse to continue for so long. David is convinced that he’s weak and that he deserves his mistreatment—in no small part because Mother often forced him to repeat “I hate myself.” (Shortform note: Our summary of The Body Keeps the Score also explains that trauma survivors are often more haunted by unwarranted shame for their own actions or inactions than by their abusers’ actions.)

Richard Pelzer: The Abusive Brother in A Child Called ‘It’

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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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