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Essay About I Am The Cheese

  • 1

    Discuss the way the author uses foreshadowing during the bike ride scenes.

    The author re-uses characters. Individuals who appear during the bike ride, such as the elderly couple Edna and Arnold, reappear again as patients or staff at the mental hospital.

    Mr. Harvester, who appears at a gas station during the bike ride and who appears to offer direction, is also a mental hospital patient. However his somewhat paranoid warnings, and the similarity between his name and the protagonist's, suggest that the interpretation of the bike ride and the back story as a fantasy of a patient in a psychiatric hospital is not at all correct.

    The student should not be rewarded for suggesting that Dr. Dupont is an example of foreshadowing. Dr. Dupont is actually a bridge between the bicycle journey fantasy and the reality, which is that Adam is a patient in a psychiatric hospital who is periodically being interviewed.

  • 2

    Compare and contrast Edna and Arnold with Adam's parents David and Louise Farmer, also known as Anthony and Louise Delmonte, respectively.


    Edna and Arnold are a married couple, as were David/Anthony and Louise. Both died, or appear to have died, in a car accident. Both suffer from problems with their memory. Edna has lost hers due to a stroke, which also makes her fearful of moving quickly. Louise has lost her past due to having to live in hiding, ostensibly because of her husband's testimony against a powerful Mafia-type criminal syndicate. Edna is critical; Louise is resentful. Both Arnold and David make excuses for their wives. Yet, symbolically, both men drive the car they are in and are at least nominally in charge of their families' destinies.


    Whereas Edna and Arnold are both patients in a psychiatric facility, having suffered setbacks that affect their ability to function in the outside world, David/Anthony and Louise are dead. Whether they died in a car accident orchestrated by Mr. Grey is somewhat ambiguous due to the unreliability of the narrator. In any case they are not a regular presence in Adam's life and may in fact have abandoned him. Adam describes his father as having "disappeared" from the wreck. Whether that means he has been taken by the shadowy syndicate he has been fleeing, or whether he has simply left out of his own volition, abandoning his wife and child, is not clear. Edna and Arnold are depicted as being far older, and far less competent, than Adam's parents. They are helpless due to their advanced age and medical problems, whereas the helplessness of Adam's parents is due chiefly to circumstance and past decisions.

  • 3

    The author uses a highly unreliable narrator as a plot device. Show why Adam Farmer (formerly known as Paul Delmonte) is an unreliable narrator.

    The narrative is divided between Adam's experiences on a highly symbolic road trip and a series of transcribed interviews taken by an individual whose identity is suspect. There is significant contrast between "the subject" and Adam's actual behavior.

    The transcribed interviews show that Adam spent much of his life not knowing who he was, having been thoroughly indoctrinated by his parents to believe that he is Adam Farmer. He discovers his two birth certificates showing different names and dates of birth, and questions his father sharply to determine what else is being hidden.

    Adam's account of who was pursuing his father, and why, is also ambiguous. Mr. Delmonte was previously a reporter who lived in the town Adam remembers, who wrote about and/or testified against a powerful crime syndicate. Yet nobody ever goes to trial, nobody ever discusses who was sentenced or why, and there's an ongoing, omnipresent threat to the Delmonte family. They narrowly escape several times, but their run ends in a car accident in which Adam survives to find his father missing.

    The narrator's description of the operational procedures of the federal Witness Protection Program and the officers assigned to help and protect the people in it shows an extreme lack of transparency. The protected people do not know who their protectors are. "Mr. Grey" is an obvious pseudonym. There is a strong suggestion, near the end of the book, that it is Mr. Grey who is responsible for Adam's parents' death.

    Adam's habit of recasting the people he meets during his road trip as individuals who work or reside in the psychiatric hospital (or vice versa) is significant. The fact he is able to identify Dr. Dupont as someone objectively real is significant because it contrasts with his habit of creating dual identities for everybody else, possibly including himself.

  • 4

    The author introduced the concept of "identity theft" in 1977, more than a quarter of a century before identity theft became a reality. Using examples from the text, discuss the difference between the characters' concept of identity and identidy theft versus the modern notions of the terms.

    At least three of the characters, the "Farmer" family formerly known as the Delmonte family, have traded in their former names and occupation in exchange for a promise of safety from what appears to be the federal Witness Protection Program (WPP). This decision was voluntary on the part of the adults but completely invoulntary on the part of their child, Adam Farmer, formerly known as Paul Delmonte. Adam's parents brainwashed him until he gradually forgot his former name and most of the details of his early life. To "prove" Adam's new identity, he is issued a new birth certificate.

    Today, a person's identity consists of a birth record of some kind (generally a birth certificate and/or a baptism record), a Social Security number, a vaccination record, and various other paper and electronic phenomena linked with an individual throughout his or her life. Agencies such as credit reporting bureaus exist solely to establish links between various public records (such as loan or mortgage documents and Social Security numbers) in order to create credit ratings or purchasing profiles.

    Identity theft in the modern sense is generally a property crime: somebody steals a checkbook, ATM card and PIN, or credit card and uses it to commit fraud by making unauthorized purchases or cash withdrawals. The modern definition of identity theft is of taking over the identity of a person who already exists and of committing fraud by making unauthorized transactions in that individual's name. In the context of I Am the Cheese, "identity theft" means stealing or erasing the identity and memory of an individual, so that he or she forgets who he or she is. That is what was done to "Adam Farmer", not by the WPP but by Adam's own parents who were struggling to disappear and start afresh in a place free from danger.

  • Childrens’ and young adult literature historically has been full of horror stories. Terrible things happen to children, who must undergo brutal trials and surpass impossible milestones in order to emerge triumphant in the end—that is, to reach adulthood. Despite established expectations, the unsuccessful hero—who undergoes such trials and does not emerge better or matured at the story’s conclusion—is a relatively recent development in young adult literature. Robert Cormier’s works are in large part responsible for encouraging this maturing shift in story and character structure, and his 1977 novel I Am the Cheese is perhaps both the pinnacle and the nadir of the early form of these stories.

    A New England-born, bookish child, Cormier grew into a newspaper reporter who wrote fiction in his spare time, at least initially. He published I Am the Cheese three years after his breakthrough 1974 novel The Chocolate War, and both books are similar in many ways. Each tells a story of outsiders trying unsuccessfully to break through the system, although the protagonists of the two novels fail on different levels. The loss of innocence stands as a clear theme in I Am the Cheese, where not only adulthood but also self-knowledge is deferred at all costs.

    I Am the Cheese was a turning point in Cormier’s work; he has stated in interviews that he had no intention of being a young adult writer, even if teenagers were his subject matter. While his spare, reporter-like style remained consistent throughout his work, it was not until I Am the Cheese that he seemed to acknowledge that his main audience would be adolescents and young adults. The text features the author’s longtime phone number, and over the years he fielded calls from fans and troubled young people.

    Cormier’s acknowledgment of his audience, however, does not make I Am the Cheese an easy or sympathetic read. A first-time reader may find the structure disorienting: The text’s alternating chapters may or may not be telling parallel stories that may or may not run concurrently. As the story progresses, much will come into focus. Even once that happens, however, not until well into the story are the primary characters of the two narratives specifically identified as being the same person. The interior narrative of a boy on a solitary bike ride to see his father in a nearby state seems to have little connection to an at first genderless character being interviewed by someone who may or may not be a therapist. Even for a reader navigating the text for a second or third time, the sequence of events may not be clear. This lack of clarity was the author’s intent, since the book’s final lines circle around to its beginning.

    As Cormier’s main character speaks of specific events in his life, a narrative wall prevents full sympathy with him, since he is referred to by multiple...

    (The entire section is 1205 words.)

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