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I Am the Cheese

Robert Cormier

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Summary

Narrative

Adam describes that he hears the voice of a kindly old man, Arnold. Arnold is with his somewhat paranoid wife, Edna. The couple has stopped by the ditch to help Adam, who is lying in a ditch. Adam's body aches, but he is all right, as is his bike. The elderly couple is headed to Hookset, a town near Belton Falls, and offer to give him a lift. Adam, beset with anxiety and dizziness, quietly sings "The Farmer in the Dell" to himself in the car, and then drifts off to sleep. The couple wakes Adam when they all reach Hookset. Adam decides to find a drugstore and buy something to settle his nauseated stomach.

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In a taped dialogue between Adam and Brint, Adam tells Brint that his arm and body hurt from shots at the hospital. Brint apologizes but says the shots were necessary. He suggests that Adam withdrew because he was close to remembering the gray man. Adam says he remembers who the gray man is now—a mysterious figure who always visited his family. The gray man was so commonplace that he seemed invisible. The gray man came to the Farmer's house once or twice a month, on Saturdays, to talk with his father in the cellar while his mother shut herself in her room. Adam explains that he calls him the "gray man" because his father called him Grey, but also because he was such a gray, hazy figure. Adam's father had explained that he was the supervisor of his insurance agency. Adam was never suspicious of Grey's presence until after finding out about his aunt, but he was afraid to confront his parents.

A third-person narrator describes Adam's memory of one Saturday. Adam was waiting for a call from Amy, who was planning to pull a Number at a church wedding that Sunday. Mr. Grey rang the doorbell and breezed past Adam, having long since stopped giving him gifts, and he retreated to the cellar with Adam's father. Adam wondered briefly if Mr. Grey could be his uncle. Inspired by Amy's capacity for mischief, Adam decided to spy on his father and Mr. Grey. He did not hear what they said because his father had made the recreation room in the basement soundproof. Terrified, Adam nearly got caught at the door when his father emerged from the room.

In a dialogue with Brint, Adam explains that he now suspects that his father saw him spying on him. Adam felt guilty for spying and then returned to apologize to his father. He went up to his parents' bedroom, but before he entered, he heard his father and mother talking. Adam's parents were worried that Adam was suspicious. Adam's mother thought that Grey should stop coming to the house and that he should use his real name—Thompson. Adam's father said that Thompson has had many names, which is how Thompson survived, and how he helped the Farmers survive. Adam's mother explained that they were surviving and not living. His father said that they had to do something about Adam now that he was no longer a child, despite what Gray said. Adam's father mentioned that Adam eavesdropped on the phone conversation with Martha, and said this was an example of Adam's growing suspicion.

Analysis

Adam's spying yields more concrete clues to the mystery of the Farmers' past. The clues build on the theme of identity and how identity is easily altered. Adam's parents have lied about not having any relatives and have fled for some reason, and have possibly altered their identities. Similarly, Grey/Thompson has a number of identities, which he easily changes to survive. Like the wind, Grey/Thomspon is an invisible, capricious presence, and his meetings with Adam's father are shrouded in secrecy. Adam's mother is less willing to embrace Grey than his father, which probably accounts for her sadness and stagnant life. Even a minor character like Edna, with her obsessive fear of strangers, adds to the air of paranoia over mysterious, changeable identities.

What sets I Am the Cheese apart from most mystery stories is the emotional component of Adam's discovery. Unlike most detectives, Adam is afraid of finding out the truth. He is fearful of what it may tell him about himself, both in the past, and in his present sessions with Brint. The clues seem to lead to a terrible revelation, and the real question is not whether Adam can discover the truth, but whether he can find it out and still survive. Every time Adam sings "The Farmer in the Dell," he gets only to the first or second verse before he stops or falls asleep. It is almost as if the rest of this popular children's song, one that most people only know the first verse of, contains some information relevant to Adam's identity.

A further parallel between Adam's location with Brint and his journey develops after he is pushed into the ditch by Whipper and his friends. He is sore from the fall, and in the hospital he says he is sore from the shots. The subtle similarities between the two distinct narratives—Adam's journey and his dialogue with Brint—gives the book a feeling of unity.

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