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I Am the Cheese

Robert Cormier

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Summary

Adam tells Brint that he went down to the cellar and waited for his father, even ignoring the phone call from Amy.

A third-person narrator describes how Adam remembers sitting in darkness until his father finds him in the cellar. His father asks him several times if he is all right. Finally, Adam asks him about Grey and Martha. His father sighs with sadness and asks how much he knows. Adam's father has dreaded the day when Adam asked questions about the family's past.

In a dialogue with Brint, Adam says that his father told him that his real name was Paul Delmonte, and that there was no Adam Farmer. He says his father told him almost everything about their history. They were, indeed, running away that night on the bus. The Delmonte/Farmer family fled that day in the woods, as well, because his father thought he had seen one of "them." Adam is unsure who "they" are now.

In a third person narrative, Adam remembers back to his conversation in the cellar. His father revealed that his own real name was Anthony Delmonte, and he had been a reporter in the small town of Blount, New York, for the Blount Telegrapher. He was quickly promoted to political reporter, even covering the state capital in Albany. He won a prestigious national award for a series of articles detailing small government corruption in Blount. Anthony Delmonte then married Louise Nolan and they had a son, Paul.

Back in a dialogue with Brint, Adam questions Brint's motives. Brint tells Adam that his motives do not matter and he presses him about the bus ride.

Adam remembers his father telling him he had uncovered important documents at the State House in Albany. Adam tells Brint that the documents linked the corrupt state and federal government to organized crime. His father testified in Washington, D.C. before a closed Senate committee. In return for giving evidence to the investigators, he would be protected and his identity kept secret. For a year, he hid in hotel rooms and visited his guarded house only occasionally while Louise took care of the infant Adam.

Adam says his father did not reveal everything so that Adam would be "protected against betrayal" if he were questioned. Brint asks him what he means by betrayal, but Adam is again unsure. Brint believes Adam is withholding knowledge. Adam tells him that his father finally returned to his job in Blount—his editor had given him a leave of absence, thinking he was researching a book. Based on his father's testimony, there were hushed arrests and resignations in Washington. Adam's father was just happy to be back with his family.

A narrator describes how Adam remembers when there was a bomb planted in his father's car. A local policeman had seen two strangers lurking near the Delmonte house, and a phone call warned Adam's father to stay in the house. The police discovered the bomb and a bomb squad defused it. A few days later, Anthony was working late at the newspaper. As he left, the police officer assigned to guard the building pulled a gun on Anthony. Mr. Grey shot the phony guard before the guard shot Anthony. That was the night Mr. Grey became a fixture in the Delmonte's lives.

Adam tells Brint that Grey was one of the first men behind a new government program, the U.S. Department of Re-Identification, and had been attached to Anthony's case from the start.

A third-person narrator describes how Adam remembers talking to his father incessantly once he learned about the Farmer's situation. Adam and his father spoke in a variety of locations—his father explained that the cellar room was cleared for hidden bugs, and that otherwise they should talk in public places or while they are on the move. Adam explains that Grey's department was developed to protect witnesses who testified against powerful organizations, such as the Mafia. Many of these witnesses lived new lives under assumed names. Grey had told his father that his men had foiled the two murder attempts, but that eventually they would get him if he did not join the department. When Louise received a threatening phone call one night, Adam explains that Anthony reluctantly agreed to join.

Adam tells Brint that, because this was in the early days of the protection program, it was not a completely efficient process. The second birth certificate was a mistake, for instance, but Anthony kept it in case they needed it. They were given the name Farmer—which Anthony hated, since it changed their background to Protestant—and the family relocated to Monument. Grey kept them in the Northeast so that they would not stand out, but there was little chance of anyone's tracing them back to Blount.

A third-person narrator describes why there was little chance of the criminal organization tracing the Delmontes. Adam's father showed him a newspaper clipping in the cellar one night. The headline reported that the family had been killed in a car crash.

Adam and Brint end the session.

Analysis

Many of the previous plot mysteries are explained here, such as why the Rawlings editor did not know the Farmers. Adam's discussions with his father also explain why the emotional world of the Farmers, especially for Adam's mother, has been so dark. Adam's real name, "Paul," could be a reference to "pall," a covering for a coffin. Adam's family has covered the coffins of their former lives, as has Adam in his memory. In the beginning of the novel, Adam also talks about his fear of being confined in small places, like an "upright coffin." Cormier skillfully deploys this information through Adam's direct conversation with Brint and through his memories, so that the reader understands Adam's horrified reaction to first learning about his past, and his fear of re-remembering what he had learned.

Just as Anthony opposed an organization that had more power than he did, so does Adam, it seems, with Brint. Brint manipulates Adam like a puppet with medication and commands him to remember certain pieces of information. Adam begins to suspect openly for the first time that Brint, a somewhat cold figure all along, is trying to squeeze Adam for information that should be irrelevant, an accusation that Brint denies.

Interestingly, the major revelations do not come at end of the book, as in a typical mystery novel, but only two-thirds of the way through the story. Cormier withholds other plot mysteries, such as whom the Delmontes ran away from and how Adam ended up in the institution. More important, Cormier holds back the emotional mystery, such as what will happen on Adam's journey to his father and through his conversations with Brint, and whether he will be able to handle the newfound information about his identity. The main purpose of this mystery, then, is not detective-story conventions about a criminal's identity, but Adam's emotional struggle with his own identity and his discovery of who he really is. The identity realization does not unfold as a typical coming-of-age story, in which the protagonist discovers who he is through experiences of maturation. Instead, Adam learns about his identity in systematic fragments, where the discovery of his identity is not necessarily a good thing.

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