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I Am the Cheese

Robert Cormier

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Why does Amy pull her "Numbers"? What is the appeal for Adam?

Amy is seduced by the idea of flouting authority and is not afraid of getting caught. Her boldness rubs off on Adam, who is never shy around her, and she draws him into her pranks, called Numbers. Amy's rebellion may stem from other areas of her life. Adam briefly mentions that her mother is a busy, social woman. Perhaps Amy feels neglected at home and must act out to get attention. Amy's pranks revolve around filling up supermarket shopping carts, a domestic ritual, or a wedding, a symbol of domestic unity. The composition of Amy's pranks further suggests that her motive is discontentment with home life. For example, one prank involved filling a shopping cart with baby food and leaving it by a tampon display, which could be a sign of hostility against her mother. Like Adam, Amy enjoys the idea of an escape where she is in control, and the Numbers give Amy a feeling of power over her life. Her last name, Hertz, is constantly joked about as a reference to the car rental agency, but it is also a homophone of the word "hurts." Amy hurts inside more than she expresses, which explains why Adam feels comfortable around her.

Discuss the effect of a three part narrative structure in I Am the Cheese.

The novel is divided into three narrative styles. One is a first-person account of Adam's bike ride to Rutterburg, which reveals Adam's innermost fears and desires, and also gives a flavor of his personality, voice, and perspective. The dialogue between Adam and Brint during their taped sessions reveals Adam's past. Finally, a third person narration carefully recalls Adam's childhood memories and mysterious past. Cormier maintains suspense throughout the novel by alternating the narratives, and playing them off of each other. Cormier builds the three parts to a coincident point, such as the motel in Belton Falls. He also filters clues from one narrative into another, such as the German shepherd Adam encounters that also stays at the hospital. Moreover, this structure allows Cormier to balance Adam's detective work, both physical and psychological, with an eloquent third person examination of the emotions a teenager might undergo if he found out his whole life was a lie. Finally, the first person narrative makes use of the "unreliable narrator," in which the narrator, purposely or not, does not tell the story with complete authenticity. The realization that Adam has been making up his bike ride all along shocks the reader at the end of the novel, and perhaps makes him more empathetic to the devastation of Adam's discovery of his true identity and the experience of becoming an orphan.

Robert Cormier based most of his novels on his hometown of Leominster, Massachusetts. I Am the Cheese, too, is set in a small town. What are the reasons, other than autobiographical, Cormier sets his stories in small towns? Please consider Cormier's ongoing theme of the individual versus society.

In a city, it is almost taken for granted that the individual will be lost amid a swirling mass of people. We like to romanticize the small town as the last bastion of safe, American community. The small town is a place where apple pies cool on windowsills and town dances are the place to be on a Saturday night. The dichotomy between city and country was even more distinct in the 1970s, when Cormier wrote I Am the Cheese. Cormier tries to explode the myth of the small town by showing how, even in small communities, larger entities and corrupt organizations can still destroy individuals. On a large-scale level, the "Adversaries" against David Farmer are everywhere, and not even a remote town in Vermont or Massachusetts is safe enough. Locally, there are still problems with the towns. Various characters during Adam's journey exhibit excessive paranoia—Edna about strangers and the old man about identity crimes and lack of privacy. Even in an insulated, tight community, such as the the mental hospital, many of the patients are pitted against each other—Adam fears Whipper and Junior Varney and is frightened by Arthur. Societies, no matter how small, turn against the individual, and not even the seemingly idyllic ones Cormier represents are exempt.

In what ways does I Am the Cheese specifically appeal to teenage readers? How does it also appeal to adults?

Why do you think Adam takes his childhood stuffed animal, Pokey the Pig, in a package that is supposed to be for his father? Why would he, in his fantasy world, at least, want his father to have this item?

In what ways does Adam realize his dreams of becoming a writer? Refer specifically to his first person account of the bike trip.

In what ways are Grey and Brint similar, apart from their mutual goal of making sure neither David nor Adam know more than they are letting on?

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