The Cheese Stands Alone

Robert Cormier, I Am The Cheese. New York: Random House, 1977.
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"It's cold as I pedal along,
the wind like a snake slitering up my sleeves
and into my jacket and my pants legs, too.
But I keep pedaling..."

From the opening paragraph of I am The Cheese by Robert Cormier, quoted above, we can see this is the beginning of a journey. As we continue on through the chapters, skipping from past to present to deep within the mind, we see the cyclical nature of time. Cormier's entire novel pulls together elements of cycles: from the journey which takes place on the bicycle, to the way that we have to backtrack into the past to understand the present, to the familiar child's song "The Farmer in the Dell." Perhaps the most important of these in terms of these cyclical ideas, are the repeated paragraphs whch make up the opening and the final lines of the novel. We know that our protagonist, "Adam," must "keep pedaling" (4) in order to piece together and come to terms with his terrifying past. I am the Cheese takes the reader on an adventure right along with the character, Adam. As Adam pedals frantically trying to reach his father and discover his past, the reader finds him/herself trying to keep up with Cormier's time travel. Even before we realize Adam isn't really Adam, and the therapist isn't really who he says he is, we begin to question where the novel is heading, who Adam is running to or from, and why his therapist is pumping him for information that seems unrelated to his recovery. Adam, after he learns he isn't Adam Farmer, but Paul Delmonte, becomes even more suspicious of everyone around him, in fantasy and reality, saying to his therapist, "I get tired of all this--the way you twist things all the time"..."I don't know whether you're a doctor or not" (147,169). Because Adam is a peer to young adult readers, for whom this novel was intended, the reader can connect and relate to many of Adam's thoughts and feelings. The transitions from fantasy to reality also force the reader to read somexternal image cheese.jpgewhat critically, while the suspense of the story makes it next to impossible to put this YA novel down.

One aspect of the novel that seems to bring this tragic, yet exciting tale full circle, is the relationship between life and death and, ultimately, their interchangeablity. In the novel, Cormier continually presents life and death in ways that force the reader to analyze situations in which living a certain life-style is worse than death itself. An example of this is first presented through Adam's mother, Louise Farmer. As she is described as sad through the eyes of Adam, the realization of her death near the end of the story does not seem much different from the meloncholy life she had once lived. In one scene, she is described in these words: "She was always solicious about him[Adam], concerned and worried, emerging from her sad cocoon to fuss over him" (67). Several lines presented in the novel such as this one, display her life of constant worry, concern and sadness. We begin to ask ourselves, "Is this really living?" "Although technically she is breathing, can she be considered mentally "alive" as she carries such heavy burdens?" By identifying with Adam and stepping into his character, readers are forced to explore this idea and to make Adam's adventures their own, allowing them to grasp the novel's many lessons.

Another example of this is presented through the character of David Farmer. As Adam wrestles between telling his secret to Amy Hertz or not, he remembers that his father had sworn him to secrecy, admonishing, "It's life and death, Adam" (161). But is he really living? Just because he continually pretends that everything is alright and he carries his burdens internally, unlike his wife, does that mean that he is alive? Cormier allows readers to continually linger over the question of David Farmers existence even after the story has ended. Although Adam believes his father to be dead and he is told that from the "hospital" staff, is he dead? At the scene of Adam's capture and his mothers death, David gets away. The reader may infer that he was eventually killed, but was he? Cormier uses this play on life and death to strengthen the story, in that they show life's uncertainties. As many teens are curious of the unknown, this aspect of the novel makes you want to continue to read until you reach the end.

At the end of the novel, readers come to the realization that Adam has lost both of his parents, and this happens right along with Adam himself. What is even more horrific about finally discovering the truth is finding out that Adam himself has learned this information many times before. Readers watch as Adam reverts back and cannot accept the reality of his situation. We are left wondering whether or not Adam's life will remain in this solitary, cyclical life of repression forever, denying truth and living in a past that seems to scare him almost as much as the present. It's a disturbing and thought-provoking ending that leaves readers to question the depths of sorrow and the ability of the human mind to hide those things from ourselves which we are not ready to face (possibly ever). Robert Cormier is the cheese, as this novel stands alone in its ability to engage young adult readers and express issues in which they can relate. We give this novel an A+ and would recommend this novel to educators everywhere.

Quick Character Connections:

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About the Author:
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“I can’t remember a time, really, when I haven’t been a writer. . . . Reading and writing were the two great escapes of my life and I suppose they still are.”—Robert Cormier to Random House

Robert Cormier was born January 17,1925 in Leomaster, Massachussetts. He started off his career as a newspaperman and worked in the field of journalism for twenty-five years. In 1966 he stopped full-time journalism to pursue a career as a novelist. Cormier's first three novels were actually written for adults, and it was not until later that he turned toward YA Literature, starting off with a bang by writing the acclaimed and controversial novel The Chocolate War. Despite many of his works being criticized for their violence, profanity, and sexual content (among them I am the Cheese), they more importantly focus on important life values and lessons which so many young people can connect to. It is because of this that he is so highly regarded today in his work as a YA author, and also why he has received so many awards and recognitions throughout his years. Robert Cormier died on November 2, 2000 of lung cancer.

Other works by Robert Cormier include:

-A Little Raw on Monday Mornings
-Take Me Where the Good Times Are
-The Chocolate War
-I Am the Cheese
-After the First Death
-The Bumblebee Flies Anyway
-Beyond The Chocolate War
-Other Bells for Us to Ring
-Eight Plus One
-We All Fall Down
-Have Words to Spend
-Now and At the Hour
-Tunes for Bears to Dance to
-In The Middle Of The Night
-Frenchtown Summer -
-The Rag and Bone Shop

Videos related to I am the Cheese:

- Yahoo video
- Student Project

Lesson Plan Video:

Project Recommendations:
-From BBCHS includes:
-Diary project
- "Write at least five entries from Adam's diary that would fit within the action of the book. Be sure to portray his emotional state at each chosen time. Include mentions of other characters and how Adam feels about each one. Be sure you label each entry with a date and some indicator of where he is while he is writing."
- "On posterboard, create a collage that illustrates the novel. Choose pictures and words from magazines that illustrate the events, themes, and atmosphere of the novel. Also, write a paragraph at least 100 words long explaining your choices."
-A Travelogue
-" On posterboard, create an illustrated timeline of Adam's "travels". Include pictures and captions of major incidents. Pictures can be original drawings or cut from magazines. You may include maps if you wish. Monument is based on Leominster, Massachussetts. Rutterburg is completely fictional."

External Links:
- View exerpts from ROBERT CORMIER, by Sarah L. Thompson, on Google books.
- Information on repressed memory
-US Marshall's Witness Protection Program
- Online study guide from Book Rags
-Yahoo movie review
- Projects and Rubric
-Scholastic discussion guide