Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cormier’s next novel, I Am the Cheese, was a departure from his first success in a number of ways. The multiple points of view of the first novel become, in the second, a mosaic of perspectives that challenge the reader and build the tension in the novel until its very last word.
Even the innocuous opening of the novel—“I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I’m pedaling furiously”—raises mysteries: Who is riding, and why? The second chapter only adds to readers’ confusion, for it starts with a transcript of what appears to be a counseling session between a boy, Adam Farmer, and a psychiatrist. Is Adam trying to recall his own lost history, or is his interrogator trying to get information from him?
What is slowly revealed, as Adam uncovers his past for the reader and for the mysterious Brint, is that his father had been a reporter for a small New York State newspaper who discovered evidence of government corruption and testified in Washington about what he knew. When attempts were made on his life, Anthony Delmonte joined a witness protection program, and he and his wife and small son, Paul, were given new names and identities and moved to Monument, Massachusetts. The new identities do not shield them, however; Grey, the government contact responsible for the family, is apparently a double agent. The family is forced to flee Monument, and Adam’s...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
An unnamed young man is riding his bicycle, dressed in his father’s Army fatigue jacket and wool cap, or took. He is fearfully yet determinedly making a long trek from Monument, Massachusetts, to Rutterberg, Vermont. He carries a package for his father and, just before leaving home, discards some medicine.
The narrative switches to a transcript of a discussion between questioner “T” (self-identified as “Brint”) and subject “A.” The goal appears to be to elicit memories from A, and among the topics discussed are an abrupt move the family made when A was of preschool age and had the name Paul Delmonte. The transcript—composed of both exterior questions and answers and interior narration—ends when A complains of a headache.
The rest of the book alternates chapters between these two formats. The rider is Adam Farmer, an older teen who encounters many obstacles, including a dog attack, hostile local boys who run him off the road, poor weather, a thief, and failed attempts to reach his friend Amy on the phone. Through it all, he remains focused on his goal of Rutterberg and shores up his courage by singing “The Farmer in the Dell,” the way his insurance-salesman father once did.
During the transcripted sessions, A is guided by Brint through a series of important life events, including meeting Amy. A is shy and introverted, while Amy is quick-spirited and mischievous; her idea of fun is to play pranks called...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
As in his other novels, Cormier's primary aim in this work is to confront and examine the plight of young adults enmeshed in a world of corruption and deceit, where no one, not even the government, can be trusted and where the terms "hero" and "villain" have little if any meaning. Yet Cormier is not simply exposing the reader to a "rotten" world. He strives to make young people aware of the important choices they must make between idealism and realism, hope and resignation, action and apathy. To make these choices in a society full of uncertainty is difficult.
I Am the Cheese focuses on government, both overt and covert, and its impact on the individual, the family, and society itself. Significantly, this peculiar and often puzzling novel appeared following the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office. This scandal exposed society to the existence of a "hidden" political process, the influence of conspiracy, and the need to be vigilant in one's relationship with power. To be sure, the period since the book's publication has only amplified this concern. In recent years, deception at the highest levels of the state persists, as in the Iran-contra and Wedtech scandals that shook President Ronald Reagan's administration. Cormier's dedication to calling attention to troubling and complex issues of society and public policy makes this novel both demanding and urgent.
I Am the Cheese focuses almost...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
I Am the Cheese opens with the words "I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31." These words are important for several reasons: they introduce the novel's protagonist, they establish the first-person point of view and present tense that will characterize one strand of the novel, and they begin a paragraph that will be repeated later in the novel. In this first chapter, one of fifteen in the present tense, the narrator is a teenage boy riding an old bicycle from Monument, Massachusetts, to Rutterburg, Vermont, to bring a securely wrapped gift to his father.
The boy, Adam, appears to have decided on this trip rather abruptly: he did not tell anyone at home or at school that he was leaving, he did not call “Amy,” and he did not take his pills. He quietly wrapped up his father's gift, grabbed an old cap to keep his ears warm in the October wind, and took his savings of thirty-five dollars and ninety-three cents. Now, as he bikes along, he looks over his shoulder to see whether he is being followed. Only four or five miles into the seventy-mile trip he is getting tired, but a long downhill lets him coast for a while.
The second chapter begins with code letters (“TAPE OZK001”), followed by a transcript of an interview between “T” and “A.”T identifies himself as Brint, and asks questions to help A remember “that night.” It seems that A is unable to remember anything clearly,...
(The entire section is 1381 words.)