In We All Fall Down the author creates a setting which is different to those in most of his other writings for young adults. He delineates as the locale the small suburban Burnside, a well-kept, upper-middle-class residential area at Cape Cod with "neat houses, with shutters and rose arbors, birdbaths on front lawns, and the lawns carefully manicured."
This area and especially Arbor Lane, the street on which the family of the protagonist lives, radiate an atmosphere of quietness, friendliness, and safety: "People waving hello to each other, evening barbecues in the backyards and the aroma of burning charcoal or wood smoke from chimneys. A neighborhood of station wagons and vans, family cars."
This kind of literary setting situated in contemporary times serves as a means to enhance Cormier's central theme by establishing a very obvious contradiction between setting and subject matter. It is this choice of setting which provokes interest and attention to what happens throughout the plot of the novel.
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According to his own understanding of literature, Cormier with his novels aims at the intelligent and sophisticated reader. This understanding is reflected in his literary technique which uses a third-person, non-omniscient narrator and thus provides alternating points of view. Such a technique enables the reader to really get involved in the conflict, to test his or her own attitude, and to shape his or her opinion more comprehensively.
The opening of We All Fall Down is typical of Cormier's style. As in many of his other novels for young adults he intends to shock the reader and thereby get his or her attention. So the first paragraph—written in a news report style—provides the reader with the atrocious facts of the house trashing. Throughout the text the author uses this technique several times in order to enhance the authenticity of his plot. Cormier intentionally uses this artistic device to fulfill his own demand for truthfulness in young adult fiction.
The diction and tone of We All Fall Down is similar to his former novels: The two chapters of the novel are written in a fluid language which becomes very controlled and subtle when he portrays his characters. Although there is no typical teenager slang, the language still conveys the atmosphere of an adolescent discourse.
Cormier delineates major strengths and weaknesses of his characters by letting them reflect their situation and value beliefs on their own...
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Cormier has often been criticized for being too blunt about the themes he depicts in his books. Some of his works have been censored in various school districts across the United States either for reasons of their subject matter or language or because they are not "optimistic." His books are nonetheless very popular among teenage readers because they deal with questions which are relevant for their lives and help them to get a better understanding of their own problems.
In this novel the author addresses subject matters which many students might not have come across in their reading before: the major issues raised concern vandalism and violence toward people and their property. In connection with these issues he also discusses questions of attempted rape and alcoholism among teenagers, as well as murder and kidnapping. In the case of Jane and Buddy he portrays a romance which is an example of a truthful and honest relationship between adolescents written in a non-sexist way.
It is one of the strengths of Cormier that he never uses his subject matter for the purpose of mere sensationalism but as issues to be honestly discussed with an intelligent reader. Teachers, librarians, and parents will find this novel a useful and ambitious text to initiate a fruitful discussion about questions that really concern adolescents. Young adult readers will like this book and keep turning its pages because it takes their worries and concerns seriously.
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Topics for Discussion
1. What happens in the house of the Jeromes from 9:02 p.m. to 9:51 p.m. on April 1? How do the intruders get into the house? How do they treat Karen Jerome?
2. Characterize the four teen-age boys who vandalized the home of the Jerome family. What was their motivation for committing this criminal act?
3. Compare the characters of Harry Flowers and Buddy Walker. How are their similarities and differences important?
4. What kind of activities do the four teenage boys pursue in their leisure time?
5. Why does Buddy have a problem with alcohol? Characterize his family situation and describe his relationship to his father.
6. What kind of person is Jane Jerome? Does she act like a regular teenager her age?
7. Describe the parents of Jane and characterize the atmosphere in the Jerome family.
8. Compare their family situation with those of Harry and Buddy.
9. How does Jane get to know Buddy Walker? Why do they feel attracted to each other?
10. Discuss the reasons which lead to an end of their relationship.
11. Who is the "Avenger?" Why does he kill Vaughn Masterson and his grandfather?
12. Why does the "Avenger" kidnap Jane and how does she succeed in getting away unharmed?
13. How do you interpret the title of the novel? What does it stand for?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Buddy Walker "falls down": Discuss the different sides of Buddy's character in relation to his participation in the house trashing.
2. Discuss the family relationship of the Jeromes with regard to your ideas of an ideal family.
3. Compare Jane's relation to Karen and Artie with Buddy's relation to Addie.
4. Discuss Jane and Buddy's relationship in terms of what it means to both of them and explain whether you feel that Jane is too hard on Buddy in the end.
5. Discuss your favorite character from Cormier's novel and explain why he or she sets an example for you.
6. Discuss the title of the novel with regard to its meaning to the protagonists as well as to yourself.
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In most of Cormier's young adult novels violence is the central theme. Whereas the author in his earlier novels is particularly concerned with violent acts such as physical and psychological force created and exercised by adults over adolescents, he depicts a different kind of violence in his last novel We All Fall Down. However, the conflict in this novel arises out of a brutal act of vandalism committed by adolescents themselves.
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For Further Reference
Campbell, Patricia J. Presenting Robert Cormier. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989. The only book on one of the leading authors of young adult literature. It includes a critical evaluation of Cormier's life and literary credo and discusses his young adult novels from The Chocolate War to Fade as well as his early novels and short stories. The appendix provides a complete bibliography of his works both literary and critical and also gives a listing of reviews of his novels.
Cormier, Robert. "Forever Pedaling on the Road to Realism." In Celebrating Children's Books: Essays on Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland. Edited by Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye. New York: American Library Association, 1981. Responding to letters from his readers and to reviews of his first young adult novels Cormier outlines his literary credo with special regard to terms such as "realism" and "realistic novel."
Estes, Sally. "Cormier, Robert. We All Fall Down." Booklist 15 (September 1991): 137. A review of Cormier's We All Fall Down emphasizing the subject matter and quality of characterization.
Gallo, Donald. "Who Are The Most Important YA Authors?" ALAN Review (Spring 1989): 18-19. Presents the results of a survey among specialists in the field regarding the most important American, Canadian, and British authors. The final list of the top one hundred names (including Comier's) was selected...
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