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“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its shame” (Oscar Wilde). In Robert Cormier’s book, I Am the Cheese, we are guided through a misconstrued and complicated series of events that makeup Adam’s very hopeless, traumatic, and mistrusting life. Cormier’s bold style of writing was often taken offensively and considered inappropriate for the audience it was written for. Many fought to remove this novel from the hands of students, insisting that the book be banned from schools and libraries.
However, many students have taken time to write Cormier and express their love of his writing style as well as his portrayal of reality; such as not always having a happy ending in life. As we dive deeper into this unique novel, my opinion is that this book should not have been banned, this essay will address the various reasons others disagree.
The novel, I Am the Cheese, opens with Adam Farmer explaining that he is beginning his journey on bike, from his home in Massachusetts, to deliver a present to his father in Rutterburg Vermont.
Moments before leaving, Adam opened a pill bottle but then decided that he, “… wanted to do this raw, without crutches, without aid, alone” (Cormier 7). Suddenly, the storyline is interrupted by a conversation between Adam and someone who seems to be Adam’s psychiatrist; Brint. Brint helps Adam to try to recall his lost memories. Adam shows uncertainty toward Brint but relies on him to remember who he was.
The story jumps back and forth between Adam’s trip and the memories regained within counseling, bringing to light strong similarities between the two. Progressing forward, it begins to seem as though Brint is trying to decode specific information from Adam’s memory, instead of solely helping Adam.
Adam’s comes to remember suspicion he held toward his parents after catching them in many lies and he eventually confronted them. He discovered that his dad use to be a reporter who had uncovered important documents that linked the corrupted state and federal government to organized crime.As a result, deadly attacks were made against Adam’s father and the family was placed in Witness Protection. It wasn’t long before Adam’s family had to move again. Devastatingly, before arriving to their new destination, Adam’s parents were murdered. Adam was kept alive. “He may be useful.”, he heard someone say. (Cormier 221) As Adam finally comes to remember his parents death, we discover that the entire journey on bike had been a figment of Adam’s imagination. Adam had been riding within the compounds of this mental hospital, where he had resided for several years. The final chapter uncovers that Brint was in fact an enemy working to uncover if Adam was withholding incriminating information. Brint finalized his report, stating that Adam is the link within the case and insists that Adam is withheld in this hospital until he ‘obliterates’. The novel ends, repeating the opening paragraph of Adam beginning a journey on bike.
This concludes that Adam will, until death, be repeating the same cycle the book had just portrayed. At the time I Am the Cheese was created, there was a lot going on in the world including considerable changes in the American attitude toward the government. In 1972, only five years before the first release of the novel, several men were caught and arrested inside the Watergate building. The arrest was made because these men were found stealing secret documents as well as trying to add a wiretap to phones within the office of the Democratic National Committee. The men arrested were closely connected to the Committee To Reelect the President (CRP). The President at that time was Richard Nixon. As news got out about the crime, Nixon was found to have been working to destroy evidence of the crime and create a cover-up story. Later it was discovered that he had also attempted to stop the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from further exploration into the scandal. In 1974 the truth came out about Nixon’s involvement and he resigned from Presidency, being the first president to resign in American History.
This scandal led to many Americans to quickly lose their faith in government leaders. “It was part of a one two punch — the other being the loss of the Vietnam War that delivered the current sense of cynicism about government” (Robert Thompson qtd. in Watergate Scandal Changed Political Landscape Forever). Going back only a few years to the 60’s, the American people had strong faith in their government. The shock of these events caused Americans to lose much of the trust they once held toward government authority and question those of political power. “The myth of the President as a great, trustful, moral leader ended” (Dennis Goldford qtd. by Finney Daniel). (Finney Daniel, Watergate Scandal) I Am the Cheese was written in 1977, only three years after President Nixon’s resignation. Considering the events of the Watergate scandal, it is easy to see where Robert Cormier’s inspiration stemmed from.
The negative connotations toward government, such as government agents being directly involved in murder, now seem less controversial given the historical context. Cormier was undergoing a time in history when political leaders were lying, deceiving and acting illegally. Secrets were being withheld from the public and citizens of America had to reevaluate their judgement, as Nixon was reelected and had won by a landslide. Now there were people with substantial power in government, choosing to act in corrupt and wicked ways. Within Cormier’s novel, Adam’s family thought they could trust the same man that killed them. Adam thought that Brint was helping him remember who he was, but Brint is the reason Adam will be forever trapped within the hospital. The American Government should have been able to provide a trustworthy and moral leader. Adams therapist should have been able to provide Adam with improved health and protection, but instead, they both failed.
Politics as well as Adam’s life were forever changed. “I Am the Cheese directly targets the corrupt government that betrays those who it is supposed to protect.” (SparkNotes Editors) When asked about the purpose of this novel, Cormier stated, “I wanted to portray the kind of fear that I think is in our lives today.” The plot of the book unveiling realistic and prevalent fears along with a very negative tone, was essentially Cormier’s participation in the changing of thoughts, ideas and literature that the United States was undergoing. (Robert Cormier, Watergate Scandal, Jeffrey Record, SparkNotes Editors) Litterature faced some major changes following the President’s shockingly destructive actions. As a result, a new style of writing was created called New Realism. This was a writing style that began gaining popularity as it is composed of completely opposite ideas than that that had been primarily used before. Previously, literature mostly consisted of addressing the world as what it could be, versus what it truly was.
With New Realism, novels would now address very real and controversial issues that were prevalent. There was no longer any fantasy or supernatural events. The protagonists were not outstanding heros, but now quite unremarkable and mediocre, often living a lonely and difficult life. The focus shifting to the dark side of life and addresses unhappiness and suffering; topics that had often been avoided. Most of the topics that were considered unsuitable for children were now very abundant in children’s novels. A consistent theme in many of these stories were the adult figures often letting children down, or being unreliable. This in turn forces the child to then have to cope without prominent or stable adult figures in their life. Since novels now considered the true reality of life, many did not end happily. Cormier applied most of these aspects within I Am the Cheese.
Some other particulars of New Realism included within his novel were Adam’s growing awareness of his sexuality, the complex structure the book follows, the language that reflects the way people of the same age spoke at that time and Adams forced independence. Understanding of this new style of writing helps readers further grasp Cormier’s uniquely written novel, but there were various other places of inspiration used to formulate this novel. (Brigham Narins, Gale Contextual Encyclopedia American Literature, Continuum Encyclopedia Children’s Literature, BookRags) Robert cormier stated that his idea for the book originated from a magazine article that he had read about the Witness Protection Program (a new program at that time). He found that he had a strong interest in the concept of civilians “struggling against an unjust society”. (BookRags). The town Robert Cormier was born and continued living in was used as a model for the fictional town in I Am the Cheese; Leominster, Massachusetts.
We may deduce that Cormier’s second job as a reporter stemmed some interest in making Adam’s father in the story a reporter as well. We can also connect Adam to Robert Cormier in that they both wanted to become writers and shared their favorite author; Thomas Wolfe. (Robert Cormier, Ipl2, Contemporary Literary Criticism) Helping us to further understand Roberts inspiration behind writing this novel, located in the back of First Ember 2014 Edition is an introduction written by Cormier himself. Written in 1997 this introduction includes Cormier’s specific and personal process of creating the novel. He begins with explaining that he began writing on a Saturday in 1975. His intention was to experiment writing in first-person. Cormier described himself as ’emotionally bankrupt and this in turn, caused him to have many failed attempts trying to create a follow-up novel to his previous, very successful, The Chocolate War.
Cormier goes on to say that he wrote about a boy pedaling a bike – a bike similar to the one he had. Personal memories as a boy of dogs chasing him as he rode and a bully that would wait for him was incorporated. Interestingly, Cormier explains that he plants ‘time bombs’ within his works, with the intention of later making them explode. The bombs within this story happened to be Adam not taking his pills and the package he brought with him. The novel began coming to life when Cormier realized, “The boy on the bike became twelve-year-old Bobby Cormier, delivering his papers, torn by fears and phobias, longings and yearnings.” He wrote and loved what he was creating, but had no idea where he was going with the storyline. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that Robert came across the new, Government Witness Protection Program (which changes the identity of endangered people to keep them safe).
Then he was able to connect his moment of a boy on a bike to the idea of lost identity. Robert continues with flashbacks written in third person throughout the bike ride. After completion, Robert became worried that the storyline would be too complex of a storyline for adolescents to follow. He still sent it to his publisher, who quickly helped him feel more confident about the story, stating that the novel may cause confusion, “But why not stretch their minds? They’ll finally love it” (Robert Cormier, I Am the Cheese). Looking back at Robert Cormier’s life helps us to better understand this author as a person. Cormier wrote his first poem at the age of twelve. He shares that he was always writing something. Cormier decided to become a writer primarily due to memories of his favorite book; Thomas Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock (a story about a boy who wants to become a writer). While attending college, unknown to Cormier, a professor submitted his work, which ultimately made him a published author. The first job Cormier took as a writer was in radio, writing commercials. After Cormier married and began a family, he acquired a job as a newspaper reporter. Later he moved on to become a journalist, remaining as such for more than thirty years.
During his time as a journalist, Cormier won many awards for his written works of literature. Cormier mentioned that when he found some free time, he would write fiction. Now and at the Hour was his first fictional novel published, in 1960. Cormier’s popularity heightened greatly after the release of his fourth published novel; The Chocolate War in 1974. This book was challenged and banned for many of the same reasons as this novel I Am the Cheese. Cormier wrote many novels, short stories and newspaper columns. Cormier died at the age of seventy five from lung cancer, in the same city he was born and had always loved to live. “I never intend to live anywhere else,” he said.” There are lots of untold stories right here on Main Street.” (ipl2) (BookRags, David Galens) When I Am the Cheese was first released, there were many with various opposition to the story and its content. Many parents, teachers and librarians voiced their complaints considering the book to be unsuitable for the younger readers.
There were a few elements within the novel that were specifically identified as inappropriate. Of these were reference to Amy Hurtz chest and hints of Adam’s parents having sexual intercourse. Where most of the controversy over the novel stemmed from, however, was the ongoing negative tone as well as hopeless and unhappy ending. Rebecca Luken wrote an essay addressing Cormier’s novel and comparing it to J.D Salinger’s novel, Catcher in the Rye. Rebecca clearly states her opinion on Cormier’s book by saying that within Salinger’s novel, the protagonist can offer himself hope and there is much self discovery but I Am the Cheese only offers despair. I find it difficult to argue Rebecca’s point. Adam’s entire life has fallen apart, he is losing his mind, and he will forever remain within a mental hospital, constantly repeating his train of events. Although, those who oppose banning do not think it is necessary to shelter adolescents from its concepts and ideas. Many claim that they find the realistic, worldly qualities refreshing and numerous students have even taken the time to personally write to Cormier and express their love of his novel. (Contemporary Literary Criticism, V.30, David Galens)
A specific example of when this novel was banned was at the school of Mowat, by Principal Hall. The first claim toward the ban was that the concepts within the book conflicted with Halls religious beliefs which he was incorporating in schools across the Bay County. Hall stated that he was removing several books; any that spoke of feminism, consumerism, environmentalism and racism. The negative ideas about the department of the United States Government is one point that Hall made a strong point against. Farrell opposed the ban stating that it was unconstitutional and violates Freedom of Speech. The case of Farrell versus Hall was taken to court. Judge Vinson of Florida decided that the School Board was authorized to remove books with even one vulgarity. Judge Vinson also believed that the policy of regulating the content of the books within schools is legal. PAW (a revised Policy), was created a few years later for improving school learning materials. This new Policy would allow for a quick review of materials, allow teachers to appeal denials and ask for new materials, as well as notify parents of any challenges to the materials that were being incorporated into the schools.
The school was pleased with their new policy, allowing for material reviews, but also allowing challenged pieces, with parental consent. (Foerste, Herbert) Many still question whether I Am the Cheese should be allowed into the hands of adolescents, or even allowed within schools and libraries. After writing this novel, Robert Cormier was granted several awards, including Edwards Award of the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association (BookRags). The novel I Am the Cheese portrays a refreshingly realistic representation of life. This story helps readers come to a better understanding that life is full of twists and devastation and not everyone gets a fairytale ending. But Cormier states that his novels have been able to do all that he has ever dreamed they could, “show adolescents the bigness of what’s out there and that happy endings are not our birthright. You have to do something to make them happen” (BookRags).
We can easily relate Cormier’s ideas to those of most Americans around him at the time, questioning the Government authority and changing the way they think and see the world. Cormier created a great work that fit perfectly within the new writing style of New Realism, gaining popularity at the time. I believe, I Am the Cheese should not be removed from adolescents and schools. It should be continually read for both pleasure and as a learning tool. Students have made their love of the novel very known. We must consider this and allow children their freedom to read.
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