Suspense in the Works of Robert Cormier - I Am the Cheese Analysis | Teen Ink

Suspense in the Works of Robert Cormier - I Am the Cheese Analysis

September 19, 2023
By ASoldierOfHalla SILVER, Collierville, Tennessee
ASoldierOfHalla SILVER, Collierville, Tennessee
7 articles 3 photos 13 comments

Favorite Quote:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” - Malala Yousafzai

The psychological thriller novel, I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, follows Adam, a teen journeying through northeastern America to deliver a package to his father in Rutterburg, Vermont. At points, the story alternates to taped discussions between Adam and a psychologist in a hospital. Authors utilize many techniques to generate suspense in their stories, and I Am the Cheese is no exception. Robert Cormier employs many nontraditional and compelling techniques to generate suspense in his novel. 

To create suspense in I Am the Cheese, Robert Comier utilizes a nontraditional approach to the main character Adam, in that Adam struggles with remembering his life. During a psychotherapy session, Adam asks, “Who am I? I am Adam Farmer. But who am I?” (Cormier 29). Adam is in a scattered and fragile mental state, and does not remember who he is, tying mystery to his character. A main character who does not know who they are is unusual and unexpected. Adam’s main conflict is not an event or an antagonist, but rather the strenuous journey through his mind and memory. These subversions of expectations create suspense and interest the reader. It exemplifies early on that Adam is not a typical character. In Adam’s conversations with the psychiatrist on the tapes, Adam discusses “clues” that help him remember his past. These clues seem random, like when Adam says, “Maybe the dog is a clue.” (Comier 36). These seemingly arbitrary details actually trigger memories for Adam. It makes the reader question why these events are important. In addition, the reader slowly unravels the mystery of Adam through the discussions of these “clues”, rather than having the exposition from the beginning. Through an almost backwards approach to a typical novel protagonist, Cormier creates a cryptic character that piques the reader’s interest. All in all, Cormier uses the slow release of information about Adam through his memories as well as the unique state of Adam’s memory as a literary device to create suspense and tension in the novel. 

Another literary device used by Robert Cormier is the application of nontraditional narration. Cormier utilizes Adam’s role as narrator in some parts of the novel to create suspense. Adam has a particular way of speaking, scattered and occasionally without reason. Adam also fixates on certain phrases and often repeats them. An example of this is the usage of “the”, such as when Adam states “I am the bike and the bike is me” (Cormier 20). In addition to claiming that ‘he is the bike’, the specification of “the” with the bike, package, and other items creates a strange mood, leaving the reader questioning the significance of these items. Cormier chose to repeat phrases like this to clue the reader in, showing them that this is not a normal bike ride and Adam is not a normal boy. Another phrase that Adam repeats is “I should have taken the medicine.” or a similar statement mentioning pills (Cormier 26, 46, 88, 106, 182, 204, 210, 224). These mentions are unprompted and appear in moments of distress for Adam on his bike ride. These mysterious remarks leave the reader looking for an explanation as to why Adam, the version of Adam that is not in the hospital, is thinking so much about ‘the pills’. This leads to questions about the timeline and where the ‘bike ride storyline’ and ‘hospital storyline’ fit. This simple repeated phrase creates an unsettling mood and causes the reader to question. There is no further explanation–Cormier does not spoon-feed the reader context. He gives details slowly within Adam’s strange narration. Suspense is created by withholding information and including unusuals details, so the reader can piece together the story and Adam’s character. In summary, Robert Cormier utilizes unusual narration to create an unsettling tone and convey to the reader the abnormality of Adam’s character, all to create suspense.

The last literary technique that Robert Comier uses is switching between perspectives. Alternating between the bike ride and the hospital tapes, the reader is witness to two different storylines. The tapes reveal information that bikeride-Adam does not know or does not disclose, like a description of Adam’s family leaving home, “ if [they] were being chased, as if [they] were running away.” (Cormier 13). On one level, this mysterious remark from Adam informs the reader that something strange happened to him and his family. On another, the officialty of government tapes contrasts with the more mundane bike ride, creating suspense surrounding this information. The reader only gets these details from Adam in the hospital, which is why switching between perspectives is key in the writing of this story. In the bike ride storyline, as Adam finally concludes the journey, he “turn[s] the corner and see[s] the hospital.” (Cormier 224). The bike ride had very little explanation up to this point, without a clear place on the timeline or context for most of the driving forces for taking the journey. The alternation between the two timelines climaxes in the end when Adam arrives at the hospital. It built tension as the reader learned more about Adam through the tapes and theorized the explanation behind the bike ride. This ended in the collision of the two perspectives, and the discovery that the bike ride was a fabrication of Adam’s imagination. Without both of these storylines running simultaneously, there would have been less tension and less effort from the reader to understand each of them. In conclusion, Robert Cormier uses switching perspectives to slowly release information that builds excitement and suspense for the reader

Suspense is the tense feeling the reader experiences when they are unsure of what is going to happen in a story. Authors create suspense in their stories to interest the reader. Robert Cormier uses techniques like memory of the main character, nontraditional narration, and switching perspectives in I Am the Cheese to do this. He utilizes unique literary styles and devices which allow him to capture the attention of his audience. All in all, Robert Cormier uses unique literary techniques and devices to create suspense in his unusual and surprising novel. 

Works Cited

Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. Pantheon Books, 1977.

The author's comments:

Another school assignment. I learned the hard way to save any documents with teen ink after my old school account was terminated :')

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