I Am the Cheese
by Robert Cormier
Adam Farmer is a teenage guy. That's all we can really say for sure about him. Can we really even call our protagonist Adam Farmer when that's not his real name? Shmoop thinks so. As readers, the person we know is Adam Farmer, not Paul Delmonte. (That's Adam's birth name, which his family had to change when they went into the Witness Re-Establishment Program.) And of course, while a name doesn't necessarily tell us anything about a character, here it is a symbol of the identity issues that Adam faces throughout the book. His struggle with identity – marked by the fact that he doesn't really even know who he is – seeps into the rest of his life and causes him to always feel a bit uneasy.
Fear and Loathing in Monument
What's cool about Adam is that, despite his identity issues, he's really aware of himself as a person. You know how sometimes teenagers can be really loud or total jerks and not realize it? (Obviously we're not talking about you.) Well, Adam is definitely self-aware. He describes himself as "vulnerable" (5.18) and consistently refers to himself as a coward (his words, not ours). As hard as it is to read about a teen being so critical of himself, it certainly makes Adam's internal monologue bearable for over 200 pages. Can you imagine tolerating that from a person who was unaware of his own faults? "So, I did this really awesome thing, dude, you should have seen it.... " Ugh, no thank you.
Adam's self-labeling as a coward doesn't come out of nowhere – fear is a big issue for him. He's afraid of closed spaces, open spaces, dogs, fast cars, bullies, thieves... the list goes on. But how do Adam's fears affect the story? What we learn is that there are very real things for Adam to be afraid of: people are out to get his family and he is in hiding. He doesn't know whom to trust. Adam and his parents are kind of forced to be afraid of everything. Adam knows that "[e]ven if danger didn't exist, the possibility existed and this was maybe even worse" (26.33).
It's Better to Have Loved and Lost...
Don't worry. Things aren't all bad for Adam, though. For one thing, he loves very deeply. When describing Amy, he says: "She refreshes my spirit, she makes me laugh. I love her" (9.1). He doesn't just love her in a puppy love kind of way; he loves her for these particular and very mature reasons. Adam also loves his mother and father, a love that grows as begins to realize the truth of their pasts. Unfortunately, Adam's capacity for love makes things even harder when he loses his loved ones.
I Am Who I Am
And that brings us to our final point: Adam is an orphan. We don't actually know this until the very end of the book (and neither does Adam, actually), but it really informs his character in hindsight. With no parents or guardians of any kind to rely on, wouldn't we all have issues of identity, be vulnerable and fearful, and love very deeply?
It's really important to remember that we are seeing Adam at two very different points in his life in the book. We see him in the present, on his bike ride and in interviews with Brint. But we also see him three (and more) years earlier, in his interactions with his parents and Amy. While he certainly is much more confused in the present moment, we can see that he's ultimately the same guy throughout. Adam Farmer is Adam Farmer.Timeline