I Am the Cheese
by Robert Cormier
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Story Line 1: Biking through New England on a crisp October day
Sounds more pleasant than it actually is. Adam is biking from Massachusetts to Vermont to visit his dad at the hospital. We don't really know much more, except that he keeps dwelling on a few things: it's cold, he's tired, and he has a long way to go. He's thinking about his girlfriend, Amy, and as we know, nothing makes a person lonelier than a long-distance relationship. Except maybe a long-distance bike ride. Alone.
Story Line 2: On the record
Adam is being interviewed by a man who calls himself Brint. We're not sure what kind of interview this is, although based on the topic of discussion – Adam's past and memories – it seems like it's psychological of some kind. The author doesn't really tell us much, but we don't really need to know more; this is just the setup.
Story Line 1: Did we mention he has a long way to go?
How is Adam going to get all the way to Vermont on his bike, all the while protecting the package he carries with him? He's scared of just about everything, doesn't know quite how long it will take to reach his first stopping point, and no one knows he's gone. His goal is to get to Vermont as quickly as possible, but it seems like that's going to be difficult. A conflict is pretty much a difficulty that will drive the story, so there you have it.
Story Line 2: The blanks
The issue is, Adam can't quite remember everything. There are a lot of "blanks" in his memory, and things only come to him a little bit at a time as "clues." Although he's not sure he even wants to reveal his memories to Brint, the conflict – the struggle he is trying to overcome – is the difficulty in remembering.
Story Line 1: Stranger in a strange land
Adam encounters complications along the way in the form of strange people who get in the way of his progress. Nothing is really going his way, from a few troublemaking boys who knock him off his bike, to a man who stalls him with stories of his son's death, to a young boy who steals his bike and then physically fights him. All of these complications make it harder for the main conflict to be resolved.
Story Line 2: Fill-in-the-blanks
Each of Adam's memories seems to complicate matters more. He isn't sure what to do with these new memories, beginning with his parents' secrecy and ending with the revelation that he is Paul Delmonte (22.36). To make things worse, Brint's questioning becomes more and more invasive. Adam begins to wonder whether Brint himself is a complication, hindering his ability to remember (i.e. overcome his conflict).
Story Line 1: Let me in!
The climax occurs very quickly in this story. After Adam learns that the motel he thought he'd been to the year before has been abandoned for three years, we witness the most intense moment of the story, with Adam at his most frightened. He bangs on the doors of the abandoned motel, begging to be let in, and then darkness takes over (29.57-58). This moment serves as a turning point in the story, both for Adam and for the reader, as we realize that his perception of the world is totally whacked.
Story Line 2: Crash
The climax of this story isn't unlike the climax of many mystery stories – it's a car crash. No need to explain why a car crash can serve as the high point for intensity in a story, but the scene of the car crashing into Adam's family (and killing his mom) is climactic on a deeper level as well. It's at this moment, as Adam is lying in a pool of his own blood and giving into the weariness that overcame him (39.40, 53), that we realize he was gravely injured in the crash. Perhaps enough to cause memory loss?
Story Line 1: Don't-fill-in-the-blanks
The suspense in this narrative is really cool, because the author doesn't have to use any words to create it. The climax occurs at the end of Chapter 29, and the next chapter takes us into the other narrative: Adam being interviewed by Brint. The next time we're back in this first storyline (Chapter 31), we're already heading through the denouement (the phase where the story winds down) into the conclusion. So the suspense in this story is blank space – the fact that we, as readers, have to sit through a seemingly unrelated chapter before we can find out what happens.
Story Line 2: Who dunnit?
After the crash, Adam sees a man coming toward him, but he just calls this man "Him" (30.48). Other than a few hints (he was wearing gray pants) we can't be sure who it is. Our curiosity is only heightened by Brint's harsh questioning: "Who? Who?" he asks (30.54). We're wondering the same thing. Even if we have a hunch that it might be Mr. Grey, we still are held in suspense as to why.
Story Line 1: They weren't strangers after all
Once we realize that Adam is a patient at the hospital, we re-encounter all the people he'd met on his bike journey, this time as staff and fellow patients of the hospital (Chapter 31). We see the similarities between the real people and the versions of them from his bike ride, and we realize that the bike ride was all in his imagination. (It kind of reminds us of The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up from her dream.) The denouement is supposed to clarify things for the reader, and even though we don't get all the answers here (is the imagined bike ride caused by his amnesia or his medication?) we can at least now separate reality from imagination.
Story Line 2: Aha!
The denouement of this story (in Chapter 32) is so complicated that it makes us think it couldn't possibly be there to serve as clarification for the reader. Regardless, in these few paragraphs, we find out that this is not the first go around for these recorded sessions between Brint and Adam. Adam is an amnesia patient, and, sure enough, Brint was pressing him for information about his dad's testimony and Mr. Grey's involvement in it. (Surprise surprise.) Still, not everything is made clear here, so it's not a complete denouement. We still don't know exactly what Mr. Grey's involvement was in the death of Adam's family.
Story Line 1: Déjà vu
The conclusion is the exact same – word for word – as the opening of the first chapter. We see Adam starting all over again on his bike ride. He seems to be stuck in a cycle of forgetting and remembering, and we understand that things will probably never change for him. (Not very uplifting, we know.)
Story Line 2: The Terminator. Or maybe, The Obliterator.
At the end of Brint's evaluation of his sessions with Adam, he gives two equally scary suggestions: first, that Adam be kept in the hospital until "termination procedures are approved" (32.3), or second, that his "condition be sustained until [he] obliterates" (32.3). Check out "What's Up With The Ending?" for more discussion about this. It sounds like Adam is a goner.