Study Guide

I Am the Cheese Family

By Robert Cormier

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"Jesus," his father said and Adam wasn't certain whether his father was swearing or praying. (22.30)

It's hard to read our parents sometimes. Are they laughing because they think something's funny or because they're so angry they don't know what else to do? Here Adam just can't read his dad, and it makes their relationship feel that much more real.

"Farmer, for God's sake, Grey and his bunch come up with Farmer. White, American, Protestant. WASP. And here I am Italian, and your mother Irish. And both of us Catholic, your mother a devout Catholic who never misses mass on Sunday or holydays." (23.20)

How important is a last name to a family? Is it more important for the Farmers than it would be for a family outside the Witness Re-Establishment Program?

A: [My father] kept apologizing for the predicament he had placed me in, had placed my mother in, too. But I was proud of him, really. I mean, he had done what he believed to be right. (25.3)

Often it's parents who are proud of their children. Here we see a son who is proud of his father. How does this reflect on the dynamics of the Farmer family?

He also loved his father and mother and wanted to be with them. When they ate dinner together, he felt a sense of intimacy with them, as if he were more than just a son, more than someone who was told to make his bed and take out the rubbish. He was part of them. Somehow fear forged love. (26.24)

This is a subtle foreshadowing of what will happen to Adam after his parents' deaths. Because "[h]e was part of them," when they died part of him died too.

"All the guilts your father and I have piled up, Adam," his mother said, the sadness in her voice again. (28.54)

Have you ever thought of guilt as a noun that could be pluralized? Why do you think Cormier wrote "guilts" instead of "guilt"? What are Adam's mother's guilts?

What have they turned us into? Adam thought. What has Mr. Grey done to my father and mother to make this kind of thing possible? For the first time, the horror of their predicament became real to Adam. (28.64)

As much as Adam feels connected to his family, here he separates himself from his parents. The wrong that was done has simply trickled down to him.

"There's one big cabin that can accommodate three people – they'll bring in a cot. That way, we can stay together."

Again, that small shiver along Adam's flesh. (30.14-15)

Here, for the first time, we get the sense that something terrible has happened to Adam's parents. If the idea of staying all together sends a shiver through his body – instead of bringing him joy, like some of the other memories did – something must wrong.

He was glad now that his father had told him all the secrets. He felt as though he were part of the family. (30.16)

After he learns about his real past, the focus of Adam's memories turns from Amy to his family. This helps us understand – as Adam confirms in this quote – that he felt closer to his family after he knew the truth.

He looked at his father. It was impossible to squeeze his hand, of course, not at this age. But he regarded him with warmth and affection. (30.16)

This is just a sweet moment that allows us to breathe and see Adam as a normal kid living a normal life. He's just a teenage boy who loves his dad but is too cool to show it.

I rock Pokey in my arms and I'm wearing my father's jacket and I have on his old cap and now I'm not so sad anymore although I know he's dead and my mother's dead, too. (31.35)

Wearing his dad's old hat and jacket takes away some of the sadness Adam feels. It also allows us to better understand why he chose those accessories for his bike ride.

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