Study Guide

I Am the Cheese Fear

By Robert Cormier

Fear

I look over my shoulder but there's no one following. (1.3)

Adam repeats this phrase quite a bit throughout the book. That kind of repetition never happens unless there's a reason (or unless the publisher just hires really bad editors). The first time we read it, it almost sounds like he's being paranoid, right? Why would someone be following a teenage boy who's carrying nothing but a tiny package? But as the story progresses, we realize that it's not paranoia; it's real, justified fear.

Like, is it possible to be claustrophobic and yet fear open spaces, too? (1.4)

Apparently so. We see Adam's agoraphobia when he's out in the open spaces of New England, alone on his bike. His claustrophobia comes up when, for instance, he's in a phone booth. Which does Adam fear more?

There is no lock and I can't risk leaving it unguarded because somebody might steal it and I would be marooned here if that happened. (9.3)

One of Adam's less emotional fears is that someone will steal his bike. Only at the end do we find out that this has happened multiple times before. Many of Adam's fears are based on traumatic experiences from his past; can you think of others?

Adam was ashamed of his suspicions. In fact, what suspicions, really? (12.3)

In addition to being ashamed, do you think Adam is scared of what he might find out?

And my mother said, with the anger gone now and the old sadness in her voice again, "That's just what we're doing: surviving, not living." (22.17)

Fear has prevented the Farmers from thriving as a family. They can never let go completely; they just get by.

"Anyway, the Mafia is only a handy word for people to use. There are a lot of words to describe the same thing. [... ]" (25.13)

The word "Mafia" only corresponds to a group of criminals in Sicily (part of Italy) and the groups that descended directly from them. There are many other similar criminal organizations, but calling those the Mafia is like calling all tissues Kleenex. Should the fact that crime is so widespread make us more or less afraid of it?

I think it's just the opposite. You're looking at me very strangely. It reminds me of what my father said about Mr. Grey. My father said the look on Mr. Grey's face gave him the chills. As if they were enemies. And that's the way you were looking at me a minute ago, that look on your face when you asked about the information – " (25.14)

This is the first time we sense any fear from Adam in his relationship with Brint. Suspicions and uneasiness, yes, but until now Brint hasn't truly frightened him to the point of giving him the chills. Why now?

"That's the trouble, Adam. Maybe you become paranoid after a while, suspicious of everything and everyone, for no reason. But there are reasons Adam." (26.15)

Paranoid, suspicious, afraid – these words are all thrown around quite a bit by Cormier. What are the nuances among them?

"And always, Adam, there are the Never Knows. Never knowing who can be trusted. Never knowing who that stranger in town might be. [...] Because you never know." (26.22)

There are a lot of very specific things Adam is afraid of. But as his mom reminds him here, it's the abstract fears, the ones you can't visualize and overcome, that are the most frightening.

Even if the danger didn't exist, the possibility existed and this was maybe even worse. (26.33)

As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Do you think Adam would agree?