Study Guide

I Am the Cheese Identity

By Robert Cormier

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He had stepped outside himself, departed, gone from this place and was outside looking in, watching himself [...] And he thought, "If I can step outside myself like this, maybe I can go to other places." (6.2)

Shmoop thinks most people watch themselves from the outside only in memories, not as they experience the present moment. Since Adam doesn't remember much, does he experience the present like most people experience memories? When you watch yourself in a memory, it's almost as though you're a different person. If Adam experiences this in everyday moments, imagine how difficult it must be for him to feel whole.

"I'm going back," I yell.

"No, you're not," I answer. (11.5-6)

This is cool for so many reasons. At first when you read it, you almost think it's a typo. Normally something like this would be written out without the format of dialogue – it would be an internal monologue. Here, though, Adam is speaking out loud the kinds of little arguments we usually have with ourselves only in our heads. Because he is alone (he is the cheese, after all), when he speaks, only he can respond. The way Cormier has chosen to convey this is really creative and kind of spooky, and it of course speaks to the division within Adam's identity.

The package is for my father and nobody, nobody is going to take it away from me or prevent me from bringing it to him. I stand there like a tree. I will not bend. I will not give him the package. I am the package. (14.38)

Adam's saying "I am the package" of course makes us think of the title, <em>I Am the Cheese</em> (which he also says later on in the book). At various points in the book Adam finds himself at one with other things, including the wind and his bike. What does it mean that Adam identifies with so many inanimate objects and concepts?

Who am I? I am Adam Farmer. But who am I? I am Adam Farmer. But Adam Farmer was only a name, words, a lesson he had learned here in the cold room and in that other room with the questions and answers. Who is Adam Farmer? He didn't know. His name might as well have been Kitchen Chair. Or Cellar Steps. Adam Farmer was nothing – the void yawned ahead of him and behind him, with no constant to guide himself by. Who Am I? Adam Farmer. Two words, that's all. (15.2)

Plenty of people change their names, for plenty of reasons. Did you know that Tom Cruise's real last name is Mapother? As Juliet would say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose,/ By any other name would smell as sweet." Do you agree?

[T]hat day in the cellar my father told me who I was, who he was, who we all were. Suddenly I had a history, something I realized I had never had before. Everything changed in one afternoon, in that cellar, in a few hours... (23.1)

Adam says that everything changed after his father revealed the truth to him. But what exactly changed? The fact is, nothing about Adam's day-to-day life really changed, it's just that he was now suddenly aware of the truth. He then became withdrawn, paranoid, and scared. They say that ignorance is bliss, and this seems to have been the case for Adam.

"Actually, the things that really matter were still real to us. I've always been a Catholic and have gone to church and received the sacraments. I wanted you to be brought up Catholic, too. Mr. Grey arranged for papers to be made to show us as converts. So, you see, we kept our religion. And your father and I still had each other. And you. Mr. Grey kept telling us – and we had to agree – that the essential things had been kept, the things that mattered. We were a family together." (26.12)

Religion can be a central part of someone's identity. Think about all the people who have died for their religion as martyrs. The Farmers were given a Protestant name, but they were set on maintaining their Catholicism. This is even mentioned before family on Adam's mom's list of "the things that really matter."

"In a way, he's our creator. He created the lives we lead today. He gave us names, decided what your father's profession would be. He also decided whether we could remain Catholic or not. I often wonder, Is it right to be at the complete mercy of this man, this number 2222? He's almost assumed the role of God in our lives, Adam. And this gives me the shivers." (26.15)

Given how things turn out, Adam's mom is right to be spooked by the control Mr. Grey has over their lives. It must be isolating and intimidating to have someone else in charge of your identity. Think of how carefree and happy Amy Hertz is. She's a girl who is totally in charge of her own life, doing as she pleases. Of course Shmoop isn't necessarily advocating for Amy-like mischief-making, but we do advocate for an Amy-like spirit: do what makes you happy.

I'd think, Poor Paul. As if he had been another person and not me. My father said we had to live in the present, not the past. (26.25)

Adam worries about his previous identity, which he doesn't remember, but his dad tells him to try to live in the present. This is very unsettling, given what we know and learn about present-day Adam, whose present is no better than his past. While the past is filled with trauma, fear, and loss, the present is filled with isolation, confusion, and torment.

[...] Adam was sad again, thinking of his father as a writer and how his life had changed, how it had been necessary for him to give up all that and become another person altogether, how all of them had become other persons, his father, his mother, and himself. Paul Delmonte, poor lost Paul Delmonte. (30.9)

Adam was so young when his family changed their identities that he doesn't remember anything about their original lives. Given how difficult it was for him to find out that he had been another person, imagine how hard it must have been for his mom and dad. Not only were they different people, but they had vivid and constant memories of their lives before the Witness Re-Establishment project. They remembered their former lives, which probably made them miss them all the more.

I wonder who the doctor is talking to, this somebody he calls Paul. Who is Paul? I know I am not Paul. There is another name I know about but I can't think of the name now and anyway [... ] I know, of course, who I am, who I will always be.
I am the cheese. (31.38-39)

Adam can't remember his name, he just knows that he is the cheese, and the cheese stands alone. Does this mean that being alone is his new identity? Can an identity take the form of a feeling?

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