Study Guide

I Am the Cheese Memory and The Past

By Robert Cormier

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Memory and The Past

I'm not sure. What I mean is, I don't know whether I actually heard the words or if I'm filling them in now, like blank spaces on a piece of paper you have to complete (2.6)

Did you know that memory is malleable (changeable)? Scientists have done all sorts of studies that show that it's possible to both remove a memory from someone's brain and implant a memory that wasn't there before. Here's an example. Think real-life Inception.

T: Why are you hesitating? You appear – uncertain.
A: I am.
T: About what?
A: I don't know (2.6).

You know when you feel really anxious about something, but you're not sure what? Or you're really hyped up but can't figure out why? This is like that times a thousand. Adam is uncertain about his uncertainty <em>all the time.</em>

Or am I dramatizing, Adam wondered. He wanted to be a writer, to capture drama on paper. Was he really manufacturing mysteries to satisfy his literary longings, finding mysteries where they did not in fact exist? (13.4)

Adam is talking here about spying on his family – but is it possible that his memory has also manufactured some mysteries? How much can we really trust his account of what happened in the past?

He didn't want to pick up the burden of remembering any longer. He wanted to coast awhile, float, not let it matter, drift. (13.7)

When is remembering a burden for Adam? When does it seem to come more easily for him?

The empty spaces were filled, the terrifying blanknesses that loomed before him sometimes at night in the darkness and he'd wake up, not knowing who he was or where he was. In the talking, the blank spots were filled in. (13.9)

Adam is almost giving us some good essay-writing advice here. He has trouble remembering, filling in the empty spaces, but when he begins to talk through things, more of his memories appear. When you write an essay, if you ever feel stuck, try this tactic: just keep writing. Maybe the next paragraph you write will be silly, but it might spark another idea, which will spark another, which will be Nobel Prize worthy. It's worth a shot.

A: Why can't I remember? Why can I remember just so much, a little at a time?
T: Do you suppose it's because you really don't want to remember?
A: But I do, I do.
T: Perhaps one part of you wants to remember and another part doesn't. (15.5)

Which part of Adam wants to remember these horrific memories? How does this tie in with the theme of identity?

And he thought, Was there really information lodged within him that he didn't know about? (25.15)

Shmoop thinks so. Adam's memories tend to come up when they're associated with something else. Brint seems to be able to draw out certain images from Adam's brain by nudging him in a particular direction. Who's to say that if his father were there, reminding him of the day he discovered the truth, Adam wouldn't remember more about that, too?

The worst part is that my memories arrive piecemeal, in bits and pieces, the entire picture isn't clear. (25.16)

Adam describes his memories in words, in his conversations with Brint, and we read them as words on the page. But the memories arriving in bits and pieces for Adam are images, right? And sensations? We don't generally remember our experiences in words, but Adam is forced to convey them that way. Would Brint have obtained better information if he had asked Adam to draw his memories?

It's still incomplete. The blanks are still there. In fact, sometimes I'm a blank. I find myself here talking to you and don't remember where I came from, whether from my room in this place or someplace else altogether. And sometimes it seems we have been through this all before, that the questions are the same questions I've heard a thousand times before. (28.1)

Only at the end of the book do we find out that Adam's hunch was right – he <em>had</em> been asked these questions before. Cormier is using very subtle foreshadowing here, but because we can't trust Adam's memory, it's not an obvious indication of what's to come.

T: I think you have reached the point where you cannot stifle the memories, whatever you wish to call them, any longer. [...] The memories are there – they must come out, they must emerge, they cannot be allowed to fester any longer. (28.35)

Can a memory be a memory if nobody remembers it? Does it even exist before it is recognized and expressed?

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