After The First Death Summary

Robert Cormier

After The First Death

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After The First Death Summary

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American author Robert Cormier’s 1979 young adult novel, After the First Death, tells the story of a bus carrying five-year-old children to a summer day camp that is taken over by terrorists. Kate, a high school student, is driving the bus when the incident begins. Kate, along with Miro, who, at sixteen, is the youngest of the four hijackers, and Ben, the son of the general of an anti-terrorism organization, all serve as the narrative voice at various points in the novel. Characters facing abuse, violent situations, betrayal, and acts of revenge are frequent themes in Cormier’s works, which include The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese.

The four terrorists, Miro, Artkin, Antibbe, and Stroll commandeer the bus that Kate is driving. They force her to proceed to a ramshackle bridge and park there, beginning a long ordeal. The terrorists announce that for every attempt the police make to intervene and for any deaths among the terrorists, they will kill one of the children on board the bus. The hijackers’ objective is to gain freedom for their homeland. The land is not directly identified in the novel, but based on descriptions that the terrorists offer, it is likely that it is a country in the Middle East or Africa. The four have never seen the country firsthand. Teenager Ben Marchand’s narrative finds him in his room awaiting a visit from his father, whom he has not seen since the time of the hijacking. Ben fears meeting with his father because of events that transpired during the hijacking. He is thinking about suicide, but also of receiving his father’s forgiveness.

Miro’s narration gives the details of the hijacking. Artkin, the leader of the four who take over the bus, has promised Miro that, even though Miro has just turned sixteen, he will treat him as a man. As an initial act of manhood, Miro is to kill the bus driver, Kate. Once Kate gets the bus to the bridge, Artkin gives the children candy that contains a drug to quiet them. One of the children dies from the candy in an accidental overdose of the drug. Artkin puts off Miro’s assigned killing of the driver, as he wants Kate to now be used to keep the children calm. The child’s accidental death provides the terrorists with something they can now use as a threat against the officials who are learning of the hijacking.

Miro is next ordered to try to gain the trust of the driver. Kate fears that she will be killed by the terrorists because they know she has seen their faces. She manages to stay calm and attempts to gain Miro’s trust just as he has been trying to do with her. She does this with the hope that it will help humanize her in his eyes and make him less likely to kill her. Kate is shocked when Miro tells her of the other crimes that he and Artkin have committed. Meanwhile, Kate remembers an extra key to the bus in her wallet. She hides it in her shoe and awaits an opportunity to drive the bus off of the bridge. Unfortunately, when she attempts to do so, the bus stalls and she is unsuccessful. She feels even more strongly now that she will be killed. Artkin continues to insist that Kate tend to the children.

When night falls, Miro finds out that Sedeete, their leader, has been captured. Artkin demands that he be brought something from Sedeete’s room as proof that he has been captured. Sedeete has his son, Ben, deliver the item. Upon arriving, Ben is tortured by the terrorists and is forced to tell them the time of an upcoming assault. The attack happens earlier than planned, leading to Artkin’s death. Miro and Kate escape and Kate informs Miro that she believes Artkin to be his father. Miro thinks Kate is trying to trick him, and he kills her; Miro escapes. In a hospital with a gunshot wound sustained during the attack on the bridge, Ben discovers that his father has used him to try to trick the hijackers. Ben later dies in what might be a suicide. Ben’s father is driven insane by Ben’s death and ends up in a mental hospital.

Upon the release of After the First Death, the New York Times found it to be a worthy addition to the Cormier canon. “In this small epic of terrorism and counter-terrorism and their consequences, Mr. Cormier pulls no punches. The brutality is all there, the intimations of sexuality in the young, the sour judgments of values by their elders, whose values have been rotted by political cant — all are presented without sermonizing in a marvelously told story. After the First Death more than sustains the reputation its author has won with The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese; it adds luster to it. Putting all three books together, one disturbing aspect becomes clear: Their basic theme, no matter how brilliant the variations on it, suggests unrelieved despair. The world of Mr. Cormier’s people is a Dantean Inferno without any hint of Purgatorio or Paradiso. This is, of course, an antidote to the mindless Happy Ending school of literature but, like most such medicine, it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth.”