I Am the Cheese
is Robert Cormier’s 1977 follow up to his 1974 best-selling young adult novel The Chocolate War
. I Am the Cheese
uses present tense and mostly first person narration to tell the story of central character Adam Farmer embarking on a bicycle trip from his home in the fictional town of Monument, Massachusetts, a frequent Cormier setting, to visit his father in Rutterburg, Vermont. The narration uses transcripts of tapes of therapy sessions between a doctor named Brint and Adam in addition to Adam’s first person voice, and the occasional third person voice, which remains mostly filtered through Adam. Adam was once known as Paul Delmonte from a town in New York and whose father, now known as David Farmer, was a news reporter placed in the Witness Protection Program. The title of the book comes from the old song, “The Farmer in the Dell” which Adam sings in the book. The line from the song, “The cheese stands alone” refers to the only character in the song that does not have someone to be with when the farmer leaves. Adam feels that in his life, he is the cheese. Additionally, he had learned the song from his father, perhaps in an attempt by the father to foster acceptance of “Farmer” as their new name.
In the first tape, as Adam embarks on his journey, Brint asks Adam to access his earliest memories. Adam remembers a long, late night bus trip with his parents. At the end of the trip, they end up in an unfamiliar house. Adam gets directions to Rutterburg at a gas station. He tells the old man he speaks with that there is a motel in Belton Falls at which he is going to stay and that he is visiting his father in a hospital, which is not the truth. When Brint asks Adam about Paul Delmonte, Adam does not know the name.
As the story continues via the therapy tapes, Adam refers to a dog that might be a clue to something. He remembers being nine years old and walking to a library with his father. They walked through the woods and came upon a dogfight. He thought there was something odd about his father choosing to go through the woods. Adam talks about Amy, his girlfriend, and of a time when she told him that once at his father’s newspaper office an editor from Rawlings, Pennsylvania stopped in. Adam had told her that his family had moved from Rawlings, but according to Amy, the editor knew nothing of a family named Farmer. Adam dismissed this, and told her, falsely, that they only lived there for a short while. The incident served to spark Adam’s interest about his family’s past. Brint asks if Adam believes his father lied about coming from Rawlings. Adam does not think this is the case but also remembers a time when he went through papers in his father’s desk and found his birth certificate that verified that he was born in Rawlings and another that was also his but with an incorrect date of birth. He assumed that one was simply done in error but he also remembers wondering about the constant sadness his mother always seemed to be engulfed by. In another act of “spying” on his parents, Adam listens in on his mother’s weekly Thursday night phone call that was always kept secret from him. He finds that she speaks with an older woman who asks about Adam, her nephew. He knows at that point that his parents have deceived him.
Adam mentions a person called the gray man to Brint feeling that it might be another clue, although he does not know who he is. Brint again asks about Paul Delmonte and Adam asks if Paul and the gray man could be the same person. A bit later Adam remembers who the gray man is and tells Brint that he was a man his father called Grey. The man was always around but at the same time hardly seemed visible. He would come to their house and meet with his father in the basement one or two Saturdays each month. The basement was soundproof which prevented Adam from hearing anything when they met, but his father did catch him spying, and Adam hears his parents talking about him becoming suspicious.
Adam explains to Brint that he learned from his father that his name was Paul Delmonte and his father’s name had been Anthony Delmonte. While working as a reporter in Blount, New York, he unearthed documents that implicated government officials, connecting them to organized crime. It seemed after testifying before a closed Senate committee with the promise of confidentiality, his father would be able to go on with his life, but incidents with a car bomb and an assassin necessitated the connection to Grey. Grey was with a government program called the U.S. Department of Re-Identification, which provided the family with new names and fabricated a story that they were killed in a car crash.
Meanwhile, in the bicycle trip narrative, Adam finds that his bike has been stolen. He learns from a man on the fire escape of a building that Junior Varney took the bike. Adam fights Junior and gets his bike back. Finally, he reaches a motel in Belton Falls. He had stayed there with his parents the previous year, but now it is closed. Speaking to Brint, Adam describes his family’s trip to Belton Falls. They feel they are being followed and pull to the side of the road. The other car passes and Adam’s father says it was Grey’s men. A car then crashes into them and his mother is killed. Adam hears voices say that his father got away but will be tracked down. A man in gray pants approaches Adam and tells other men to keep him because he could be of use. Adam does not reply when Brint asks who the man was.
The ending of the novel is complex. Adam’s bicycle trip turns out to have been a fantasy that took place on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital. The characters in his story were fellow patients and places he visited on the journey were buildings at the institution. The fabricated newspaper article about his family’s accident proved to be an omen. Brint apparently was employed by the same agency as Grey and was trying to get more information out of Adam. Everyone seeming to be helping the Farmers is untrustworthy and has ulterior motives.
The ending of the book circles back to the opening paragraph in which Adam sets off on his (imaginary) journey to Rutterburg. He is left feeling alone in the world and that he is the cheese.