“I Am The Cheese” is a young adult novel published in 1977 by the American writer Robert Cormier. The novel was named to five annual book lists and later won the 1997 Pheonix Award from the Children’s Literature Association. It was adapted into a movie in 1983 and is still considered a classic today.
The story revolves around a young boy named Adam Farmer, who decides to take a bike ride from Monument, Massachusetts all the way to Rutterburg, Vermont to see his sick father in the hospital. Interspersed with these scenes are various scenes of Adam talking with a man named Brint in some type of hospital. Over the course of the novel it is revealed that Adam is telling a story in order to retrieve his lost memories. He reveals that his father, Anthony was a journalist who had to testify in court against the federal government and several crime families and that his family was put into Witness Protection afterward.
After Adam’s family had been found, he was taken to a hospital where he was drugged to determine if he knew anything about his father’s case. In the end, it is revealed that the doctors intend to keep him in this hospital forever to keep him silent.
The book begins with an anonymous narrator describing how he rode his bicycle all the way from his hometown of Monument, Massachusetts to see his father in Rutterburg, Vermont. The narrator, Adam Farmer is a fearful boy who is worried that he will be attacked by dogs on his journey. However, he bears a gift for his father that he feels he has to deliver. He wears his father’s old woolen cap as he rides.
Adam’s life savings of thirty-six dollars is safe in his pocket. He originally intended to take a bus to Rutterburg with the money, but later chose to ride his bike so he could control his direction. Adam thinks about calling his girlfriend, Amy before leaving, but decides against it. He thinks about Amy and “Numbers” and the time together. Before leaving Adam throws some pills down the garbage disposal.
The chapters in the book are differentiated through the usage of tape transcripts where Adam talks to a man named Brint. Brint introduces himself but it referred to as “T” on the transcripts. Brint asks Adam to try and recall his earliest memories. He references one night in particular and Adam describes this night as if it were the night he was born. He talks about smelling his mother’s perfume and the lighting.
The chapter then switches back to a third person narrative account. Adam remembers that night. He remembers lying in pain in a bed and he listens to the sound of his parents whispering urgently and trying not to wake him. Adam’s father pauses at the door and then moves on.
The narrative returns to the conversation between Adam and Brint. Brint questions Adam about the memory of this night and Adam recalls that his parents were discussing what to do with him. His family then took a very long bus trip. He realizes that it’s odd that he remembers associating his father with the smell of tobacco smoke, since he doesn’t remember his father smoking. Adam feels that they were running away from something during the trip. They ended up arriving at a different house. Brint wonders if his father might have gotten transferred at his job and Adam says that he’s not sure.
The chapter switches to a third person account of Adam’s inner thoughts. Adam does remember why his family took the trip, but he does not want to tell Brint. Adam wonders if he should tell Brint about the clues. At this, Brint asks “What clues?” and Brint wonders if the doctor can read his mind or if the medicine is confusing him and making him speak his inner thoughts aloud. Adam asks to go back somewhere.
The narrative returns to Adam’s bicycle trip. He asks an old man for directions to Rutterburg and Adam tells him that he is going to stop at a motel in Belton Falls that he once stayed at with his family. Adam tells the man that he is going to be visiting his father in the hospital and the man gives him a road map.
Brint and Adam talk more and Brint mentions the name Paul Delmonte. Adam says that he does not recognize the name. Brint begins talking about Amy but Adam refuses to speak about her. He declines the medication that Brint offers him. Brint reminds Adam that these discussions are voluntary and that he is only trying to help him remember.
Adam continues to narrate as he rides his bike. He sings the song, “The Farmer in the Dell” and remembers how his father used to sing it to him. He used to do this a lot before Adam’s mother got sad. Adam reaches a steep hill and has to get off his bike to walk it.
Brint and Adam talk more. In a third person narration, Adam reveals that he feels like he’s outside himself and looking in on the scene but that he does not want to look at himself. He realizes that if he can step outside himself like this than he can go to other places and is excited by this power. Brint and Adam resume their talk and Brint says that he will talk more later.
Adam’s trip is stalled when he sees a large, frightening dog waiting for him at the bottom of the hill. Adam tries to speed past the animal on his bike. The dog steps aside as Adam cycles past but chases after him for a little while. A car comes by, nearly hitting Adam and the dog begins chasing the car instead. Adam passes through the town of Fairfield.
Adam asks Brint if he is a psychiatrist and if they are in a hospital or a private sanatorium. Brint asks if it bothers Adam to be in that type of place. Adam says that he doesn’t know. Brint asks him about the clues. In the third-person narration, Adam reveals that he is unsure whether he should tell Brint but decides to give him something. He tells Brint that the dog may have been a clue.
Adam remembers a frightening dog blocking his way once when he was a small child with his father. They were headed to the library and Adam remembers that they took a strange route through the woods. Adam’s father was acting strangely as they walked, and looking back over his shoulder as if they were being chased by someone. Adam’s father told him to walk away from the dog slowly and Adam does so although he is scared to leave his father to face the dog alone.
The dog attacks Adam’s father and he manages to hit it with a tree branch until it runs off. Adam is so relieved that he rushes to hug his father. Brint asks Adam if this is a clue and Adam agrees that it is. He says that his father had to get a shot after being bitten by the dog and that they did not tell his mother about the situation. Adam is still unsure why they took that route through the woods that day.
Adam stops at a phone booth outside of a Howard Johnson’s. He is exhausted and regrets not taking his medication. He wants to call Amy, but it’s only one in the afternoon and she is still in school. He realizes that he will not be able to reach Belton Falls by nightfall and is discouraged. Adam feels ill and starts for Carver, a town about five miles away.
Brint asks Adam about Amy. Adam’s third person narration recalls the night that he and Amy kissed under the bleachers in the football stadium. He remembers meeting her and falling in love immediately. Amy has always encouraged him to chase his dream of becoming a famous writer. During their first meeting, Amy told him that he was a candidate for the Number but didn’t tell him what that meant. He meets her again the next day and they go to her house to meet her mother who is busy setting up some committee meetings.
Amy brings Adam to the grocery store and tells him that a Number is a prank that involves filling a cart to the top with groceries and then abandoning it. Amy has different ways to do the prank, like only filling the cart with certain foods or canned items. Adam and Amy begin to regularly pull this prank and grow closer. Adam told Amy that he had lived in Rawlings, Pennsylvania until he was four years old.
However, later Amy meets an editor from Rawlings who tells her that he doesn’t know of any family named Farmer. Adam is curious about this but lies to Amy that his family only lived in Rawlings for a short while. He begins to wonder again about their nighttime flight from the town.
He’s not sure why he felt he had to lie to her.
Adam tells Brint that he feels that Amy is a clue but he wants to keep her separate from everything else. Brint asks if Amy ever brought up his time in Rawlings again and Adam says that she didn’t. At the time, Adam just told himself that the editor had a faulty memory and Brint refers to this as Adam’s second “landmark”, the first being his memory of his father fighting the dog in the woods. He tries to get Adam to take the medicine so that he will remember more things from his childhood.
Adam rides toward Carver in the rain. The map is now ruined, and his father’s gift is getting wet. He begins to wonder aloud if he should quit and turn back but decides to keep going forward, singing ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ to himself to ease his nerves.
Brint asks Adam about the editor again and whether he thinks his father lied to him about the family being from Rawlings. Adam does not think his father lied although he agrees that there was something strange about the night they left on the bus. Adam never asked his father about it or tried to find any evidence. Brint argues that he must have done something or else he wouldn’t have brought it up but Adam says he doesn’t remember doing anything.
However, Adam’s third person narration tells the reader that he does remember doing something. One day he snooped through his father’s things while the man was mowing the lawn. He found three birth certificates stamped by the town office in Rawlings for himself and his parents. His stated that his middle named was David and that his birthday was Valentines Day. Both of which Adam knows to be true. Adam also found another birth certificate with his name and the town office’s stamp but this certificate had the birthday of July 14th. Hes shoved everything back into the drawer he found it in when he heard his father coming up the stairs.
Adam confesses to Brint that he didn’t tell his parents about the certificates and assumed the second certificate was a mistake. He wondered why his father kept the mistake certificate and why the envelope it was in was sealed. Adam began wondering what else his parents were hiding and why his mother stayed in her room all day. Adam’s mother only came out of her room for her Thursday night phone calls during which Adam was told never to disturb her. He often wondered who she called since she had no friends and they had no relatives. On the Thursday after he found the birth certificates, Adam eavesdropped on his mother’s phone call by using another phone in the house. He heard the voice of an older woman named Martha asking about her nephew, Adam.
Adam’s father walked into the room at that point and he had to hang up. He is shocked to learn that his parents lied to him when they said they had no living relatives.
Adam stops in a diner in Carver and has dinner alone. The only other customers are three teenagers who begin hassling Adam and throwing popcorn at him. One of the teenagers, a boy named Whipper comes over and starts asking Adam where he is from and where he is going. He tries to find out what is in the gift that Adam is bringing to his father but Adam refuses to let anyone see it. The man behind the counter interrupts them and Adam manages to get out of the diner with his gift unscathed.
Brint asks why Adam has requested to see him at 2:15 in the morning. Adam asks Brint to fill in “the blanks” for him if he can. The third person narration tells the reader that Adam woke up in his room at home in a cold sweat, unable to remember his name or his identity.
Adam asks Brint why he can’t remember very much of his life and Brint tells him that a part of himself doesn’t want to remember because the truth is too terrible. Adam wants to know how long he has been at the institution and why he is there. He says that he hates everyone there and that he thinks they hate him, too. He agrees to take a pill so that he can fall asleep.
Adam is about to leave Carver when he spots another phone booth. He calls Amy but realizes after a man answers that he has called the wrong number. He turns around and sees the teenagers from the diner walking toward him. Adam quickly hangs up the phone and bikes away.
During his sessions with Brint, Adam brings up someone called the “gray man” who he remembered after taking the pill the night before. Adam knows that the Gray Man is important and that he is a clue, but he does not know why. Brint brings up Paul Delmonte again, and Adam asks if he is the gray man. He says that he was bluffing earlier when he said he did not remember Paul and that he does remember him.
Adam pedals his bike furiously as Whipper and his friends catch up with him in their car. They start trying to run Adam off the road. They manage to knock him into a ditch.
Brint talks to an unresponsive Adam who refused to get out of bed the day before. Adam has also not been eating and will only stare into space. Brint tells Adam that he is trapped inside his terrible memories. He promises to help him.
On another day, Brint tries to talk to Adam who still stays silent. He tries to talk about the Gray Man but Adam still will not speak.
Adam lies in the ditch until he hears the voice of an older man and woman. An old couple stops their car to make sure that he is alright. Adam tells them that he is alright but a little scraped up. They tell him that they are going to a town near Belton Falls called Hookset and offer him a ride. Adam agrees but becomes dizzy and anxious in the car, quietly singing, “The Farmer and the Dell” to himself before drifting off to sleep. The couple wakes Adam when they reach Hookset and Adam tries to find a pharmacy to get something to settle his stomach.
Adam tells Brint that his arm hurts from the shots he was given at the hospital. Brint apologizes but reminds him that the shots were necessary. Brint asks if Adam’s unresponsive episode was causes by his memories of the Gray Man resurfacing. Adam says that he remembers that the Gray Man was a mysterious man who frequently visited his family. His visits were so frequent that he almost seemed invisible. He would come to the Farmer’s house a few times a month to talk to Adam’s father in the cellar. Adam’s father also called the man “Gray”. He told Adam that the man was the supervisor at his insurance agency.
Adam never found the man’s visits suspicious until after he found out about his aunt but he was too nervous to confront his parents about it. Adam began to wonder if Mr. Gray could possibly be his uncle. He once tried to spy on the man’s conversations with his father, but couldn’t hear anything from the soundproof cellar. Adam was nearly caught trying to eavesdrop by his father. Adam tells Brint that he suspects that his father did see him that day.
Adam tried to apologize but as he was looking for his parents he overheard them talking about him. His mother said that Gray should stop visiting the house because she thought Adam was getting suspicious. She said that Gray should use his real name, which is Thompson. Adam explained that Thompson went through many names as it was how he survived and how he’d helped their family survive, too. Adam’s mother said that they were only surviving and not living. His father said that they had to do something with Adam since he was no longer a child. He also mentioned something about Adam listening in on the phone conversation with Martha.
Adam tells Brint that he went down to the cellar to wait for his father and his third person narration recalls waiting in the darkness. His father came down and asked him if he was alright. Adam confronts him about Gray and Martha. His father sighs and asks how much he knows. He tells Adam that he has been dreading the day when he was old enough to start asking questions about their past.
Adam tells Brint that his father told him that his real name was Paul Delmonte and that Adam Farmer wasn’t real. He said that they took that bus all those years before because they were running away from “them”. Adam’s father’s real name was Anthony Delmonte and he had been a respected political reporter in Blount, New York. Anthony uncovered some important documents at the state house that linked the federal government to organized crime. He was asked to testify in Washington D.C. before a Senate committee and his family was put into witness protection after his life was threatened and a bomb was placed in his car.
Mr. Grey was one of the case workers for their protection detail. Anthony told Adam that night that the cellar was regularly searched for hidden recording devices and he also meets with Grey on the move in town. The newspaper reported that the family had been killed in a car crash in order to throw off the criminal organization that was looking for them.
After finding a pharmacy, Adam exits the building to find that his bike is missing. Adam is upset and scared. He wanders around town looking for his bike. He comes across a man who acts surely at first but eventually tells Adam that his bike was taken by a boy called Junior Varney that lives near the Baptist Church.
Brint tells Adam that he is looking much better this morning and Adam says that he feels better and that things are clearer now. Brint tries to get more details about Anthony’s testimony and Adam says that he didn’t have time to ask about it. Adam suddenly begins to feel panicked, so Brint changes the subject, asking if he and his father grew closer after the admission. Adam says that they did because he was proud that his father stood up for justice. Adams father told him that it hurt to give up his old life, and especially to give up journalism but that it hurt Adam’s mother even more.
Gray visited their family twice a month and would bring money sometimes. Anthony suspected that Gray was sent to make sure that he had not been contacted by any of the criminals that were looking for him. Although Anthony testified, no one knew if he had given up everything he knew and he also suspected that Gray was still trying to determine if he knew anything else that he hadn’t told. But Anthony also maintained that he did not know anything else.
Adam tells Brint that he never questioned his father about his information. He says that the way that Brint is looking at him now is the same way that Gray used to look at his father- as if they were enemies. Adam wonders if Brint is really a doctor and worries that he may be one of his father’s enemies. But he feels dependent on Brint for recovering his memories and must keep talking to him. Adam remembers how his father had to change his life in small ways after he entered Witness Protection, things like quitting smoking and wearing non-prescription glasses.
Anthony told him that Martha was a cloistered nun in Maine and Adam’s mother’s only relative. Adam asks Brint why he never asks about his mother. Brint says that Adam was the only talking about his father and Brint is only trying to guide him. Adam says that he wants to talk about his mother. He always thought of his mother as a sad person but now realizes that she was in fact, very afraid of discovery.
After finding out about the families secret, Adam confronted his mother and she started crying. He hugged her while comforting her. Adam’s mother told him that she hated Gray and didn’t trust him. She fears being found by her husband’s enemies daily and never knows if she should answer the phone or the door. Despite the secret, Adam finds that he and his family grow closer after the revelation.
One time, Adam’s mother showed him some mementos of their former life that she had stashed in the basement—some of Adam’s old baby things, a scarf that Anthony had given her and Anthony’s old army jacket. Later Amy visits and Adam realizes that he cannot tell her what he has learned about his family. Back in the session, Adam says that the lack of memories is like a dark cloud in his mind. He begins to have an anxiety attack and asks where his parents are. Brint asks someone to bring some medication in, and they end the session.
Adam finds the Varney house and sees his bike sitting on the porch. However, because people are coming in and out of the house, he cannot get to it. Junior comes out of the house and looks at the bike. His mother also comes out, and Adam is angered to see Junior disrespecting the woman. Adam begins to miss his mother. After Junior’s mother goes inside, Adam confronts Junior and demands his bike back. Junior says that he bought the bike that day. Fed up, Adam tries to forcefully grab the bike from him which causes him to drop the gift for his father. Junior and Adam tussle and Adam manages to recover both the gift and the bike and ride away.
Adam tells Brint that he cannot sleep. He says he’s not sure whether to trust him anymore and isn’t sure whether Brint is a real doctor. He wonders why Brint seems more concerned with getting information than protecting Adam’s well-being. Brint reminds him that he is only the guide and that he has helped Adam recovery a lot of his memories. Adam argues that there are still many blank portions in his memory. Adam still questions why he is even there. Brint asks him if he ever talked about his families real past with Amy and Adam says no.
In his third-person narration, Adam reveals that he wanted to tell Amy very badly, but he knew that he couldn’t. One day after doing a Number with Amy he returned home to his mother who told him that Gray had called about an emergency. Brint tells Adam that they are only doing the sessions so that they can find the blank spots in his memory like what happened during this family emergency. Adam feels as though the memories are bursting inside his head, he can no longer hold back from remembering them all.
He remembers his mother telling him that they had to leave town for a few days because one of Gray’s men had heard a threat against the Farmer’s in a wiretap. Adam’s mother tells him that they had had to leave town like this two times before when Adam was little. Adam’s father comes in and begins talking up their vacation in case there are any listening devices in the living room, but his face seems sad and tired.
Adam makes it to the motel in Belton Falls and remembers staying there with his parents the year before. The hotel looks abandoned, and no one is behind the front desk. Adam wanders around and decides to sleep in the hotel although it has been deserted. He tries to call Amy and is once again directed to a man that he does not recognize. Adam repeats the number to the man who says that the number is correct but that he has had it for three years and has never heard of Amy or her mother. Adam hangs up and calls the directory assistance, but there is not a number for Amy’s family in Monument.
Adam asks a local gas station attendant how long the hotel has been closed and he is told it has been two or three years. He leaves and regrets not taking his pills that morning. He begins screaming and banging on the door of the hotel, asking to be let in.
Adam tells Brint about the families trip to Vermont. Adam’s father has everyone sit in the front seat for protection. Adam asked his father about Gray saying that they can never return to Monument and his father assures him that it’s probably a false alarm. The Farmer’s stop for the night in a motel and stay together in one room. The next morning they left and headed for the town of Barre. Adam’s father began to think that a car was following them on the drive and hoped that it was only one of Gray’s men. They pulled over to the side of the road, and the car passed them.
Later, they saw a beautiful viewing area and pulled over again. A car suddenly rounded the corner toward them. Adam ran and only turned around when he heard a scream. Adam tells Brint that he saw the car smash into something but won’t say what.
In his third-person narration, Adam reveals that he saw the car smash into his family and himself. He saw his mother die and as he flew into the air. As he lay in his blood, he heard someone say that his father got away but that they would get him. Adam saw a tall man in gray pants walking toward him. The man told two other men to get rid of Adam’s mother but that Adam may be “useful.” Brint continues to demand that Adam tells him what he saw but Adam becomes unresponsive again. He asks Adam to lift his hand, but Adam does not.
Adam reaches Rutterburg and makes it to the hospital. He meets a man named Dr. Dupont. Adam looks outside of the gates and wishes to ride his bike outside someday. Dr. Dupont leads Adam back into the hospital. They see Whipper and his two friends and Adam thinks about the time that he was riding around the grounds and Whipper and his friends chased him into a ditch.
They see Mr. Harvester, the old janitor. Dr. Dupont tells Adam that a hospital is a place for “troubled people.” He shoos away a dog that often chases Adam. As they walk they come across more people from Adam’s story, including the old man who gave him directions and the man from the diner. Adam worries that Junior Varney might steal his bike.
In Adam’s room, Dr. Dupont gives him two pills. Adam asks if his father is dead and confesses that he fears to go to “that other room” with the bars on the windows where he is made to answer questions. Dr. Dupont doesn’t answer. Adam knows that his mother is dead but doesn’t know how he knows this. He realizes that the doctor has a sad look on his face. The doctor always gets this look when he watches Adam re-learn that his father is dead.
The doctor opens up the gift that Adam has received and finds that it is a stuffed animal from his childhood. Adam is pleased that the doctor found the toy and that he found his father’s hat and army jacket. Adam sings “The Farmer and the Dell” which ends with the line: “The cheese stands alone.” Dr. Dupont calls him Paul and he idly wonders who Paul is. He thinks that he knows who he is, because “I am the cheese.”
Brint files his annual report on Adam (whom he calls Subject A) and Gray (Personnel #2222) and “Agency Basic Procedures.” Brint says that he could not get the required information out of Adam that is being sought by the department. This is his third time questioning. Adam doesn’t reveal any of the information given by his father (Witness #599-6). He says that Adam completely shuts down when he tries to remember his parents’ death but that he may still know somewhere deep in his mind.
Brint offers three possible courses of action. One: that the department revise the policy which does not allow the termination of Adam. Two: that they reinstate #2222. He says that they do not know if #2222 was the one who instigated Adam’s parents’ death and that he acted correctly after the deaths. He removed Adam’s mother’s body from the scene and transferred Adam to the hospital without involving the local police.
Or Three: Adam be contained in the facility until his termination is approved or until he “obliterates”. The final page of the novel is the first paragraph repeated.
Adam Farmer – the main protagonist of the novel. Throughout the novel, the author uses the device of Adam’s bike trip to visit his father in the hospital in Vermont to provide the action of the story and the scenes with Brint in the hospital to deliver the narrative. Adam’s age during the course of the novel is undetermined, but he seems to be a child when he is taking his bike trip.
Via Adam’s exposition, the reader learns that his father, Anthony, was a witness in a case against the federal government and had to be put into Witness Protection after the fact. When Adam is found he is put in a psychiatric hospital and dosed with medication to discover if he knows anything that his father did not tell the court.
Adam is paranoid, but understandably so given the circumstances. He worries that Brint is trying to plumb his brain for information and, of course, in this case, he is right. Adam’s memory has been damaged by the trauma of losing his parents and the medication he has been given, and as a result, he is unable to remember much of what he knows.
“I Am The Cheese” is a coming of age novel in a different way. Adam is not trying to find his identity in the traditional way; he is not concerned with his friends or his sexuality. Instead, he is, quite literally trying to find an identity that has been stripped away from him.
Brint – though he is the second most abundant character in the novel, not much is known about Brint as a character. At the beginning of the novel, Brint appears to be a doctor or psychiatrist of some kind. In the interviews, he seems to be trying to help Adam to remember the memories that he has lost. However, at the end of the novel, it is revealed that Brint is a government agent who is only using Adam to retrieve more information about his father’s trial.
Brint manipulates Adam subtly by telling him that he is only there to “guide” him and by evading questions. Although he knows that the Farmer’s Witness Protection handler, Gray eventually betrayed them, he still tries to reinstate Gray at the end of the novel. Adam seems to be somewhat aware that Brint is using or lying to him in some way, but he feels dependent on him to reach the memories that he desperately wants back.
David Farmer (Anthony Delmonte) – Adam’s father. David is a former journalist who had to go into Witness Protection after he testified against the federal government and several crime organizations. After he and his family change their identities, David goes to extreme lengths to avoid being discovered by his enemies. However, he seems to accept the new reality they live in better than his wife, Louise.
Robert Cormier Biography
Robert Cormier was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on January 17th, 1925. One of eight children, Cormier’s family was poor and moved around his home town frequently. Cormier attended a private Catholic school where he began writing poems in the first grade. When he was only 12 years old, he decided that he wanted to become a professional writer after being encouraged by a nun at the school.
After graduating as head of the class from high school, Cormier attended Fitchburg State College, and it was while attending this school that he had his first short story published. One of his professors, Florence Conlon, sent in a story of his to a Catholic magazine called The Sign without his knowledge and it was chosen to run. After finishing school, Cormier began work scripting radio commercials and later became a journalist at his local newspaper, the Fitchburg Sentinel.
In 1960, Cormier’s first Young Adult novel, “Now and at the Hour” was published and was followed by some of his more famous novels, such as “The Chocolate War” (1974) and “I Am the Cheese” (1977).
Cormier was particularly interested in the problems facing young people and wrote Young Adult novels because of that. In his lifetime, Cormier was a renowned journalist and a brilliant literary writer. His awards include, The Phoenix Award in 1997 and a lifetime achievement award called the Edwards Award in 1991.
Cormier’s book, “The Chocolate War” has frequently been challenged in schools and libraries for containing sexual activity and bad language among other things. It was named the fourth most challenged book between 1990 and 2000 by the American Library Association. Cormier lived to the age of 75 before dying from lung cancer on November 2nd, 2000.